WASHINGTON - Several key leaders, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, have argued with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai that he ought to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States in the interest of regional stability, a senior American official has said..

Testifying before a Senate Committee on Tuesday, James Dobbins, the US Special Representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan said that the US-Afghanistan security agreement will eventually be concluded despite President Karzai’s refusal to sign it.

He said Afghanistan’s regional neighbours, with the exception of Iran, also understand the importance of the BSA.

The leaders of Russia, Pakistan, China and India have “all personally urged President Karzai to conclude the BSA,” even if some of them may not be keen on a US military presence in Central Asia.

These leaders, however, recognise that without continued international military and economic support, Afghanistan risks falling back into civil war.

The envoy outlined the support the Bilateral Security Agreement, which took a year of hard negotiations before being finally drafted, has received since it was overwhelmingly approved last month by Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga grand council of elders.

However, Karzai has continued to maintain his stand by making new demands before signing it despite repeated US reminders it must be done before year-end.

The agreement is needed to decide how many US troops would be stationed in Afghanistan after the US-led NATO forces complete their withdrawal by the end of 2014. Karzai also has said the agreement should be signed only by his successor after elections in April.

In his testimony, Dobbins also noted that “there has been a marked improvement over the last two or three months” in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.

“Pakistan is proposing is a much more substantial cooperative border regime  —— essentially a regime along that line, which would better regulate the some 60,000 people who go back and forth every day across that line,” Ambassador Dobbins said.

“The Pakistanis seem serious about moving towards a more substantial regime, more checkpoints, more biometric data, to make sure you know who’s moving back and forth.”

He recognised that the US and international forces ability to directly impact security on Pakistan-Afghanistan border is “going to be somewhat diminished as our own forces go down.”

“But part of the residual force we’re talking about is a small counterterrorism which would operate almost exclusively partnered with Afghan forces and would be directed very much at the insecurity and militancy that grows up in the border region,” he added.

The Obama Administrations envoy told lawmakers that improvement in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations and continued international assistance for Afghanistan will greatly help Islamabad stabilise its region along the Afghan border.

“With a continued American and NATO military commitment with continued substantial assistance to Afghanistan and — on the one hand, and on the other hand, continued improvement in the Pakistan-Afghan relationship — and there has been a marked improvement over the last two or three months — then I think it will become somewhat easier for Pakistan to begin to stabilise its own border regions.”

In a scenario where US and NATO pull out all troops from Afghanistan and international support for Kabul diminishes all regional countries will start hedging games by backing different Afghan factions, he reckoned, fearing that the “border regions of Afghanistan would begin to be even more of a safe haven for anti-Pakistani terrorists than they already are. And of course, the regions of Pakistan become an even greater safe haven for terrorists and extremists.”

The Bilateral Security Agreement, currently awaiting Afghan President’s signatures, would “provide the Afghans an assurance that the international commitment is going to be sustained beyond 2014, and be able to conduct an election campaign and the selection of a new president within a security blanket, if you will, that the future is not going to return to the 1990s but is going to be continuity of the progress that they’ve made over the last decade.”

Dobbins said the US and its allies “don’t want to see an outflow of refugees (from Afghanistan). Millions have come back over the last decade. And we don’t want to see that flow reversed. We have worked carefully with the new Pakistan government to try to promote better relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.”