Karzai denies plan to stay in power, chides U.S. on security assurances
By Sayed Salahuddin,
KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai denied Thursday that he intends to stay in power by blocking a presidential election set for 2014, and he accused NATO and the United States of failing to equip the Afghan armed forces adequately enough to counter cross-border attacks from Pakistan.
Karzai, who first assumed power in a transitional capacity soon after U.S.-backed Afghan forces drove the radical Islamist Taliban movement from Kabul in November 2001, is barred by the Afghan constitution from running for president again when his second term ends in 2014, a critical year when all foreign combat troops are scheduled to withdraw.
Some Afghan opposition groups and Western analysts say Karzai could cite growing insecurity to block the election and seek to prolong his stay in office by changing the constitution. Karzai rejected those suggestions.
“Any election, with whatever flaws, is better than an illegitimate government,” he said at a news conference.
“Therefore, elections will be held definitely, 100 percent and on time,” he said, adding that no circumstance, insecurity or “foreign propaganda” would prevent a vote.
Karzai used the occasion to accuse unspecified Western media outlets of engaging in “psychological warfare” by painting a gloomy picture of Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal of foreign troops, despite international pledges to bankroll the Afghan security forces and provide annual cash aid.
He said he had raised the issue with President Obama during a recent video conference and discussed it with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a meeting in the United States last week. He questioned whether the media portrayals were intended to weaken Afghanistan’s hand in security talks with the United States.
The Afghan president said he was seeking U.S. assurances that a strategic security pact, which provides for a U.S. presence and the use of some military bases in Afghanistan beyond 2014, would stabilize the country and target the roots of armed militants. He was apparently referring to Pakistan, which formerly supported the Taliban and where militant leaders live and operate.
Karzai has been pushing NATO and the United States for years to halt operations in Afghan villages and instead hit the militants’ sanctuaries in Pakistan.
Citing rocket attacks originating in Pakistan, he accused Washington of violating an agreement to defend Afghanistan against foreign attacks until Kabul gains the capability of self-defense.
“We have raised this issue seriously with America,” he said. “America explicitly said to us that they are not ready for defense.”
Karzai has come under growing public criticism for not responding to the cross-border firing. He said Afghanistan cannot retaliate because it does not have the means to hit the locations from which the rockets are fired.
Because of what he described as U.S. and NATO failure to equip the Afghan air and ground forces with the gear they badly need, Karzai said he is considering buying the equipment from China, Russia or India.