| ||Karzai Lashes Out at U.S. for Its Role in Afghanistan|
The New York Time
By Matthew Rosenberg
[Printer Friendly Version]
KABUL — With the United States weighing a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of next year, President Hamid Karzai offered a stinging critique of the American-led campaign here, saying coalition forces had inflicted needless suffering on Afghans.
“They could leave,” he said in an interview with the BBC on Tuesday.
The focus of the war, Mr. Karzai said, should have been insurgent training camps and safe havens across the border in Pakistan, not “in Afghan villages, causing harm to Afghan people.”
Mr. Karzai has lashed out at the United States and its allies before. But his latest comments came at a crucial juncture: The NATO coalition’s mission concludes at the end of 2014, and negotiations to keep American forces in Afghanistan beyond that point are stalled, according to Afghan and American officials.
Officials on both sides say they have reached the limits of their willingness to compromise, a sentiment echoed by Mr. Karzai in the BBC interview.
“If the agreement doesn’t suit us, then, of course, they can leave,” he said. “The agreement has to suit Afghanistan’s interests and purposes. If it doesn’t suit us and if it doesn’t suit them, then naturally we will go separate ways.”
If no deal is struck with the United States, it would be logistically impossible for European powers to stay on. American and European officials have also said that billions of dollars in aid on which Afghanistan depends — the country only contributes about 20 percent of its budget — would be in jeopardy if all foreign military forces departed.
Two sticking points remain.
The first is Mr. Karzai’s insistence that the United States guarantee Afghanistan’s security as it would if the country were a NATO ally. That could compel the United States to send troops on raids into Pakistan, an ally of Washington and a nuclear-armed power.
The second is Mr. Karzai’s refusal to allow American forces to continue hunting for operatives of Al Qaeda here. The Afghan leader wants the United States to hand over its intelligence and let Afghan forces conduct the operations.
American officials have balked at both proposals. They have said they would cut off talks if substantial progress was not made in the coming weeks and begin preparing for what is known as the zero option: a complete withdrawal.
Only months ago, American generals were speaking openly of plans to keep some troops — mostly likely fewer than 10,000 — in Afghanistan to train Afghan forces and hunt for Al Qaeda forces.
But President Obama, in an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday, struck a far more equivocal note, saying the United States would consider keeping troops in Afghanistan only if it got the deal it wanted.
“If we can’t, we will continue to make sure that all the gains we’ve made in going after Al Qaeda we accomplish, even if we don’t have any U.S. military on Afghan soil,” Mr. Obama said.
American officials say the threat to cut off talks is not a bluff, though Afghan officials have so far said that they see it that way. Many in the Afghan government have said they believe keeping forces in Afghanistan is a strategic necessity for the United States, and therefore it must be willing to compromise.
Mr. Karzai, speaking to reporters on Monday, said he would call a loya jirga — a traditional gathering of tribal elders and other important people — to discuss the security agreement with the United States. He said the jirga would take place at the end of the month, which would likely push past the Obama administration’s deadline for concluding talks.
Mr. Karzai, who has just six months left in office until a successor is elected, said in the BBC interview that the United States and its allies had failed to deliver what they promised to Afghanistan.
“I am not happy to say that there is partial security,"he said. “That’s not what we are seeking. What we wanted was absolute security and a clear-cut war against terrorism.”
Mr. Karzai, however, acknowledged that his government was “weak and ineffective” and had not been able to tackle the rampant corruption within its ranks. But he said the blame for that, too, ultimately fell on the United States and its allies, which had spent blindly to buy Afghan loyalties.
“The big corruption, the hundreds of millions of dollars of corruption, it was not Afghan. Now everybody knows that. It was foreign,” Mr. Karzai said.
“The contracts, the subcontracts, the blind contracts given to people, money thrown around to buy loyalties, money thrown around to buy submissiveness of Afghan government officials, to policies and designs that the Afghans would not agree to. That was the major part of corruption,” Mr. Karzai said, making an apparent reference to the Central Intelligence Agency financing a slush fund for his office with monthly deliveries of cash.
Mr. Karzai also said that his government was actively engaged in talks with the Taliban, though it was not clear if he was speaking about the informal contacts between the government and Taliban leaders that have existed throughout the war or more formal negotiations, which both Afghan and American officials have said are moribund.
Yet even if a peace deal is struck with the Taliban, the rights of women would be protected, Mr. Karzai insisted.
“The return of the Taliban will not undermine progress,” he said.
“I have no doubt that there will be more Afghan young girls and women studying and getting higher education and better job opportunities,” he said. “Even if the Taliban come, that will not end, that will not slow down.”