The former Afghan president said the United States had failed in its two-decade mission of bringing stability to “combat extremism” and bring stability to his war-tortured country.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday, just weeks before the last US and NATO troops left Afghanistan after nearly 20 years, Hamid Karzai said the departing troops left a catastrophe behind. .
“The international community came here 20 years ago with this clear goal of fighting extremism and bringing stability… but extremism is today at its highest level. So they failed, ”he said.
He said their legacy is a nation ravaged by war in “utter shame and disaster”.
“We as Afghans recognize all of our failures, but what about the larger forces and powers that have come here for precisely this purpose? Where are they leaving us now? he asked and replied, “In utter disgrace and disaster.
Yet Karzai, who had a conflicted relationship with the United States during his 13-year rule, wanted the troops to leave, saying the Afghans were united behind an overwhelming desire for peace and now had to take responsibility for their future.
“We will be better off without their military presence,” he said.
“I think we should defend our own country and take care of our own lives. … Their presence (gave us) what we have now. … We don’t want to continue with this misery and indignity that we face. It is better for Afghanistan that they leave.
The rule of Karzai
The Karzai regime followed the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 by a US-led coalition that launched its invasion to hunt down and destroy the al-Qaeda network and its leader, Osama bin Laden, blamed for the 9/11 attacks against the United States.
During Karzai’s reign, women were granted more rights, girls were again educated, a young and vibrant civil society emerged, new skyscrapers were built in the capital Kabul, and roads and infrastructure were built. been built.
But his reign was also characterized by allegations of rampant corruption, flourishing drug trafficking and, in recent years, endless bickering with Washington that continues to this day.
In April, when US President Joe Biden announced the final withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 to 3,500 troops, he said the United States was leaving after achieving its objectives. al-Qaida had been greatly diminished and bin Laden was dead.
The United States no longer needs boots on the ground to combat security threats that could emanate from Afghanistan, he said.
Yet the United States’ attempts to end decades of war politically have been elusive.
He signed a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 to withdraw his troops in exchange for a promise from the Taliban to denounce armed groups such as al-Qaeda and prevent Afghanistan from once again being an arena for them. attacks on the United States.
There is little evidence that the Taliban are fulfilling their end of the bargain. The United Nations says the Taliban and al-Qaeda are still linked.
The architect of the US agreement and current US envoy for peace, Zalmay Khalilzad, said progress has been made, but without providing any details.
Karzai has had harsh words and uncompromising criticism of US war tactics over the past twenty years in Afghanistan.
Yet he has become something of a pivot in a joint US-UK effort to secure a quarrelsome Afghan leadership in Kabul united enough to talk about peace with the Taliban.
The armed group showed little interest in negotiations and instead intensified its attacks on government positions.
US President Joe Biden will meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and President of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah at the White House on Friday to discuss the withdrawal of US troops amid increased fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban across the country.
In their first face-to-face meeting, Biden will seek to reassure Ghani and Abdullah of US support for the Afghan people, including diplomatic, economic and humanitarian aid, the White House said in a statement.
The Taliban have made significant territorial gains since the US and NATO withdrawal began on May 1. They have invaded dozens of districts, often negotiating their surrender from the Afghan national security forces.
But in many cases the fighting has been intense. Just last week, a brutal Taliban assault in northern Faryab province killed 22 of the elite Afghan commandos, led by a local hero, Colonel Sohrab Azimi, who was also killed and widely mourned. .
“The desire of the Afghan people, overwhelmingly, throughout the country is peace,” said Karzai, who despite his absence from power since 2014, has lost little of his political influence and is more often than not at the center of machinations policies of the country.
Diplomats, Western officials, generals, tribal leaders and politicians from all walks of Afghan politics regularly make their way to the Karzai Gate in the heart of the Afghan capital.
While the final US military withdrawal is already over 50% complete, the need for a political settlement or even a visible path to an eventual settlement appears to become increasingly urgent even as thousands of ‘Afghans are looking for a way out.
They say they are frustrated by relentless corruption, marauding criminal gangs – some linked to powerful Kabul warlords – and growing insecurity. Few see a future that is not violent.
While accusing both Pakistan, where the Taliban leadership is based, and the United States of fueling the fighting, Karzai said it was up to the Afghans to end decades of war.
To Pakistan’s military and civilian leaders, Karzai said that Afghanistan wants “a civilized relationship … if Pakistan takes a stance away from using extremism against Afghanistan, that relationship can become a beautiful relationship, a great relationship. very fruitful relationship for both parties ”.
To the belligerents in Afghanistan, Karzai said, “I am very adamant and clear about this, both sides should think about the lives of the Afghan people and property… to fight is destruction.
“The only answer is for the Afghans to come together … We have to recognize that this is our country and we have to stop killing each other.”