Karzai Lashes Out at the U.S. -- Again

ABC News' Nicholas Shifrin reports:

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who last Thursday delivered a series of accusations against the West that were called “preposterous” by the State Department, lashed out at the United States for the second time in three days, blaming the U.S. embassy in Kabul for his political troubles and warning the West its presence was bordering on occupation.

Karzai delivered the comments in a private meeting to members of parliament on Saturday. Two parliamentarians described them on the condition of anonymity. The two differed on how far Karzai took his criticism, but agreed the meeting began with the Afghan president visibly angry at a recent parliamentary vote that blocked his attempt to exert greater control over the country’s electoral commission. The two parliamentarians said Karzai blamed their vote on the U.S. embassy and said the U.S. was out to control the country. One member of parliament, who was more critical of Karzai than his colleague, said the president was so angry, he implied he might have to join the Taliban himself if the United States does not stop “meddling.” “‘If I am not able to get these things [change the electoral law] and I can't uphold the sovereignty of this country, this will be turning into an occupation. We have to fight an occupation, and one has to join them,’” the lawmaker quoted Karzai as saying. By using “occupation,” Karzai aligned himself rhetorically with the Taliban, who try to convince Afghans to fight a nationalist insurgency against a foreign invader. The comments were first reported by the Wall Street Journal .

It’s not clear how serious Karzai was in his threat, but his deep criticism exposes the lack of trust between the United States and his government, just one week after President Obama visited Kabul to urge him to improve his administration. But there could be another motivation for two speeches in three days deeply criticizing the West -- between which Karzai called Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to explain himself. By positioning himself against the United States and by trying to steamroll an unpopular bill through parliament, Karzai could be sending a message to the Taliban: that he is capable of inviting them into government despite United States reservations, and that once they were inside, he could push through any law they insist on passing. In conversations with tribal elders in southern Afghanistan, Karzai has been pushing the Taliban to participate in the parliamentary elections, planned for this September, as a means of political reconciliation to try and draw the 9-year-old war to a close. Karzai traveled to Kandahar on Sunday with the commander of all foreign troops in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. While McChrystal looked on, Karzai spoke to about 2,000 tribal elders, trying to convince them an upcoming military operation in the heart of the Taliban stronghold would improve security. Karzai also tried to convince the group the operation would not begin without their approval. U.S. officials have been wanting Karzai to take the lead ahead of military offensives. “He needs to be a commander in chief,” a senior NATO military official recently said. Before a large campaign in Marja, Helmand, the U.S. and Afghan ministers spoke to local tribesmen. But this was the first time Karzai himself spoke to local leaders trying to convince them of the need for an operation. "There will be no military operation without your cooperation and consultation," Karzai said, according to pool reporters in Kandahar. But Karzai was received with deep skepticism. Tribal leader after tribal leader stood up to confront the president, complaining of corruption, lack of governance, and a serious lack of security in Kandahar, according to reporters in Kandahar. "Tell me what is in your heart," the president told one tribal elder. "I can't,” he responded. “If I do, I will be killed by the terrorists.”

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