NEW DELHI - Visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in New Delhi on Saturday he no longer ‘trusts’ the United States, accusing the Americans of saying one thing and doing another in his troubled homeland.
Karzai’s statement to journalists came a day after he insisted he would not be ‘intimidated’ into signing a security pact allowing US troops in Afghanistan to stay on after next year.
“I don’t trust them,” Karzai said in a wide-ranging discussion at a local hotel in which he singled out a letter US President Barack Obama wrote last month assuring him that US forces would ‘respect’ the safety of Afghans in their homes.
“We do believe that the BSA is in the interest of Afghanistan and the Afghan people have given their approval. But we also believe that protection of Afghan homes and the launch of a peace process are absolute pre-requisites,” he said.
Karzai was speaking on the second day of a three-day visit to India during which the United States hopes New Delhi can persuade him to sign the troubled troop deal.
Karzai, who is due to stand down after elections next year, initially endorsed the so-called Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA.
But he later said the agreement could only be signed after the presidential election in April, warning against a NATO presence if it just meant ‘more bombs and killings’. His stance has outraged US officials and lawmakers, who have threatened a complete forces pullout if Karzai does not sign by the end of the year.
If Karzai doesn’t sign the deal, Washington says it will have to withdraw its entire force of some 44,500 troops by the end of 2014. Other NATO nations could follow suit leaving Afghan forces to fight the Taliban insurgency on their own.
The complete withdrawal, called the “zero option”, would be similar to the pull-out of U.S. troops from Iraq two years ago. Violence there is now at its highest level in at least five years, and more than 8,000 people have been killed this year, the United Nations says.
“I don’t think America is thinking of the zero option , its brinkmanship they play with us, and even if they did, then come what may,” the Afghan leader said.
US officials have appeared exasperated by Karzai’s stance on the security agreement, which they say is needed to help them plan a future mission that will assist Afghan forces fight militants and that will allow for future aid crucial for the impoverished nation. “When Obama writes to me that he will respect homes, they should prove it... implement the letter, respect Afghan homes,” Karzai said.
“Just instruct no more bombings and there will be no more bombings and of course launch the peace process publicly and officially,” he said. “I am trying to make it a win-win for all,” he said.
The Afghan president reiterated there was a need to talk with the Taliban as part of the peace process but “we mean those Taliban who are Afghans and not connected to any foreign terror organisations”. “Those are the ones who we are trying to reach for negotaitions and bring back normal life to Afghanistan... talks with those Taliban are a necessity,” he said.
The Taliban have been fighting to drive out foreign forces from Afghanistan and impose Islamist rule, have accused Karzai of being a US puppet.
But Karzai denied the Taliban were refusing to hold discussions with him, saying: “I can tell you they are talking to me.” He did not elaborate further.
Karzai said he also wanted the United States to help him with the peace process with the Taliban, rather than the secret diplomacy it had engaged in the past.
“Secret talks won’t help. US and Pakistan have enough influence over the Taliban to relaunch the peace process.”
Karzai, who discussed the US security deal with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has also held talks with the leaders of Iran and Pakistan this month.
Karzai met Friday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Minister for External Affairs Kapil Sibal.
India has consistently pledged to do all it can to promote stability in Afghanistan, mindful of how it was one of the main enemies of the Taliban regime before its ouster in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001. On his last visit to New Delhi in May, Karzai said he had put forward a “wishlist” of military assistance he hoped Delhi could deliver on.
India’s foreign ministry has declined to detail the list’s contents, but local media reports said it included light and heavy artillery, aircraft, and small arms and ammunition. Karzai said he was “very satisfied” with the help India is offering Afghanistan but would not disclose its nature. “India is not shying away from providing assistance to Afghanistan” but “in terms of India’s support to Afghanistan in military equipment and training, the facts are much better than you hear in the press.”