Afghans must decide about US bases: Karzai

Afghanistan`s President said that any decision on a long-term US military presence in the country must be made by Afghans and take into account neighbours` concerns.

Last Updated: Feb 19, 2011, 21:58 PM IST

Kabul: Afghanistan`s President
said on Saturday that any decision on a long-term US military
presence in the country must be made by Afghans and take into
account neighbours` concerns, even as America`s top diplomat
insisted the US does not seek permanent bases in the country.

President Hamid Karzai`s comments underscore a desire to
assert greater control over the country`s future as US troops
prepare to begin drawing down this year.

In response to a reporter`s question, Karzai said a
number of American officials have raised the issue of
establishing permanent US bases in Afghanistan as part of
broader negotiations on a long-term security partnership. He
didn`t say whether any formal requests had been made.

The Afghan people should have the final say on any
bases, Karzai said at a press conference in Kabul. He added
that the decision would need to take into consideration the
concerns of Afghanistan`s neighbours, which include Iran,
Pakistan and China.

"The view of our neighboring countries is very
important," Karzai said. "We are not living on an island ...
Not only do we have neighbors, but they are big countries in
the region. We are living in a region with tensions."

Discussion of permanent bases has resurfaced in recent
weeks, gaining renewed attention after a leading US senator
proposed their establishment last month.

Lindsay Graham, a Republican senator from the state of
South Carolina, said in January that having a few US air bases
in Afghanistan would give Afghan security forces an edge
against the Taliban and benefit the region. He said he wanted
the US to have "an enduring relationship" with Afghanistan to
ensure it never falls back into militant hands.

The Taliban criticised the proposal, saying allowing
permanent bases would be tantamount to a permanent occupation.

The US embassy did not immediately respond to a request
for comment on Karzai`s remarks today. But in a speech Friday
in New York, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear
the United States does not seek to establish permanent bases
in Afghanistan.

"The United States will always maintain the capability
to protect our people and our interests. But in no way should
our enduring commitment be misunderstood as a desire by
America or our allies to occupy Afghanistan against the will
of its people," Clinton said, according to a text of her
prepared remarks to the Asia Society provided by the embassy.

PTI