Karzai for setting new rules for foreign troops

KABUL: President Hamid Karzai said today he wants new rules governing the conduct of US-led forces in Afghanistan and would be willing to talk with Taliban leaders who publicly renounce violence and endorse peace.But Karzai, acknowledging shaky relations with his international partners in the war on terror,

told The Associated Press in an interview that he was not prepared at this time to discuss the key Taliban demand - a timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign troops.

Karzai said the presence of US and international forces was in

the Afghan national interest but should be “based on a new contract” that would minimise civilian

casualties, limit searches of private homes and restrict detaining Afghans indefinitely without charge. He also said he wanted the US-run prison at Bagram Air Base, where about 600 Afghans were held, re-evaluated and inmates released unless there was evidence linking them to terrorist affiliation. He said arrests were turning ordinary Afghans against US and NATO forces.

Karzai has promised to pursue those demands for changes in the relationship with foreign forces

if he wins a second term in

the August 20 presidential election. He is considered the leading contender in the 39-candidate field, though he would be forced into a runoff if he fails to win a majority of votes in the first round.

“The Afghan people still want a fundamentally strong relation with the United States,” Karzai said. “The Afghan people want a strategic partnership with America” based on fighting Islamic extremism.

But he added that the partnership must ensure “that the partners

are not losing their lives, their

property, their dignity as a consequence of that partnership.” The 91,000 international troops based in Afghanistan include about 65,000 under NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF. The rest are part of a US-led coalition involved in counterterrorism and training Afghan forces. Both

groups operate under different rules, which are kept secret for operational security reasons.