A top Afghan National Army general is speaking out against President Hamid Karzai's reluctance to sign a long-term security pact with the U.S. , claiming the Afghan president is emboldening the Taliban and jeopardizing the survival of Afghanistan's budding government and national security forces.
Brig. Gen. Abdul Raziq, commander of the ANA's 4th Brigade stationed at Camp Maiwand in Logar Province, spoke to a contingent of U.S. military commanders Sunday, relaying his frustration with the Afghan President's reluctance to sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the U.S. and NATO coalition forces .
"Karzai is playing a dangerous game," Raziq said. "It's not good for the Afghan people, and it's not good for him."
Raziq pointed to the recent uptick in sectarian violence in Iraq as a bellwether for what might happen to Afghanistan if Washington and Kabul can't decide on a long-term deal.
"The Afghan people are afraid of what might happen if we don't sign this deal," he said. "We see what is happening in Iraq. We know that if America leaves, the terrorists will be back."
A product of tense, year long negotiations, the BSA outlines the limits of a long-term U.S. training-and-counterterror mission  after the formal cessation of combat operations at the end of 2014. A key provision of the agreement grants U.S. troops immunity from prosecution under Afghan law.
A national council of tribal elders and regional leaders -- the Loya Jirga -- endorsed the agreement last month, but Karzai scuttled the deal, announcing final approval should wait until after April's presidential elections. U.S. and NATO officials have since pressed Karzai to move forward on the agreement, but he so far he has refused.
U.S. military officials say the Loya Jirga's endorsement of the BSA proves the people of Afhganistan are in favor of a long-term U.S. presence in the country. Raziq added that the ANA is also pushing for the BSA's approval, saying the fledgling Afghan Army has a long way to go before it can operate without U.S. advising and financial support.
"It's hard to build an army while you're fighting a war," Raziq said.
"Their [ANA] progress has been undeniable, and Americans should be proud of that," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brian Beckno, battalion commander of the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, currently deployed to FOB Shank. "But I still see this as being the next Korea -- Afghanistan needs long-term U.S. support to be successful."
Raziq is a former mujahedin commander who fought alongside Ahmad Massoud in the war against the USSR in the 1980s. The 53-year-old Pashtun general, who is also a mullah, was one of the original six officers chosen to lead the ANA when it was formed by coalition forces in 2002. Eight members of Raziq's family -- including his father, brother, and brother-in-law -- have been killed in combat since the 1980s.
He commands more than 500 soldiers and is known for his aggressive leadership style -- his unit has the highest casualty rate in the Afghan National Army.
Raziq criticized Karzai's recent attempts to negotiate with the Taliban, saying the insurgent group should be brought to the negotiating table only after their defeat on the battlefield.
"We have to break the back of the Taliban before we can negotiate with them," Raziq said. "Right now the peace process will only benefit the enemy. This peace process is not good for the Afghan people ."
Raziq told the group of U.S. military officials Sunday that during a recent offensive by the 4th Brigade, he intercepted Taliban radio communications boasting that their fighters should no longer fear American air attacks because Karzai had forbidden U.S. warplanes from dropping bombs.
"Karzai is thinking that if he puts restrictions on Americans, the Taliban will go down," Raziq said. "But in fact, it is improving their morale. The attacks are just getting worse."
Raziq also pushed back against recent claims by Karzai that NATO coalition forces were withholding fuel supplies from Afghan national security forces as retaliation for the BSA's delayed signing.
"I don't know why Karzai said coalition forces aren't providing us fuel," Raziq said. "He lied. I still have fuel."
Asked if a peace pact with the Taliban will ever be possible, Raziq replied: "If we extend our left hand for peace, we need to keep our right hand on the trigger."
"The Taliban are just waiting for 2014."