Karzai criticizes U.S. timeline for leaving Afghanistan
Thursday, August 26, 2010; 11:14 AM
KABUL - In a sign of his growing frustration with U.S. policy, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that President Obama's timeline for withdrawing troops was aiding insurgents and also suggested that the United States must do more to force Pakistan to stop supporting the Taliban.
The statements come amid a growing controversy over a corruption investigation centering on one of Karzai's security advisers, Mohammad Zia Salehi, who was arrested last month then released the same day on Karzai's order. The case has prompted Karzai's advisers to criticize the Obama administration for focusing so much on corruption and ignoring more pressing issues, such as the Taliban havens in Pakistan.
In one statement, Karzai said that despite the "outstanding progress" that has been made in reconstruction, "we haven't progressed in the war against terrorism." He blamed two factors: a lack of focus on insurgent sanctuaries and the killing of civilians during military operations. He also said the July 2011 date that Obama set to begin a drawdown of U.S. troops "has given courage to the enemies of Afghanistan."
Karzai's office issued the statements after Karzai met with a U.S. congressional delegation and with Gen. James Mattis, the head of the U.S. Central Command, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In recent weeks, and particularly after the release of tens of thousands of U.S. military documents by the WikiLeaks Web site implicated Pakistan's intelligence agency in support of the Taliban, Afghan officials have been more vocal about the need for the United States to take a tougher line with Pakistan.
"It is my firm belief that we cannot win if we continue business as usual," Rangin Dadfar Spanta, Afghanistan's national security adviser, said in an interview. "We've lost the reality. We've lost the focus."
Spanta said the "central issue is international jihadis" who take refuge in Pakistan and enjoy support and training from Pakistani military and intelligence agencies.
"We will fight corruption," he said. "But to put this problem and challenge at the top of all the others in Afghanistan, that's a joke. A bad joke. It's avoiding responsibility."
Spanta said the United States needs to redirect its drone war to target Afghan Taliban commanders living in Pakistan. Until now, the focus of the Obama administration's secret aerial war in Pakistan has been members of al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban who are battling the Pakistani army. He also called for sanctions against Pakistan and the denial of visas to "Pakistani generals and others that we know definitely are involved in supporting terrorist activities."
Another senior Afghan official said that Karzai has grown increasingly frustrated with U.S. policy toward Pakistan.
"He accuses Pakistan of interfering in Afghanistan, but then the West calls Pakistan an important strategic partner. He thinks Pakistan is training forces to send to Afghanistan to kill our soldiers," the official said. "It really irritates him."
Karzai's comments come amid reports that Salehi, the national security council aide accused of doling out cash and vehicles and of taking a bribe to intervene to block a corruption investigation, has been on the CIA's payroll. The claim, reported in the New York Times, was denied by Spanta, who is Salehi's boss.
Spanta said he spoke with Salehi about the allegation Thursday and that Salehi was "shocked and he absolutely rejected it. He was never in touch with the agency," Spanta said.
"I don't think that Salehi is a spy of the agency," Spanta said.
Salehi's reported connection with the CIA complicates a corruption investigation that has come closer than any other to Karzai's inner circle. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) traveled to Kabul last week with the message that Karzai would risk American support and congressional funding if he impeded the work of the two anti-corruption agencies investigating Salehi.
Karzai said after their meetings that the agencies could continue their work without political interference.
Staff writer David Nakamura contributed to this report.