April 27, 2008

Big Afghanistan update

Afghan leader criticises US over war

AFGHAN President Hamid Karzai criticized the US and British conduct of
the war in Afghanistan, telling The New York Times in an interview
published today his Government must be accorded the lead in policy

Mr Karzai told the newspaper he wanted US forces to stop arresting
suspected Taliban members and their sympathizers, saying that fear of
arrest along with past mistreatment were discouraging them from coming
forward and laying down their arms. "It has to happen," he said of the
end to such arrests.

In calling for greater Afghan autonomy, Mr Karzai said, "For the success
of the world in Afghanistan, it would be better to recognize this
inherent character in Afghanistan and work with it and support it."

"Eventually, if the world is to succeed in Afghanistan, it will be by
building the Afghan state, not by keeping it weak," he told the Times at
his presidential office.

Mr Karzai said relations with Pakistan's new government began on a good
note. "I am fairly confident of their good intentions," he said. "If the
current government has the full backing of the military and intelligence
circles in Pakistan and with the good intentions that they have, things
will improve."

Afghan Leader Criticizes U.S., Calling Arrests and Casualties Too High


New York Times April 26, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai strongly criticized the
British and American conduct of the war here on Friday, insisting in an
interview that his government be given the lead in policy decisions.

Mr. Karzai said that he wanted American forces to stop arresting
suspected Taliban and their sympathizers, and that the continued threat
of arrest and past mistreatment were discouraging Taliban from coming
forward to lay down their arms.

He criticized the American-led coalition as prosecuting the war on
terrorism in Afghan villages, saying the real terrorist threat lay in
sanctuaries of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

The president said that civilian casualties, which have dropped
substantially since last year, needed to cease completely. For nearly
two years the American-led coalition has refused to recognize the need
to create a trained police force, he said, leading to a critical lack of
law and order.

The comments came as Mr. Karzai is starting to point toward re-election
next year, after six years in office, and may be part of a political
calculus to appear more assertive in his dealings with foreign powers as
opponents line up to challenge him.

But they also follow a serious dip in his relations with some of the
countries contributing to the NATO-led security force and the
reconstruction of Afghanistan, and indicate that as the insurgency has
escalated, so, too, has the chafing among allies.

Complaints have been rising for months among diplomats and visiting
foreign officials about what is seen as Mr. Karzais weak leadership, in
particular his inability to curb narcotics trafficking and to remove
ineffective or corrupt officials. Some diplomats have even expressed
dismay that, for lack of an alternative, the country and its donors may
face another five years of poor management by Mr. Karzai.

He was quick to reject such criticism, pointing out the immense
difficulties that he and his government faced What is it we have not
gone through? while trying to rebuild a state that was utterly destroyed.

He called instead for greater respect of Afghanistans fierce
independence, and for more attention to be paid to building up the
country, than doing things for it.

For the success of the world in Afghanistan, it would be better to
recognize this inherent character in Afghanistan and work with it and
support it, he said, speaking at his presidential office. Eventually,
if the world is to succeed in Afghanistan, it will be by building the
Afghan state, not by keeping it weak.

Mr. Karzai said he was fighting corruption, a problem that is among the
chief complaints heard frequently by diplomats and Afghans alike. Mr.
Karzai said he had just fired an official the previous day and would be
firing more soon.

Yet the president explained that Afghanistan had never had so much money
and resources pouring in, or seen such disparities in salaries, and was
simply not capable yet of preventing the corruption.

He admitted that lots of things in the last six years could have been
handled better and singled out policies led by the United States, namely
tackling terrorism and handling the Taliban, both as prisoners and on
the battlefield.

On terrorism, he repeated a call he has made for several years, that
sanctuaries across the border in Pakistan be closed off.

There is no way but to close the sanctuaries, he said. Pakistan will
have no peace, Pakistans progress will suffer, so will Afghanistans
peace and progress, so will the worlds. If you want to live, and live
in peace, and work for prosperity, that has to happen. The sanctuaries
must go, period.

The deaths of civilians in the fighting have also been a big problem, he
said. It seriously undermines our efforts to have an effective campaign
against terrorism, he said. While NATO says civilian casualties have
declined in the last six months, Mr. Karzai said that was not good enough.

I am not happy with civilian casualties coming down; I want an end to
civilian casualties, he said. As much as one may argue its difficult,
I dont accept that argument.

He added, Because the war against terrorism is not in Afghan villages,
the war against terrorism is elsewhere, and thats where the war should
go, referring to the Taliban and Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan.

He said the issue had caused tension between him and American officials.
While those moments were very, very difficult, I must also be fair to
say that our partners in America have recognized my concerns and have
acted on them in good faith.

One of the biggest mistakes of the last six years has been the handling
of the Taliban, he said, and the failure of his government to guarantee
former members the amnesty that Mr. Karzai promised when the movement
was toppled in December 2001.

He blamed mistreatment by some warlords and American forces for driving
the Taliban out of the country, to Pakistan, where they regrouped and
took up weapons again.

Some of the warlords, and the coalition forces at times, in certain
areas of the country, behaved in a manner that frightened the Taliban to
move away from Afghanistan, he said. That should not have happened.

The weakness of his own government meant that he learned only much later
of some of the things that were occurring, he said.

He gave an example of a former member of the Taliban who was quietly
running a paint shop in Kabul and had been arrested three times by
American and Afghan security services.

We have to make sure that when a Talib comes to Afghanistan, that he is
safe from arrest by the coalition, he said. And we dont come to know
when the coalition arrests them; it is a major problem for us, a problem
that we have spoken about repeatedly without solution.

Asked if he could stop American forces from arresting suspected Taliban
or their sympathizers in Afghanistan, he said, We are working hard on
it, very hard on it.

He added, It has to happen.

Mr. Karzai said he had not complained to the Americans about their
treatment of people in their custody, despite long detentions, because
he did not have details of specific cases.

Despite the many problems, Mr. Karzai expressed optimism over
Afghanistans path, and said that the change of government in Pakistan
could bring progress against terrorism. We began on a very good note,
he said of relations with the new government, led by the party of former
Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in December.

I am fairly confident of their good intentions, he said. If the
current government has the full backing of the military and intelligence
circles in Pakistan and with the good intentions that they have, things
will improve.

The president said he supported the Pakistani governments efforts to
make peace with Taliban there who were not a threat to the rest of the

But if the deal is with those that are hard-core terrorists, Al Qaeda,
and are bent upon sooner or later again causing damage to Pakistan, and
to Afghanistan and to the rest of the world, then thats wrong and we
should definitely not do it.

He said he did not know Baitullah Mehsud, the militant leader who has
been accused of instigating Ms. Bhuttos assassination, but said he
would send him some advice: All that he is doing is hurting his own
people, that he shouldnt do that.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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