KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — More than 1,000 university students blocked a main highway in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday to protest any agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain in the country after a planned transfer of authority in 2014.
An assembly of more than 2,000 tribal elders and dignitaries known as a loya jirga over the weekend endorsed negotiating a security pact with Washington, though they also backed a series of conditions proposed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai including the end of night raids by international troops and complete Afghan control over detainees.
On Sunday, the protesters in Jalalabad city denounced any agreement that would keep U.S. troops in the country, blocking the road to Kabul and shouting "Death to America. Death to Karzai."
Both the resolution and the protests reflect the tension in Afghanistan between a desire for real sovereignty and the need to bolster the relatively weak government against a still-strong Taliban insurgency.
The idea of the proposed security agreement is to keep a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan past 2014, when most international forces are to have left. Afghan and U.S. officials envision a force of several thousand U.S. troops, who would train Afghan forces and help with counterterrorism operations. The pact would outline the legal status of that force in Afghanistan, as well as the rules under which it would operate and where it would be based.
The jirga's resolution carries no legal weight, but could bolster Karzai's negotiating position with the United States during difficult talks under way to craft what Washington is calling a Strategic Partnership Document.
For its part, the Taliban condemned the recent meeting of elders on Sunday, saying that they were puppets of the Afghan government and therefore also puppets of the NATO and U.S. forces it sees as occupiers.
"They are acting like servants of the invaders of our country by issuing this resolution," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement. He repeated the Taliban position that the only acceptable solution is for international forces to leave the country.
Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry said Afghan and international forces killed 16 insurgents in fighting over the past three days in the eastern Afghan province of Nuristan. There were no casualties among government forces, according to Mohammad Zareen, a spokesman for the provincial government.
Rahmat Gul contributed this report from Jalalabad, Afghanistan.