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Karzai wants U.S. to reduce military operations in Afghanistan

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"It's not desirable for the Afghan people either to have 100,000 or more foreign troops going around the country endlessly," he said.

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"We'd like to have a long-term relationship with America, a substantial relationship with America, that's what the Afghan people want. But we'd like the Afghan countryside - villages, homes, towns - not to be so overwhelmed with the military presence. Life has to be seen [as] more normal," he added.

Insurgents have stepped up their attacks this year to record levels. In the past two days, a car bomb exploded in Kabul and fighters attacked a NATO observation post at the Jalalabad airport in eastern Afghanistan. Saturday's early morning airport assault sparked a lengthy gun battle that left six insurgents dead, including two wearing explosive vests.

As the American military campaign has moved into high gear, U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned with the failure of the Afghan government to root out corruption and provide services to the people. Karzai deflected this criticism by arguing that much of his government's corruption problem comes from the American money that is pumped into the country outside the control of Afghan ministries and frittered away on private security firms that undermine the authority of Afghan security forces. During the Soviet occupation, he said, ministers lived in modest housing blocks and the foreign money flowed through the Afghan government.

"How come we are now so luxury-oriented today?" he asked. "The transparency of contracts is not there. Why is the U.S. government giving contracts to the sons and relatives of officials of the Afghan government? We don't do those contracts. I don't have an authority over a penny of those contracts. . . . and we've been protesting against this for years."

On the issue of negotiations with the Taliban, Karzai said that he met with Taliban leaders in "one or two" meetings about three months ago, but that the talks were in a nascent stage and amounted to little more than "the exchange of desires for peace."

He would not name the insurgents he has met but described them as "very high" level, and said that he believed that Taliban leader Mohammad Omar has been informed of the discussions.

"They feel the same way as we do here. That too many people are suffering for no reason. Their own families are suffering," he said, and it is this "national suffering they'd like to address with us."

Karzai said he was grateful to the American people for their support, particularly the flood of taxpayer money for new schools, roads, clinics and other development projects. But he questioned the Obama administration's motives. Karzai said he has become accustomed to the barrage of criticism against him and his family - allegations including graft and drug trafficking. The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, wrote in a cable last year that Karzai was not an adequate strategic partner and warned against sending troops to bolster such a troubled government.

"If a partner means a silent spectator of events conducted by Washington, if that kind of partner you seek, well, I'm not that partner," Karzai said. "Nor will be the Afghan people."


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