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Leon Panetta's big task in Afghanistan is trust-building. Impossible? (+video)

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The issue of equity is at the heart of Afghan demands that the rogue US soldier who allegedly went on a shooting rampage Sunday be held accountable in Afghan courts. The US has been unwilling to hand over its military personnel to foreign courts: In the case of Iraq, the Pentagon’s insistence on immunity for US troops accused of crimes against civilians ultimately led to the full military exodus from that country, as Iraqi officials refused to compromise on this point. 

Mr. Karzai, for his part, may be more willing to make a deal to keep US forces in Afghanistan past 2014, when combat troops are slated to leave. This is at least in part because he has little choice, analysts point out: The Karzai government would be in danger of collapse if US forces abruptly pulled up stakes. 

Still, “the Karzai question is actually quite interesting. He’s a very savvy guy. It’s very easy for us sitting over here to say, ‘Oh, he’s having a tantrum,’ but if you look carefully at the way he chooses his words and what he actually says, it’s more telling,” says Paraag Shukla, a former defense intelligence analyst.

Often, Karzai practices “classic brinksmanship,” adds Mr. Shukla, now a senior research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. “He digs his heels in like he’s not going to compromise at all, but he’ll make concessions when it’s politically viable.”

Will Karzai ultimately agree to a post-2014 deal in which US troops are immune from prosecution in Afghan courts? In part, he'll answer that by assessing public opinion. So far, street protests in the aftermath of the soldier rampage have been less hostile than those that followed revelations that US military forces had mistakenly burned Qurans at a prison in eastern Afghanistan earlier this month.

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