| ||Afghans pin hope in President Karzai's visit to Washington|
By Abdul Haleem
KABUL - Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai kicked off a three-day official visit to the U.S. on Monday for extensive talks with President Barack Obama and other American leaders on the future of bilateral relations.
The momentous visit takes place as the Afghan national security forces are to take over security charge after the NATO-led forces' scheduled departure in 2014, which symbolizes the end of the 11- year war on terror in the conflict-ridden Afghanistan, amid ongoing Taliban-led militancy.
"Discussions to be held by the high-level delegation of Afghanistan in this visit would mainly focus on security, economic and political transition processes, equipping and strengthening of the Afghan security forces, the peace process and talks on bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States of America," said a statement released by the Afghan Presidential Palace here on Monday.
The war-weary Afghans are hopeful that the visit could lead to the inking of a long-term security partnership between the two nations.
Nevertheless, Afghan political observers are of the view that inking the security pact would be the most controversial issue in Afghan-U.S. relations and might require extensive and comprehensive talks.
Demands from the U.S. for granting immunity for its soldiers in legal action and concerns by Afghanistan's neighboring states over the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan could serve as stumbling blocks in inking the proposed security pact, according to observers.
"Inking security pact on the one hand would enable U.S. to provide economic, military and political support to Afghanistan after 2014, and on the other, Taliban and other militant groups would lose the hope for returning to power in future," an Afghan political analyst and former diplomat Ahmad Sayedi told Xinhua.
Afghans fear that the achievements and progress made over the past 11 years with the support of the international community in Afghanistan would not sustain if the U.S. and NATO-led coalition troops leave the country.
Even many Afghans trust the country's national security forces in term of professionalism, they pay more attention to the poor equipment.
The fledgling Afghan national army which has been trained by the U.S. and allied nations is still in dire need of capable air force and doesn't have helicopter gunships, jet fighters and anti- aircraft equipment.
"Our security forces are poorly equipped. We do not have effective air force and our military equipments are too poor to defend security threats," Sayedi said.
Afghanistan would have 350,000-strong national security forces including national army and police by 2014, which observers believe, are not enough to deal with security threats.
"Not only me, but the vast majority of the people in Afghanistan believe that total withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country would pave the way for the collapse of the national security forces and eventually the administration," said the analyst.
Before leaving for the U.S., the Afghan president categorically pointed out that Afghans respect U.S. interests and wishes vice versa.
Just two days before President Karzai's departure for Washington, the head of National Security Council of Iran, Sayed Jalili whose country is opposing American forces' presence in Afghanistan, visited Kabul and held separate meetings with President Karzai and his two vice presidents.
Afghanistan's neighboring countries would oppose the long-term U.S. military presence in the country, the observer said, adding that the Afghan government ought to do its best to allay the concern of the neighbors particularly Russia, Iran and Pakistan.
Karzai and Obama signed the strategic partnership agreement in Kabul in May 2012, paving the way for inking a pact known as the Bilateral Security Agreement.
The talks between the U.S. and Afghanistan on the agreement formally began in Kabul on Nov. 15, 2012 and if inked the presence of a contingent possibly 6,000-20,000 troopers would be guaranteed for several years in Afghanistan.
Some 100,000 NATO-led troops with over 60,000 of them Americans are presently stationed in Afghanistan to fight Taliban-linked militancy and ensure durable peace in the conflict-ridden central Asian state.
Afghans have already begun worrying over the withdrawal of foreign troops from their country, fearing factional fighting and the Taliban's return to power after 2014.
"The well-equipped NATO-led forces have failed to eliminate Taliban outfit over the past 11 years, how is it possible for the poorly equipped national security forces to deal with Taliban insurgency," a retired teacher Mohammad Sediq said to Xinhua, hoping for long-term presence of the international community particularly U.S. in Afghanistan.
Sediq was also of the view that inking security agreement with the U.S. would halt foreign interference, curb Taliban insurgency and ensure peace in the country.
Taliban militants fighting the government and NATO-led troops, in a statement posted on their website over the weekend, described the U.S. and NATO-led forces' pullout from Afghanistan as defeat and lashed at remaining U.S. military in the country, vowing to continue Jihad or holy war till the eviction of the last foreign soldier from the country.
According to Sayedi, Afghanistan's gross domestic product stands at 1.7 billion U.S. dollars annually while the expenditure of the armed forces is more than 4 billion U.S. dollars a year. It is very difficult to for the Afghan government to afford alone.
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