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Karzai lashes out over pressure to reform

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, right, meets a shopkeeper in Kandahar,  Afghanistan, on Monday.  (Associated Press)
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, right, meets a shopkeeper in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Monday. (Associated Press)

Afghan leader says meddling from West strengthens Taliban

KABUL – President Hamid Karzai’s latest anti-Western outburst has triggered unease and dismay among Afghan lawmakers and some in the diplomatic community in Afghanistan.

On Saturday, the Afghan leader told members of parliament that Western meddling in Afghan political affairs was helping the Taliban movement, because it fueled a public perception here that the insurgency is a legitimate struggle against foreign occupation.

Karzai then added – apparently speaking rhetorically, according to several lawmakers – that if that were the case, he would join the Taliban himself.

On Monday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the accusation of U.S. meddling was “genuinely troubling” and “obviously not true.”

Gibbs said a meeting scheduled for May 12 between Karzai and President Barack Obama was still on.

Karzai’s comments over the weekend marked the second time in recent days that the Afghan president had accused the West of undue interference in domestic political affairs. Last Thursday, he told election officials that foreigners, not Afghans, were responsible for fraud in last summer’s botched presidential election.

Much of that fraud was attributed to the Karzai camp, and an auditing panel stripped the president of about a million votes, nearly a third of those cast for him. He ultimately was declared the winner after his main opponent dropped out of the race, which forced the scrapping of a second-round vote, but his stature was considerably eroded by the long struggle.

Two Western diplomats in Kabul described accounts of Saturday’s meeting with lawmakers as surprising, because his incendiary comments along the same lines on Thursday had prompted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to express concern and seek clarification. His aides later said his comments had been misconstrued.

Some parliamentarians present for Saturday’s meeting warned against taking Karzai’s threat literally.

“He didn’t really mean that he’s going to join the Taliban, he was saying there are a lot of problems and pressures on him,” said Daoud Kalakani, a member of parliament’s international affairs committee, who attended the meeting.

But he said he and others warned Karzai he was damaging his reputation with Afghanistan’s Western backers, who have furnished tens of thousands of troops to fight the Taliban, together with billions of dollars in aid.

“We told him, ‘That kind of talk is not to our benefit,’ ” Kalakani said. “He said ‘Don’t worry about it. I am going to talk with the foreigners and resolve this issue.’ ”

The next day, accompanied to Kandahar by U.S. and British officials, he referred to the West as a partner, but also told tribal elders and community leaders that a planned military offensive in that area would not take place without their backing.

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