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Afghans died in a war that's not ours: Karzai

Afghans died in a war that's not ours: Karzai

Mar 03, 2014 - 15:19

KABULinfo-icon (Pajhwok): Deeply troubled by all the casualties he has seen, President Hamid Karzai has said he feels betrayed by an insufficient US focus on targeting Talibaninfo-icon sanctuaries in Pakistaninfo-icon and insists that public criticism has been the only way to guarantee an American response to his concerns.

In an unusually emotional interview to Washington Post, the departing Afghan president sought to explain why he has been such a harsh critic of the 12-year-old US war effort in his country.

Karzai said the war was not waged with his country’s interests in mind. “Afghans died in a war that’s not ours,’ he said in the interview, his first in two years with a US newspaper.

The paper said Hamid Karzai was in the midst of negotiating a security agreement with the United States when he met a 4-year-old girl who had lost half her face in an American airstrike.

Five months later, the Afghan president’s eyes welled with tears as he described visiting the disfigured little girl at a hospital.

He took long pauses between words. Sitting behind his desk Saturday night, the man who has projected a defiant image toward the West suddenly looked frail.

“That day, I wished she were dead, so she could be buried with her parents and brothers and sisters” — 14 of whom had been killed in the attack — he said.

In Karzai’s mind, al-Qaeda is “more a myth than a reality” and the majority of the United States’ prisoners here were innocent. He’s certain that the war was “for the US security and for the Western interest.”

Such statements elicit scorn and shock from US officials, who point out that Americans have sacrificed mightily for Afghanistaninfo-icon — losing more than 2,000 lives and spending more than $600 billion in the effort to defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban and rebuild the country.

Karzai has been refusing to sign the bilateral security agreement with Washington that would permit a residual US force to remain here beyond 2014. He has added several new demands in exchange for signing the deal.

 “It’s good for them (Americans) to sign it with my successor,” Karzai said in the interview. US President Obama phoned Karzai last week and said he will accept having the winner of Afghanistan’s April presidential elections sign the pact.

Karzai indicated that he views that as a best-case scenario. He won’t have to submit to US demands — such as the continuation of counter­terrorism operations — but the popular security agreement will probably still be finalized.

His demands that the United States hand over the Bagram prison were eventually met, allowing Karzai last month to release dozens of high-profile detainees despite US protests. Those experiences reaffirmed his conviction that public criticism of the United States is often his most effective diplomatic tool.

“I had no other weapon to resort to, no other means to resort to, but to speak publicly and get attention that way. In other words, I was forced to yell,” he said.

Karzai reiterated that he will not manipulate the April 5 presidential election. He has told his older brother to withdraw his candidacy to avoid the perception of interference. Qayum Karzai has refused, but he acknowledges what most Afghans believe: “Without the president’s support, it will be impossible to win,” Qayum said.

 “People do come to me, a lot of people, every day rather. Groups of people, individuals — they ask me” for support,” Karzai said.  Some of them ask him to remain in office, he said, but he dismisses the idea.  “I’ve done enough; it’s time for me to move on,” Karzai said.

Now that he has decided to leave office, he is reckoning with the same question that many Americans are asking: Was the war worth it?

“I am of two hearts here. When I see good, I am in approval. When I see the losses of Afghan people, our children, maimed and killed, I’m in disapproval,” he said, speaking in English. “Maybe I can give you an answer of yes or no two, three or five years from now, when my emotions have subsided. Right now, I’m full of emotions.’’

Karzai is at his most emotional — and most hostile — when civilian casualties occur. Even his critics don’t doubt the sincerity of his feelings, although they might disagree with his conclusions.

He said Afghanistan’s “common cause” with the United States dissipated because of such casualties. He has also said that US forces should have done more to target Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, rather than conduct operations in Afghan villages.

Karzai denied that he’s more vocal about US-inflicted civilian casualties than those caused by the Taliban. But he has done little to dispel that characterization.

During a visit to the White House in 2010, he carried a photo of what he described as a family whose members were “just gazing with fright and fear” during a US-led night operation. He showed it to Obama.

“I said, ‘President, this is what I’m trying to end, the intimidation of Afghan families at night, in the name of fighting the Taliban.’ ”

Asked about Obama’s response, Karzai shrugged, indicating it was unsatisfactory. Then he said: “So we are really an angry people.”

 “Foreign assistance brought an expensive way of life to Afghanistan,” Karzai said. “This way of life is not sustainable. Afghanistan has to live by its means.” Specifically, that means a smaller army built based on “efficiency and affordability,” Karzai said.

But without foreign funding, it’s unclear whether Afghanistan could afford an army that could keep the Taliban at bay. Maintaining Afghan forces at their current size will cost about $4 billion per year. In 2013, the Afghan government collected only $1.7 billion in revenue.

After leaving office, Karzai won’t go far: The government has built him a house a few miles from the presidential palace.

But before he steps down, Karzai has a few more messages to convey to his American partners. As he escorted two Washington Post journalists out of his office Saturday evening, he said: “To the American people, give them my best wishes and my gratitude. To the US government, give them my anger, my extreme anger.’’



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