Secretary of State John F. Kerry arrived in Kabul Friday on an unannounced visit in an effort to convince Karzai that the administration is serious.
“October 31st is our goal,” a senior administration official said. “The president has been clear. There can be no reason” for failure “other than the fact that the Afghans don’t want what we’re offering.”
Meanwhile, serious new irritants in the relationship have convinced Karzai that he was right to question American good faith in year-old negotiations on a deal. The accord is considered critical for the international community to continue funding the Afghan government and shoring up its nascent security forces.
Under the Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA, the United States plans to leave a still-unspecified number of troops — between 5,000 and 10,000, most probably — in Afghanistan to train and advise its security forces after the final withdrawal of what are now 52,000 combat and support troops.
Karzai was enraged several weeks ago, Afghan officials said, when U.S. forces forcibly took custody of a senior Pakistani Taliban leader whom Afghan intelligence was trying to recruit.
In the previously unreported incident, U.S. forces intercepted an Afghan government convoy and seized the leader in Logar province, Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi said. In doing so, Faizi added, the Americans foiled a months-long bid by the Afghan government to wean the Taliban commander, identified by others as Latif Mehsud, from the battlefield and use him to help launch substantive peace talks.
Faizi called the seizure a major breach of sovereignty. Although Karzai has not mentioned the case publicly, his private fury has been reflected in recent suggestions that Afghanistan might forgo a bilateral pact.
In a separate incident, Pakistan last month freed a top Afghan Taliban official, Abdul Ghani Baradar, whom Karzai sees as a possible interlocutor for his peace efforts and whose release he had long demanded.
This week, however, Pakistan again placed Baradar under house arrest in the port city of Karachi. Karzai immediately suspected an American hand at work; U.S. officials said they feared that Baradar would return to plotting attacks against American forces in Afghanistan if he were left on the loose.
Both the CIA and the Defense Department declined to comment on either incident.