Karzai says goodbye with a final gibe at US
KABUL: Outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai used his farewell speech on Tuesday to take a parting shot at the United States, accusing Washington of waging a war against Taliban insurgents for its own ends.
His remarks drew a sharp reaction from the US ambassador in Kabul, who branded them as “ungracious and ungrateful” and unrepresentative of how ordinary Afghans felt. Karzai rose to power with American support in 2001 after the ousting of the Taliban regime, but he has often criticised the US military campaign that has struggled to defeat the Islamist insurgency that engulfed the country.
He will step down next week after a 13-year reign that has seen only limited improvements in infrastructure, health, education and women’s rights despite billions of dollars of aid.
“This is not our war, it is a foreigners´ war — it is based on their goals,” Karzai told government officials as he bid them goodbye at the presidential palace in Kabul. “America didn’t want peace… America should be honest with Afghanistan. What they say and what they do should be the same.”
Karzai has a long record of anti-American rhetoric, and has previously accused the US of colluding with the Taliban — sparking outrage from the US, which has suffered 2,350 military deaths in Afghanistan since 2001.
“My advice to the next government is to be very careful with America and the West. We can be friends with them, but we want equal benefits,” he said. US Ambassador James Cunningham told reporters he was “sad” that Karzai had used his last days in office to criticise Afghanistan’s largest donor.
“His remarks, which were uncalled for, do a disservice to the American people and dishonour the huge sacrifices Americans, have made here… that’s the part that is ungracious and ungrateful,” Cunningham said.
“However I am absolutely confident in reassuring Americans that Afghan themselves absolutely value and are grateful for the sacrifices and commitment of the United States to the future of this country.”
Karzai´s relationship with Washington plunged to a new low last year when he decided not to sign a bilateral security agreement to allow some US troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond this year on a training and support mission.
His successor Ashraf Ghani is likely to sign the deal shortly, after vowing on the campaign trail to do so. Under the deal, about 12,000 US-led Nato troops will remain in Afghanistan into 2015 after combat operations finish this year.
Ghani and his poll rival Abdullah Abdullah struck an agreement on Sunday to form a “unity government”, ending months of disputes over who was the rightful winner of the fraud-tainted June 14 presidential election.
Ghani will officially become president at an inauguration ceremony on Monday, with dignitaries invited from around the world to attend Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power. The Afghan capital has been the target of regular suicide attacks launched by Taliban insurgents, and it is uncertain how many world leaders will fly in for the event.
In the last major attack, a week ago, three Nato soldiers were killed when a suicide car bomber hit a military convoy travelling on the main road from Kabul airport to the US embassy. The Taliban has dismissed the election process and the power-sharing deal as a US plot to control Afghanistan.
The United Nations, US and other countries broadly welcomed the unity government, despite the failure of election authorities to release any details of the vote beyond declaring Ghani as the winner. The UN, which oversaw an audit inspecting every ballot paper, said many hundreds of thousands of ballots papers had been invalidated due to “significant fraud”.