Afghans 'ready' to sign US security pact: President Karzai

KABUL (AFP) - The Afghan president told the top US military commander on Monday that he was ready in principle to let American troops stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, a month after suspending security talks.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, is the most senior American to meet President Hamid Karzai since he suspended negotiations for a long-term security pact in protest at how the Taleban opened a liaison office in Qatar.

Mr Karzai's office said both sides discussed the Afghan-US security pact.

"President Karzai once again emphasised that the Afghan people have suffered from long years of war in their country, and want peace to be restored," a statement said.

"President Karzai said with that hope, Afghans are ready to sign a security pact with the US, on condition that it leads to peace and stability in the country, the strengthening of Afghan forces, and a united and sovereign Afghanistan," it added.

Mr Karzai suspended the security talks, furious that the Taleban styled their office in Doha as an embassy for a self-styled government in waiting.

Afghan government forces have formally taken responsibility for security from US-led Nato troops due to leave the country next year. But there are concerns about their ability to stand against the Taleban unaided.

The New York Times reported this month that tense relations with Mr Karzai might see Washington quicken its troop withdrawal or even leave no forces behind after 2014.

The Pentagon has said any potential longer-term US military presence would focus on targeting remnants of Al-Qaeda and, training and equipping Afghan forces.

The idea of a "zero option" of leaving no troops behind was mooted earlier this year by US deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes.

The US relationship with Mr Karzai, while never good and often volatile, deteriorated again over stillborn peace talks with the Taleban in Doha.

Last week, Mr Karzai's chief of staff, Mr Karim Khorram, claimed the Taleban office was part of a plot to break up Afghanistan, orchestrated by either Pakistan or the United States.

On Monday, Mr Karzai contested parliament's decision to sack his interior minister for failing to stem rising Taleban attacks.

MPs sought to oust Mr Mujtaba Patang, who took office less than a year ago. He lost a vote of confidence by 136 to 60 in the lower house of parliament, or Wolesi Jirga.

He has been widely accused of incompetence since taking on the portfolio. Unlike former warlords who dominate Afghan politics, he lacks a strong personal power base.

Mr Karzai announced in a statement that although it was the MPs' right to pass a vote of no confidence, he was appealing to the Supreme Court before deciding whether or not to accept Mr Patang's dismissal.

"He emphasises that the giving no confidence vote should be justified and according to the law," said Mr Karzai's office. "For clarification, the president decided to refer the issue to the Supreme Court, and after the Supreme Court rules, he will decide on it."