BAGRAM/ISLAMABAD (Agencies) – The United States on Monday ceded full control of the Bagram prison to Afghan forces one day after US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Pakistan’s Army chief General Ashfaq Parvaiz Kayani and discussed reconciliation process in Afghanistan.
John Kerry, after his Mideast tour, landed in Afghanistan on Monday for an unannounced visit, with relations badly frayed by Kabul's recent hostility to US-led military efforts in the country.
During Kerry’s Middle East tour, Pakistan Army chief General Kayani, who was on a scheduled visit to Jordan, met with him in Amman on Sunday.
According to a press release issued by ISPR was in Jordan on 24th March.
Both discussed reconciliation process in Afghanistan and security issues concerning South Asian region.
But Kerry on Monday, scrapped a planned visit to Pakistan to avoid accusations of meddling in the upcoming elections, US officials said.
Kerry dropped Islamabad from his itinerary as Pakistan prepares for elections on May 11 that will mark the country's first democratic transition of power.
"Originally Secretary Kerry was hopeful he would be able to go to Pakistan on this trip as well," a US official told reporters travelling with Kerry.
"But as the government there enters a very historic period on this electoral process we wanted to fully respect those institutions and the ongoing process."
The US is a major donor to Pakistan and there is deep suspicion among many Pakistanis over US involvement in the country.
The official said Kerry had met Pakistan's powerful army chief Ashfaq Kayani in Jordan on Sunday evening and would visit Islamabad in the near future.
Afghanistan Monday took full control of Bagram prison from the United States, healing a running sore in their relationship.
President Hamid Karzai had made the fate of the detention centre part of his push to regain sovereignty over key matters from the Americans ahead of US pullout.
A final agreement was sealed on Saturday, and a handover ceremony was held at the jail hours before Kerry landed in Kabul on an unannounced visit.
The drawn-out war in Afghanistan is increasingly unpopular in the US, and relations between Kabul and Washington were badly shaken earlier this month when Karzai accused the US of working in concert with Taliban militants.
Reacting to Karzai's shock allegations, a US official travelling with Kerry said the secretary of state was keen to move "beyond this incident" and to "continue to emphasise on how we work together".
Bagram was due to be turned over on March 9, but the transfer was postponed at the last minute after Karzai indicated that ‘innocent’ prisoners would be freed.
"US control of Bagram was a rallying cry for the Taliban and an important issue for much of the Afghan public," said Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. "This looks like a victory for Karzai as he has got what he wanted. Bagram was a huge stumbling block before they get onto a long list of other issues to sort out - and time is of the essence."
General Joseph Dunford, commander of the international coalition, and Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi signed a deal guaranteeing the treatment of detainees and "to protect the people of Afghanistan and coalition forces".
Guards prevented reporters from speaking to the freed men.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Kabul on Monday and vowed to stick by Afghanistan despite President Hamid Karzai's hostility to US-led military efforts in the country.
"The US is committed to an enduring partnership... The US supports a strong and united Afghanistan," Kerry said at a press conference in Kabul.
"We are committed to Afghanistan's sovereignty and we will not let Al-Qaeda or the Taliban shake this commitment."
Responding to the storm of protest over Karzai's collusion allegations, Kerry said he had been reassured by his meeting with the president and was ‘confident’ Karzai had no interest except getting the Taliban to peace talks.
But Karzai appeared keen to repair damaged ties, denying he accused the US of colluding with the Taliban and welcoming Monday's handover of Bagram prison from the US to Afghan control -- one of the running sores in the relationship. "I was interpreted as saying the US and Taliban are colluding, but I did not use this word," he told reporters.
"Today was a good day for Afghanistan. Bagram prison was handed over to the Afghan government... Finally after many years of effort we have reached a deal." "US control of Bagram was a rallying cry for the Taliban and an important issue for much of the Afghan public," said Kate Clark of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.
"This looks like a victory for Karzai as he has got what he wanted. Bagram was a huge stumbling block before they get onto a long list of other issues to sort out -- and time is of the essence."
Karzai plans to visit Qatar shortly to discuss the proposed opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf emirate as a prelude to possible peace talks.
"We with the US have agreed for the office to open in Qatar," Karzai said on Monday. "Those who come on behalf of the Taliban can talk and they have the right to talk to all Afghans."
But the Taliban refuse to communicate directly to Karzai, who they view as a puppet of the United States.
"The Taliban will hopefully understand that peace and peace talks are the best way to resolve differences," Kerry said.
Afghan troops and police are gradually taking on responsibility for battling the Taliban as most of the 100,000 foreign troops prepare to exit by the end of 2014. Karzai is due to step down at elections next year, 13 years after he came to power with US backing when the hardline Taliban regime was ousted in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks of 2001. The military and political calendars are lending added urgency to the search for a negotiated settlement to resolve Afghanistan's decades of conflict.