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Some Afghans think little as clarified in Karzai-Obama talks

| Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, 6:52 p.m.

KABUL — Some Afghans wondered what President Hamid Karzai would bring back from Washington.

The meeting on Friday with President Obama appears to have yielded progress on at least two of the issues on Karzai's list — a U.S. pullout from Afghan villages and a full handover of the country's military detention center at Bagram.

Neither Obama nor Karzai, however, spoke concretely about the size of the U.S. presence after 2014, with Karzai saying, “numbers are not going to make a difference to the situation in Afghanistan.”

In Kabul, though, there is still great interest in that question. Some voiced disappointment on Saturday that neither president offered clarity on an issue that weighs heavily on the minds of many Afghans.

“We wanted to hear from our president key questions about Afghanistan beyond 2014, like: What will be the role of the U.S. militarily and politically? What is the Afghan government's demand from the U.S.?” said Fauzia Koofi, a lawmaker and women's rights activist. “Those issues were not mentioned by President Karzai.”

Although both leaders spoke of their interest in a long-term security partnership, Karzai expressed uncertainty about whether diplomatic immunity would be provided to U.S. troops beyond 2014 — a prerequisite for an enduring troop presence, according to Obama. For Afghans worried about a dramatic U.S. withdrawal, the prospect that Americans won't offer Karzai the concessions he needs to grant that immunity has prompted concerns.

“Karzai thought that through pressure on the issue of legal immunity, we could gain concessions, but there is no sign that those concessions will be given to Afghanistan,” said Waheed Mozhdah, a longtime Afghan analyst.

“There was no special achievement for Karzai in this trip, but it added to the concerns that American forces may not keep troops after 2014,” Mozhdah said.

At a joint news conference Friday, Obama announced that the transition to Afghan-led security will be accelerated, with Afghan troops and police taking control of all operations in the spring. Remaining U.S. troops will serve a supporting role.

“We wanted a clearer message from Obama that the U.S. will continue to support democracy in Afghanistan,” Koofi said. “It's the only alternative to Talibanization.”

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