KABUL – Afghanistan’s parliament on Saturday voted by an overwhelming majority to ratify a strategic partnership agreement with the United States signed earlier this month, lawmakers said.
“We voted with a majority in favour of the strategic pact,” MP Shukria Essakhil told AFP.
“Only five MPs voted against it,” she said, adding that around 190 lawmakers out of 249 were present for the open vote.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama paid a surprise visit to Kabul to sign a deal with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai that will cement post-war ties with Kabul after 2014, when NATO-led combat forces leave Afghanistan.
The pact foresees the possibility of American forces staying behind to train Afghan soldiers and pursue the remnants of Al-Qaeda but does not commit Washington to specific troop or funding levels.
The pact alarmed Afghanistan’s neighbours including Iran, and lawmaker Bakhtash Seyawash said that the Islamic republic had attempted to “sabotage” the vote.
“There is no doubt that Iran tried to influence the vote, but it didn’t work”, he said.
“There were accusations that Iran has tried to pay millions of dollars to MPs, that is why the parliament decided to hold an open vote,” he added.
“Iran’s efforts to sabotage the vote failed,” he said.
Relations between Afghanistan and Iran have been strained by the strategic pact, officials said, charging that Tehran had harassed Afghan diplomats in recent weeks.
Lawmakers had warned Iran to end its “interference” in Afghanistan’s internal affairs over the pact.
On Friday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that the agreement was not against the national interest of any neighboring countries.
“Any pact we sign is not against Iran and it’s for the stability of Afghanistan and expanding relations with” its neighbours, Karzai said.
The deal, reached after months of painstaking negotiations, also states that the United States does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan.
There are currently around 130,000 international troops in Afghanistan and all NATO-led combat forces are due to leave by the end of 2014.
But amid a rising death toll, troubled domestic economies and the increasing unpopularity of the Afghan war in many Western countries, troop withdrawals are now getting under way.
New President Francois Hollande, on a surprise visit to Kabul on Friday, defended France’s imminent exit from Afghanistan.
France is set to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, a year earlier than Paris initially planned, and two years before NATO allies.
The U.S-led war in Afghanistan has cost the lives of around 3,000 U.S. and allied troops, seen thousands of Afghans killed and cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
The pact is now going to be sent to the Afghan senate where it is expected to be signed as early as next week, Seyawash said.