Afghans seek ban on night raids as part of US deal

Afghan president Hamid Karzai tells grand council meeting the country needs partnership.

Delegates take a break during a four-day long loya jirga, a meeting of over 2,000 Afghan tribal elders and leaders in Kabul on November 16, 2011. President Karzai outlined a string of conditions for long-term US bases in Afghanistan at a major gathering of elders debating the country's future and peace efforts with the Taliban. Karzai told day one of the loya jirga that he wanted Afghan-US relations to be those of "two independent countries" and assured neighbours such as China and Russia that a long-term deal would not affect their ties with Afghanistan.   TOPSHOTS    AFP PHOTO/ SHAH Marai

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KABUL // Afghanistan wants the US and Nato to stop night raids on Afghan homes as a precondition to Kabul signing a strategic partnership with Washington.

The president, Hamid Karzai, made the announcement yesterday at the opening of a "loya jirga", or grand council, of tribal elders.

The meeting was discussing the proposed partnership with the US, which would oversee the American military presence as troops draw down, as well as possible peace talks with the Taliban.

Mr Karzai urged the 2,000 delegates to consider both the need for international help and the need to ensure Afghans were setting the rules in their own country.

"We want to have a strong partnership with the US and Nato but with conditions," Mr Karzai said. "We want our national sovereignty and an end to night raids and to the detention of our countrymen. We don't want parallel structures alongside our government."

Night raids, which foreign troops claim are one of their most effective weapons in the fight against insurgents, have been a major cause of friction between Mr Karzai and his western backers.

The Afghan leader has said repeatedly he wants them stopped.

The strategic partnership agreement, still under discussion between Washington and Kabul, would govern US involvement in Afghanistan after the exit of foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.

The US wants "military installations, we will give them. It is in our national interest [and] will draw more money and training of our soldiers," Mr Karzai said.

The Taliban, who said they would not engage in peace talks until all foreign troops have left, dismissed the meeting as a ploy to rubber-stamp what they see as foreign interference. Mr Karzai, who switched between speaking Afghanistan's Pashto and Dari languages when addressing the jirga, likened Afghans to lions on several occasions.

"Americans are more powerful, have more money, a greater population, but we are the lions," he said, winning applause.

The jirga holds no legal authority but if they back Mr Karzai's demands it could give him extra leverage in negotiations with the US to keep troops in Afghanistan for another decade, despite opposition from his people and the war-weary US public. The roughly 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan operate without any bilateral agreement governing their actions, although the majority are under a UN mandate.

Mr Karzai's terms for the partnership that have so far been unacceptable to US officials, according to those familiar with the discussions.

The officials have said they support the jirga and its attempt to make sure that tribal leaders are ready to accept a partnership deal.

A report this week by the non-profit Asia Foundation found overwhelming support among ordinary Afghans for negotiations and reconciliation with the Taliban. The survey said 82 per cent wanted the government to talk with the militants.

The foundation's annual report, partly funded by the US government, found support for the Taliban's aims had steadily declined.

The poll showed the number of people who sympathised with the Taliban had dropped to 29 per cent compared with 40 per cent last year and 56 per cent in 2009.

Mr Karzai's peace overtures to the Taliban were dealt a major blow by the September 20 assassination of the former president, Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was leading the government's US-backed initiative.

The survey was conducted before Mr Rabbani's death.

Meanwhile yesterday, Nato said three of its service members died in attacks in southern Afghanistan.

At least 14 international troops have been killed in Afghanistan so far this month.

* Reuters, with additional reporting by Associated Press