Afghan President Hamid Karzai marked the 12th anniversary of the US-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan that dislodged the Taliban from power and ended up installing him as leader by saying that Afghan women have nothing to fear from a return of Taliban influence and that nothing has been really gained thanks to the foreign military effort in the country.
Karzai's remarks come as the clock is ticking on a so-called Bilateral Security Agreement to be inked between NATO and Afghanistan. If an agreement isn't reached, including guarantees that US forces won't be subject to Afghan law, all US troops will depart from the country at the end of next year. While there's still time for a deal to be reached, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said in July that an agreement any later than October would make planning for an ongoing mission beyond the end of 2014 much more difficult.
But Karzai's comments today to the BBC's Newsnight weren't exactly outreaching, and makes one wonder if he's not interested in retaining the services of foreign soldiers. He's tried to use the drawn out negotiation over the BSA to wring more aid and weaponry out of the US, as well as far-reaching security guarantees. But with a war-weary American public and fights over the US budget deficit at home for Obama, walking away from Afghanistan becomes more likely with each passing day and insult tossed at the US and its partners.
Today Karzai complained that the US administration's descriptions of his government as an "ineffective partner" is because the US "want us to keep silent when civilians are killed. We will not, we can not."
He said that relations with the US soured because the US under President George W. Bush decided not to broaden the war to Pakistan in 2005. Instead of fighting "in the sanctuaries and training grounds beyond Afghanistan," Karzai said, "the US and NATO forces were conducting operations in Afghan villages, causing harm to Afghan people."
The Afghan President, asked if Afghan women should have any fear about a possible entry of the Taliban into government, answered: "None. None at all."
Karzai also said most of the "big" corruption in Afghanistan was the work of foreigners, not Afghans, and that much of the money spent was used to "buy submissiveness of Afghan government officials to policies and designs that the Afghans would not have agreed to."
He also said the massive 12 year war effort has largely been a waste: "On security front, entire NATO exercise was one that caused Afghanistan a lot of suffering and a lot of loss of life and no gains because the country is not secure. I am not happy to say there is partial security because that is not what we’re seeking. What we wanted was absolute security and a clear cut war against terrorism."
Below is a transcript of the BBC interview I took down while listening (which can be watched here.) The interviewer's questions are approximations; Karzai's answers are his precise words.
Karzai interview transcript
Q: The country has come a long way in the last 12 years. Why do the Americans call “you an unreliable ineffective partner?”
A: Because where they want us to go along, we won’t go along. They want us to keep silent when civilians are killed. We will not, we can not.
Q: Did you get on with Bush better than Obama?
A: I had a very good relationship with President Bush in those beginning years there was not much of a difference of opinion between us. The worsening of relations began actually in 2005 where we saw the first incidents of civilian casualties where we saw that the war on terror was not conducted where it should have been, which was in the sanctuaries and the training grounds beyond Afghanistan, rather than that the US and NATO forces were conducting operations in Afghan villages, causing harm to Afghan people.
Q: Are you talking to the Taliban, personally?
A: Yes we are. Yes, we are. We have our whole system engaged in several directions to bring stability and peace to Afghanistan
Q: Is the goal to bring them into a power-sharing deal in government?
A: Absolutely. They’re Afghans, where the afghan president, where the afghan government can appoint the Taliban to a government job, they’re welcome we will do that. But where it’s the afghan people appointing people through elections to state organs then the Taliban should come and participate in elections. So to clarify this, yes as Afghans they are welcome to the Afghan government, like all other Afghans. Yes, as Afghans they are welcome to participate in elections as all other afghans.
Q: US/UK audiences might ask what was all this for then? 12 years fighting, lives lost, and the Taliban can just walk back in and be part of government.
A: Well the Americans have told us themselves in Washington in my last visit that the Taliban are not their enemies. That they will not fight the Taliban anymore.
Q: What are you talking about with the Taliban?
A: If the Taliban have reasons for which they can not come they must spell this out. If it is the Afghan constitution, they must come out and talk to us and allow the Afghan people and through the mechanisms that we have to amend the constitution.
Q: Gains for women are tenuous. By bringing the Taliban back aren’t you compromising those gains?
A: The return of the Taliban will not undermine the progress. This country needs to have peace.
Q: But you know where they stand with women’s rights. Are you willing to sacrifice women’s rights?
A: I’m willing to stand for anything that will bring peace to Afghanistan and through that to promote the cause of the Afghan woman better… there is no doubt about that. Even if the Taliban come that will not end, that will not slow down.
Q: So women in Afghanistan should not fear the return of the Taliban?
A: None at all. None.
Q: The bilateral security agreement. Let’s talk about that. That defines the US and Afghan relationship beyond withdrawal and if you push too hard they may not stay. Does that worry you?
A: Well if the agreement doesn’t suit us then of course they can leave. 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’ll go separate ways… if this agreement does not provide Afghanistan peace and security the Afghans will not want it. That’s very clear.
Q: Britain has made a massive contribution already. Can you tell the British public what all these sacrifices were for because they don’t understand why they’re still here.
A: All the prime ministers that came were in office in the past 12 years have clearly stated that they’re here in Afghanistan to provide security to the West in order to prevent terrorism from reaching the west in order to fight extremism here. How much of that has been achieved is a question that the British government can answer alone.
Q: Can you assess for me the criticism and failings that were experienced in Helmand (a major combat focus for British troops in past years).
A: It’s not only Britain. On security front, entire NATO exercise was one that caused Afghanistan a lot of suffering and a lot of loss of life and no gains because the country is not secure. I am not happy to say there is partial security because that is not what we’re seeking. What we wanted was absolute security and a clear cut war against terrorism.
Q: Some would say your legacy has been tainted by Afghan corruption, it’s the third most corrupt country in the world. Is that the legacy you wanted?
A: No of course not. Our government is weak and ineffective in comparison to other governments we’ve just begun. But the big corruption the hundreds of millions of dollars of corruption was not Afghan, now everybody knows that. It was foreign, 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 have agreed to. That was the major (part?) of corruption.
Q: Finally, there isn’t a single living afghan leader. They’ve all been killed. Are you concerned about your safety when you leave office?
A: Not at all, I’ll be safe.