November 28, 2008, New Delhi – Afghan President Hamid Karzai blasted the U.S. and its NATO allies for failing to defeat the Taliban, insisting for the first time that Afghans need a firm deadline to end the war.
Setting such a deadline seems unlikely with President-elect Barack Obama seeking to boost the number of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. But without one, Mr. Karzai said, his government had no choice but to explore a negotiated settlement with the Taliban.
“This war has gone on for seven years; the Afghans don’t understand any more how come a little force like the Taliban can continue to exist, can continue to flourish, can continue to launch attacks,” Mr. Karzai told a visiting United Nations delegation Tuesday. His office released a transcript Wednesday.
After the Taliban fell from power in Afghanistan in late 2001, the U.S. backed Mr. Karzai’s rise to power, and he has enjoyed Washington’s support since then. But with elections set for next year, Mr. Karzai has stepped up his criticism of the international role in Afghanistan in an apparent bid to shore up his support among conservative — and increasingly disaffected — Afghan tribes, and to deflect mounting criticism at home and abroad from people who say his government is weak and corrupt.
Neither the U.S. Embassy nor spokesmen for North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in Afghanistan responded to requests for comment about Mr. Karzai’s remarks.
Mr. Karzai’s strident tone adds another layer to the challenges facing Mr. Obama, who has said Afghanistan will be among his top foreign-policy priorities. Among plans being considered by Mr. Obama is one to send as many as 20,000 U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan next year to reinforce the 32,000 already there.
In his remarks, Mr. Karzai said for the first time that Afghans needed a clear timeline for the war and couldn’t tolerate an open-ended campaign. “If there is no deadline we have the right to another solution for peace and security, which is negotiations,” he said.
The Afghan president has repeatedly called for negotiations, last week going so far as to offer Taliban leader Mullah Omar safe passage to attend talks — an offer that was promptly rejected by the Taliban.
U.S. and other Western policy makers have said that talks with some elements of the Taliban are needed. But they are looking to engage relatively moderate Pashtun tribes that form the Taliban’s grassroots support. Few in the U.S. or Europe want to make any sort of deal with the group’s leadership, or believe such an agreement can be struck.
To the U.N. group, Mr. Karzai criticized everything from what he called a “parallel” government being created by foreign security and aid agencies to the number of civilians killed by U.S. and NATO forces. He said those forces have taken the fight “to the villages of Afghanistan where there were no terrorists.”
U.S. and NATO commanders say the Taliban is using villagers as human shields.
Mr. Karzai also blamed Afghanistan’s endemic corruption in part on foreign contractors who “contract, then subcontract, and then another subcontract and then perhaps another subcontract.” The process “means immense possibilities of major corruption.”
In one of the few positive notes, Mr. Karzai said relations with Pakistan, where the Taliban and al Qaeda have taken over wide swaths of territory in Pakistan’s Northwest, have improved considerably since President Asif Ali Zardari took office in September.
Mr. Zardari’s predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, a former general who came to power in a 1999 coup, won Washington’s backing after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but was frequently accused by Afghanistan and Western governments of not doing enough to combat Islamic militants.