Proponents of the Kabul-Washington security pact in Parliament came out in full force on Wednesday, calling for the agreement to be signed immediately and warning of catastrophe if it goes un-finalized.
Lawmakers said the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) involved more than just whether or not U.S. troops would stay after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014, or if military aid would continue to the Afghan forces. They argued the nation's economic health and place in the international community, more broadly, were hinged on the accord.
"You are well aware that our economic, political and security situations are interrelated to the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement," an MP from Ghazni province named Nafeesa Sultani said. "If the BSA isn't signed, Afghanistan will face new disaster."
On Sunday, President Hamid Karzai rejected the Loya Jirga's recommendation to sign the BSA before the end of the year. He said he would not sign it before the April elections, and only then, if the U.S. met three preconditions: transparent elections in April, no raids on Afghan homes and a breakthrough in talks with the Taliban.
U.S. officials have scoffed at these demands and said they have no "magic wand" to establish peace in Afghanistan overnight. U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice met with Karzai in Kabul this week to address these concerns, but the Afghan President refused to budge.
Washington has said the BSA must be signed before the end of the year so that plans for residual troops can be made with NATO allies. If not finalized by 2014, the U.S. has indicated the entire deal could be in jeopardy, which could mean no foreign troops will stay in Afghanistan after December of next year.
"All people support the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement, but Karzai has taken hostage the agreement hostage and he doesn't want to sign it," a Kabul MP named Nazifa Zaki said on Wednesday. "This was his personal decision, and the people of Afghanistan aren't satisfied with his approach."
Business insiders have indicated the doubt recently cast over the future of the deal has already had an impact on markets. But, for many Afghans, a post-2014 Afghanistan without a close partnership with the U.S. and its NATO allies could mean something worse than a halt in economic growth.
"If the BSA isn't signed, Afghanistan will move towards civil war," Zaki said.
Representatives from the newly founded Mawj-e-Tahawol Afghanistan political movement, which has pushed hard for the BSA to be signed, expressed similar opinions. The argued that Karzai was endangering the national interests of Afghanistan through his own petty political games.
Many have questioned what Karzai's motivations are for setting the preconditions and remaining so intransigent in negotiations. Some have said it is unchecked pride, others have suggested more nefarious intentions related to his standing once out of office next year.
Either way, the legions of critics are growing by the day, and on Wednesday, Parliament did not show any support for the President.
"Karzai's precondition for restoration of peace and security in Afghanistan with the span of one month is really funny," MP Fawzia Kofi said.
"If the U.S. can guarantee the holding of transparent elections, then what are the jobs of the Afghan government and the election commission?" asked Panjshir MP Zaheer Saadat.
Others suggested Karzai be taken out of the equation all together.
"This is a security agreement, if Karzai doesn't intend to sign it, then he should allow the Minister of Defense to sign the agreement," Kandahar MP Mohammad Naeem Lalai Hamidzai suggested.
If the BSA is not signed, U.S. negotiators have indicated no foreign troops would remain post-2014 and some 4.1 billion USD in aid to the Afghan military would be frozen.
The U.S. troops who stay beyond 2014, expected to number around 10-15,000, would primarily train and mentor Afghan forces. Some special forces would stay to conduct "counter-terror operations."
The only outspoken opponents of the accord have been the Taliban, Hezb-e-Islami, the Islamic Student Association and Jabhe Wahdat Milli. They have said the continued presence of foreign troops would violate Afghan sovereignty and perpetuate the insurgent conflict, looking to reduce foreign involvement in Afghanistan.
However, lawmakers on Wednesday said they spoke for the Afghan people, and said that if Washington pulled back all troops from Afghanistan next year, Afghans would never forgive President Karzai.