Afghan President Hamid Karzai is holding hostage a multi-billion dollar security agreement with Washington (and NATO) for the release of 17 Afghan citizens from Guantanamo.
Though Karzai's demand seems to come at the eleventh hour, it's been at the forefront of his negotiations with the U.S. all along. H e also has some supporters in the U.S.
"There is no excuse for Afghan detainees to continue to be held at Guantanamo, when the United States is transferring custody of Afghan citizens held in Afghanistan itself," Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, told Fox back in July. "President Karzai is demanding to get his citizens back, and he is right to be making this demand."
His other conditions for signing the agreement also match demands he made months ago: that the U.S. halt raids on homes and pledge not to have a hand in the upcoming election.
Karzai had promised to sign the agreement if the Loyal Jirga (like an Afghan Congress) themselves endorsed it, which they did, so his reluctance comes as a surprise.
Representatives of the U.S. have indicated to Karzai that the process for returning all troops and materiel from Afghanistan is lengthy. That course of action, called the "zero option," would have to be set into motion immediately in order to hit the 2014 deadline.
A senior Afghan politician, speaking to Reuters, said Karzai is just playing politics:
A senior politician in Kabul said it appeared that Karzai's reluctance to let the deal go through stemmed from his eagerness to keep his hands on the levers of power in the run-up to a presidential election in April, when he is due to stand down.
"He is now in confrontation with his own nation as well as the United States," said the politician, who asked not to be named.
The security agreement itself is controversial for two reasons: that it lays plans for U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan until 2024, and that funding for the Afghan army would largely fall on the shoulders of NATO.
The largest underwriter of NATO's funds in Afghanistan is, consequently, Washington, which is simultaneously at odds about funding its own military.
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