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Afghanistan loya jirga sets conditions for new pact with U.S.

KABUL, Afghanistan — An overwhelming majority of the participants of a loya jirga or the grand council of elders on Saturday backed President Hamid Karzai's call for a long-term partnership with the United States that would come into effect after the withdrawal of international troops in 2014.

“In order to protect the achievement of the last 10 years and given the political situation in the region, a strategic partnership with the United States is considered to be necessary for the political, economical and military stability of the country,” the meeting's final resolution said.

But that agreement would require the U.S. to agree to a complete halt of night raids, an end to the arbitrary jailing of Afghan suspects, the closure of all American detention centers in Afghanistan, and the transfer of all Afghan detainees to government-run prisons, according to the resolution, which was issued on the fourth and last day of the council.

Karzai said that he had worried that the jirga might reject the strategic partnership or that the participants would take a soft approach toward the issue and fail to set out enough conditions. But Karzai said he was satisfied with the result. “I absolutely agree with it,” Karzai said.

Karzai convened the grand meeting, which was attended by more than 2,000 delegates from across the country, to advise his government on what framework should govern a strategic partnership with the United States. Included in the meetings were members of parliament, tribal elders, members of provincial councils and representatives of Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan. The delegates were divided into 40 committees to discuss the issues.

Karzai said his government would use the recommendations to guide future discussions with the United States.

Some members of parliament and Karzai’s political rivals had expressed concerns that the meeting was illegitimate and accused Karzai of planning to use to introduce amendments to the constitution that would allow him to run for a third term. But the topic was not discussed, and Karzai was careful to note in his opening speech that any recommendation from the jirga still would need to be approved by parliament.

But the jirga's findings will provide Karzai with the political cover he needs to pursue a strategic partnership with the United States.

The non-binding resolution also said that any future pact should last 10 years and that Afghan security forces should lead all security efforts beyond 2014. It added that Americans should commit to training and playing a supportive role. It also said that the U.S. should help Afghanistan built its capacity to run its own affairs, rather than create parallel administrative structures to handle contracting and other planning responsibilities.

Karzai pledged that any strategic arrangement would pose no threat to Afghanistan's neighbors, a nod to concerns in Pakistan that Afghanistan could become a jumping off point for attacks on it. "We want to maintain good relationship with our neighbors," he said. "We will never allow any foreign county to use our soil for causing harm to our neighbors."

The delegates also backed Karzai's efforts to open talks with the Taliban, but warned against talking to insurgents who appeared to have no fixed address, a reference to Taliban leaders who are thought to be in hiding in Pakistan. “The peace doors should be remained open for those armed oppositions who want to join the peace process,” the resolution said.

Karzai will not need to convene another grand council to sign a pact with the United States, but the agreement will need the approval of the country's parliament.

(Zohori is a special correspondent in Kabul.)