Karzai Calls American Mission in Afghanistan a Betrayal
13:20 (59 minutes ago)
In Farewell Speech, Karzai Calls American Mission in Afghanistan a Betrayal
By ROD NORDLANDSEPT. 23, 2014
Hamid Karzai, the departing president of Afghanistan, lashed out at the United States in a farewell speech on Tuesday in Kabul. CreditRahmat Gul/Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — In his nearly 13 years as the leader of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai’s most memorable public stances always seemed driven by some deep emotion, and an almost compulsive need to express it. There was heartbreak for families killed by errant airstrikes, outrage at the scheming of hostile neighbors, palpable longing to preside over a peaceful end to the Taliban insurgency.
On Tuesday, though he delivered a farewell speech in a loose and sometimes jocular way, there was, again, no doubt of the emotion that inspired his words: bitterness at what he saw as an American betrayal of Afghanistan.
“America did not want peace for Afghanistan, because it had its own agendas and goals here,” he told an audience of hundreds of cabinet and staff members at the presidential palace in Kabul, warning them not to trust the Americans. “I have always said this: that if America and Pakistan want peace, it is possible to bring peace to Afghanistan.”
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Mr. Karzai’s denunciation of the United States came in terms that had become wearily familiar to the diplomats watching the televised speech from the heavily fortified American Embassy just a few blocks and many blast walls from the palace. But what the president did not say, omitting any recognition of the more than 2,000 American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars the United States expended in fighting the Taliban, may have grated more.
Instead, Mr. Karzai pointedly praised the assistance of countries that had given notably less, like India. He did not mention the sacrifices of other Western allies, nor of his own security forces, who have lost an estimated 15,000 men killed in a war that seems unlikely to end soon.
“I want to thank those countries who genuinely supported us,” Mr. Karzai said. “Western countries had their personal interest — the Western countries and the United States had their own personal goal.”
The departing American ambassador, James B. Cunningham, dispensed with diplomatic niceties afterward, telling Western journalists that Mr. Karzai’s remarks were ungrateful and ungracious.
“It makes me kind of sad. I think his remarks, which were uncalled-for, do a disservice to the American people, and dishonor the sacrifices that Americans have made here,” Mr. Cunningham said. “By not recognizing the many contributions that Americans have made, and our partners, that’s the part that’s ungracious and ungrateful.”
Still, the ambassador did praise Mr. Karzai.
“For all the difficulties in our relationship at various times, I think his legacy in terms of his country will be a strong one,” Mr. Cunningham said. “He undoubtedly had one of the more difficult jobs in the world for a long period of time, and I’m convinced he really is an Afghan patriot who wants the best thing for his country.”
Though he is to cede the presidency to Ashraf Ghani at inauguration ceremonies on Monday, Mr. Karzai, 56, is not exactly retiring. Mr. Ghani has said he would welcome some role as an adviser or éminence grise for Mr. Karzai.
At first it was thought that Mr. Karzai would live in a lavish house adjoining the presidential palace compound, which was refurbished for him at a cost Afghan officials estimated at more than $5 million.
Mr. Karzai is now said to have rejected it as too opulent, and has decided to move into a private home in the Shar-e Naw neighborhood nearby, according to Western diplomats.
In his speech, he offered his first piece of advice to Mr. Ghani and to Abdullah Abdullah, the presidential rival who is to join a unity government after months of political crises and wrangling over widespread electoral fraud. It was more a warning than a reflection on the recent political peril: “Both wise brothers should be very careful in maintaining their relationship with Western countries and the United States,” Mr. Karzai said.
He sought to explain to the government officials his dogged refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States, which would allow American troops to remain in Afghanistan after this year. Mr. Ghani has promised to sign it as soon as he is inaugurated, and many inside Mr. Karzai’s own government were critical of his stance.
“I believe the stability of Afghanistan is directly related to the United States and Pakistan,” Mr. Karzai said. “This war is for the personal interest of the foreign policies of others, and this is a fight of outsiders in which Afghans are sacrificed.”
Ryan C. Crocker, dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M, was the first American ambassador to the post-Taliban government, and he was among those American officials who supported Mr. Karzai’s initial appointment as Afghanistan’s leader. Mr. Crocker also returned as ambassador in 2011, as Afghan relations were souring under the Obama administration, which Mr. Karzai saw as less attentive than the Bush administration had been.
“I saw over the years an increasing bitterness on his part particularly vis-à-vis Pakistan and the U.S.-Pakistan relationship,” Mr. Crocker said.
Mr. Karzai’s view was that the United States should have been able to force Pakistan to stop giving sanctuary to the Taliban’s leaders. The American view has been that the expectation was unrealistic, given the deeply troubled relationship between Washington and Islamabad.
During Mr. Crocker’s second tour here as ambassador, and throughout Mr. Cunningham’s time since then, Mr. Karzai adopted an increasingly strident tone toward the Americans, particularly on the issue of civilian casualties in American airstrikes, and on two occasions actually threatened to join the Taliban, whom he often referred to as “my brothers.”
He blamed the Americans, too, for his inability to start any sort of meaningful peace talks with the Taliban. The insurgents have consistently refused to talk to him, denouncing him as an American puppet.
For all of that, Mr. Crocker still believes Hamid Karzai was the right man for the job Americans effectively chose him for at a conference in Bonn in December 2001. “I don’t think there was a better choice than Karzai,” he said. “I didn’t think so then; I don’t think so now.”
Mr. Cunningham said, “He will also get tremendous credit for bringing his country to the first peaceful transition of power from one Afghan president to another.”
Mr. Crocker remembered Mr. Karzai saying in 2011 that he was counting the days until he could leave office: “I think I remember his words verbatim: ‘The worst thing that could happen to Afghanistan would be for me to continue in office.’ Then he said: ‘No, that would be the second-worst thing. The worst thing would be if one of my brothers was elected.’ ”
Although much of Mr. Karzai’s speech on Tuesday suggested that the long American intervention had
In 2002, when he was simply Chairman Hamid Karzai of the post-Taliban transitional government, he liked to tell people the story of sitting with an old man whose family had been killed in an accidental air raid. Some Americans came in, and Mr. Karzai was worried there would be a scene.
“This man said, ‘Hamid, are these Americans?’ He said: ‘Tell them that I have lost eight of my children at one of your accidental bombs, but I don’t care. Even if I lost more of my people, of my children, I wouldn’t care; I would accept it because you are here to liberate Afghanistan.’ ”
Matthew Rosenberg contributed reporting from Washington.