Afghan President Hamid Karzai is sticking with his claims that the United States and Taliban are working together to lengthen the former’s occupation of Afghanistan, even as negotiations to get Western forces out continue.
On Sunday, Karzai first voiced the accusation that the two enemies were working together to achieve the same goals while delivering a nationally televised speech. Karzai doubled down on that rhetoric in a speech on Tuesday to tribal leaders in the Helmand Province, rebuking a recent Taliban attack while still suggesting cooperation between foreign forces and the former Afghan government:
“You announce that you show your power to America by killing an 8-year-old Muslim child and civilians,” Mr. Karzai said. “I don’t think so. You are serving for them.”
He also suggested that recent Taliban propaganda footage of attacks in the strategic Wardak province near Kabul was likely filmed by foreign helicopters, and distributed by foreigners in order to exaggerate the insurgency’s strength and justify a continued foreign presence.
The new spate of sharp rhetoric from Karzai comes as the United States and other NATO countries are negotiating the withdrawal of their combat forces from Afghanistan, currently due to be completed by the end of 2014. In his Helmand speech, Karzai insisted that he would not be in favor of any foreign troops remaining within Afghanistan post-2014, encouraging them to provide financial aid instead. Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate last week that he envisioned a remainder force of 20,000 troops after the pullout, a number that has yet to be made official by the Obama administration.
What is clear, however, is that the vast majority of foreign forces will be gone from Afghanistan in 2015, leaving Karzai in need of domestic support and desiring to shore-up his legacy as President:
Interviews with tribal elders, business leaders, political analysts and diplomats here paint an image of a leader who is desperately trying to shake his widely held image as an American lackey by appealing to nationalist sentiments and invoking Afghanistan’s sovereignty. [...]
Many Afghan observers say that Mr. Karzai is trying to keep himself politically potent during the last year of his term by playing to at least three Afghan constituencies: his ethnic Pashtun base; ethnic Tajik and Hazara leaders in his government; and, notably, the Taliban, who have rejected negotiations with him.
Inflammatory statements against the West have become a staple of Karzai’s at key times during his Presidency. Amid questions of corruption following the 2009 Presidential election, Karzai lashed out at “foreign interference” in the balloting. When under pressure in 2010 to institute reforms in his government, he threatened to join the Taliban himself.
Karzai’s original statements were met with shock and anger by U.S. officials, having come during a visit by U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and served to highlight tensions between Afghanistan and the United States despite twelve years and billions of dollars spent in the country. Taliban officials also did not take kindly to the linkage, issuing a statement reminding Karzai of the inglorious fate of Afghan leaders who worked with the Soviet Union.