KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The former president of Afghanistan said Sunday that the United States came to his country to fight extremism and bring stability to his war-tortured nation and that he will leave nearly 20 years after failing both. .
In an interview with The Associated Press just weeks before the last US and NATO troops left Afghanistan, ending their “eternal war,” Hamid Karzai said that extremism is at a “peak” and that troops that leave are leaving behind a disaster.
“The international community came here 20 years ago with this clear goal of fighting extremism and bringing stability … but extremism is at an all-time high today. So they have failed, ”he said.
His legacy is a war-torn nation in “utter disgrace and disaster.”
“We acknowledge all our failures as Afghans, but what about the greater forces and powers that came here for exactly that purpose? Where do they leave us now? “He asked and replied,” In total disgrace and disaster. “
Still, Karzai, who had a troubled relationship with the United States during his 13-year tenure, wanted the troops to leave, saying the Afghans were united behind an overwhelming desire for peace and now needed 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. … His presence (has given us) what we have now. … We do not want to continue with this misery and indignity that we face. It is better for Afghanistan that they leave. “
The Karzai government 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, accused of the September 11 attacks on the United States. .
During the Karzai government, women re-emerged, girls again attended school, a young and vibrant civil society emerged, new skyscrapers were erected in the capital Kabul, and roads and infrastructure were built. But his administration was also characterized by accusations of widespread corruption, a burgeoning drug trade, and in recent years relentless disputes with Washington that continue to this day.
“The (US / NATO military) campaign was not against extremism or terrorism, the campaign was more against Afghan villages and hopes; put Afghans in prisons, create prisons in our own country … and bomb every village. That was very bad. “
In April, when President Joe Biden announced the final withdrawal of the remaining 2,500-3,500 soldiers, he said the United States was leaving having achieved its objectives. Al-Qaeda had declined enormously and bin Laden was dead. The United States no longer needed boots on the ground to fight terror threats that could emanate from Afghanistan, he said.
Still, America’s attempts to bring about a political end to decades of war have been elusive. It signed an agreement with the Taliban in February 2020 to withdraw its troops in exchange for a promise from the Taliban to denounce terrorist groups and prevent Afghanistan from being the scene of attacks against the United States again.
There is little evidence that the Taliban are honoring their end of the bargain. The United Nations claims that the Taliban and al-Qaida are still linked. The architect of the US agreement and current US peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, says some progress has been made, but without offering details.
Karzai has spoken harshly and uncompromisingly criticized America’s tactics of war for the past two decades in Afghanistan. Yet it has become something of a linchpin in a joint effort being launched by the United States and Britain to get Kabul’s rowdy Afghan leaders together enough to talk peace with the Taliban. The insurgent group has shown little interest in negotiating and has instead intensified its attacks on government positions.
The Taliban have made considerable progress since the May 1 start of the US and NATO withdrawal. They have invaded dozens of districts, often negotiating their surrender with Afghan national security forces.
But in many cases the fighting has been intense. Last week, a brutal Taliban assault in the northern province of Faryab killed 22 of Afghanistan’s elite commandos, led by a local hero, Colonel Sohrab Azimi, who was also killed and greatly lamented.
“The desire of the Afghan people, overwhelmingly, throughout the country is peace,” said Karzai, who despite being out of power since 2014 has lost little political influence and is often at the center of the country’s political machinations. .
Diplomats, Western officials, generals, tribal elders and politicians from all ends of Afghanistan’s political spectrum regularly make their way to the Karzai gate in the heart of the Afghan capital.
Given that the final military withdrawal is already more than 50% complete, the need for a political settlement or even a visible path to a final settlement seems to be taking on greater urgency even as thousands of Afghans seek a way out. They say they are frustrated by relentless corruption, marauding criminal gangs, some linked to powerful warlords in Kabul, and worsening insecurity and few see a future that is not violent.
Karzai had a message for both parties to the conflict: “The two Afghan parties, neither of them should be fighting. “While accusing both Pakistan, where the Taliban leadership is based, and the United States of stoking the fighting, Karzai said it is up to the Afghans to end decades of war.
Charging …Charging …Charging …Charging …Charging …
“The only answer is for the Afghans to unite. … We must recognize that this is our country and we must stop killing ourselves. “
Follow Kathy Gannon on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@kathygannon.