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    US hopes India, other countries to persuade Karzai on BSA

    WASHINGTON (PAN): Warning that prolonged uncertainty over the bilateral security agreement (BSA) will erode larger international support for Afghanistan, the Obama Administration Tuesday hoped that neighboring countries such as India would persuade President Hamid Karzai to sign the vital security pact.

    Having just returned from Kabul, the Special US Representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, told lawmakers on Tuesday that he is hopeful of concluding the BSA this year.

     “The BSA is the keystone of a much wider international commitment involving over 70 countries ready to provide economic and security assistance to Afghanistan beyond 2014,” Dobbins said testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    “Afghanistan's regional neighbors, with the exception of Iran, also understand the importance of the BSA. I understand that President Putin of Russia, President Xi of China, Prime Minister Singh of India and Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan have all personally urged President Karzai to conclude this agreement,” he said.

    Several of these leaders are no fans of an American military presence in Central Asia, but they all seem to recognize that without continued international military and economic support, Afghanistan risks falling back into civil war with the attendant rise in extremist groups, outflow of refugees and disruptions in commerce that would threaten the region as a whole, Dobbins said.

     “Given this coincidence of Afghan public and regional governmental opinion, I see little chance that the BSA will not be eventually concluded. Awaiting the arrival of the next Afghan president to do so, however, will impose large and unnecessary costs on the Afghan people. Already, the anxiety caused by President Karzai's refusal to heed the advice of the Loya Jirga is having such an effect,” he said.

    Dobbins said while in Kabul last week, he learned from the World Bank and other sources that the Afghan currency is slipping in value, inflation is increasing, capital fleeing, property values dropping. Probably for the first time since 2001, the outflow of Afghan population exceeds the return of refugees, he noted.

    “The longer this uncertainty about the future international commitment to Afghanistan continues, the more anxiety will increase, potentially dominating the upcoming presidential elections, threatening to turn these into a polarizing rather than a unifying experience in the country,” he said.

    Prolonged uncertainty over the BSA would also erode larger international support for Afghanistan, he said, adding at Tokyo in July 2012 and in Chicago in May of that year, the international community pledged billions in support of the Afghan security forces and the Afghan economy beyond 2014.

     “I have no doubt that the BSA ultimately will be concluded. I am concerned about the damage and the costs which a prolonged delay will create. I can't predict with any certainty when it is going to be signed. I think there's some prospect that it could still be signed this year,” the US official said.

    mm/rm