Afghan leader leach pledges to protect Taliban from US
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he will personally protect the former head of Afghanistan’s Taliban regime from the US if he joins peace talks.
Mr Karzai said he would go “to any length” to protect Mullah Mohammad Omar, who has a $10 million price on his head from the US government.
He challenged his Western backers to leave the country or remove him if they disagreed.
* He wouldn’t last Â a day without American protection…
After three years of an increasingly violent insurgency, the Afghan government has said it is willing to hold talks with any groups which recognise the country’s constitution. Government representatives and former members of the Taliban are said to have met in Saudi Arabia two months ago, though both sides deny talks took place.
“If I hear from him that he is willing to come to Afghanistan or to negotiate for peace… I, as the president of Afghanistan, will go to any length providing protection,” Mr Karzai told a press conference.
“If I say I want protection for Mullah Omar, the international community has two choices â€“ remove me or leave if they disagree,” he said.
Omar has been in hiding since his regime was toppled by the US for refusing to hand over al-Qaeda terrorists behind the September 11 attacks. Afghan officials say he is hiding in Quetta in Pakistan, while Pakistan says he remains in southern Afghanistan.
Mr Karzai said the Taliban leadership still had to prove it wanted peace. “We are not in that stage yet. Right now, I have to hear it from the Taliban leadership, that they are willing to have peace in Afghanistan,” he said.
A Taliban representative last week said the group would never negotiate with Afghan or Western officials while foreign troops remained in the country.
In Afghanistan againDavid Warren
One begins to realize the quality of Hamid Karzai Afghanistan’s interim leader and our good fortune that he is still alive when one compares him to the figures around him. The Afghan “power” ministries — defence interior and foreign affairs — are all in the hands of faction leaders from the Northern Alliance. Almost all have blood on their hands from the country’s tortured past. Each of the country’s ethnic groups in each region is under the power of a local warlord or split between rival warlords. Most of these whether or not previously affiliated with the Taliban and Al Qaeda or with the Northern Alliance continue to embrace publicly an ideology founded in fanatic “Islamism” — the view that pure Koranic Islam makes no room for any rival religion nor any concession to secular life; and that it must be imposed with violence against any who resist.Â
Mr. Karzai’s term in office expires next month at the convening (at least in theory) of a “loya jirga” of all the Afghan tribes under the chairmanship of the former king Zahir Shah. Mr. Karzai will however be a candidate for his own succession.Â
The most powerful single faction in Afghanistan remains the United States. No other leader but Mr. Karzai is thinkable to this faction and as the Americans were able to get their way over cursory objections at the previous round of Afghan government formation in Europe last fall we may guess that Mr. Karzai has a good chance of winning again.Â
He has the incidental support of a wide range of the Afghan peoples — in all tribal branches of his native Pashtuns and even across racial religious and linguistic frontiers. This cannot be a surprise he is the only thing that looks like sanity. I would not say he could win an election because the whole idea of an election in the present Afghan circumstances is too ludicrous to contemplate. On the other hand Afghanistan has its own deep tribal cultural and political traditions which are resurfacing now that they are no longer effectively suppressed by Taliban or Communists. Even people willing to kill each other on little pretext at one time of day are willing to cut a great deal of slack at another time when some advantage is offered. Often enough it just takes money. And given the extreme poverty of the country a little money goes a long way.Â
I am celebrating corruption of course. It is not preferable to honesty but it is often preferable to homicide.Â
One of the chief problems the U.S. and allies now face on the ground in Afghanistan is rival warlords — those opposed to the Karzai regime those opposed to the presence of Americans those opposed to both and those merely opposed to each other — and who are jointly and severally in the pay of Iran or occasionally other external players such as Pakistan and Russia.Â
For while it would appear that the Al Qaeda infrastructure has been broken and its operatives are mostly on the run (generally towards Pakistan and its lawless North West Frontier but some apparently find welcome in Iran) new threats form as the old threats vanish.Â
The chief immediate threat is from that old warhorse Gulbuddin Hekmatyar a veteran of almost every side and faction over three decades. He has done the bidding of Pakistanis and Taliban of Russians and Northern Alliance and of course plenty of his own over time. Through Pakistan’s notorious intelligence service he received plenty of U.S. money and equipment during the fight against the Soviets and boasts that he still has a supply of Stingers. He briefly served as prime minister in 1992 then led a faction against another led by Ahmed Massood in a bloodbath that also devastated much of the city of Kabul. In a reprise just last month scores of his supporters were rounded up in Kabul and found to have been planting bombs as a way of welcoming the ex-king home from exile.Â
Let me not oversimplify. There was another plot against the life of the ex-king by people associated with the serving defence minister Mohammed Fahim. Mr. Fahim in turn was the target of an assassination attempt apparently by poppy-growing interests (in which four were killed). And so forth.Â
Mr. Hekmatyar ran off to exile in Tehran when the Taliban consolidated its power in 1996. According to the version that was publicized in newspapers the Iranians kicked him out at U.S. insistence towards the end of last year. According to the real version they sent him to Herat with a large and well-provisioned body of “economic and agricultural advisers” and as part of an ambitious plan to turn Afghanistan into something like Lebanon was in 1982 — a death trap for U.S. soldiers. In the earlier months of this year he was reported to be recruiting among Shia Muslim tribes and others as the agent for the ayatollahs’ Shia brand of militant Islamism.Â
According to reports in the New York Times and elsewhere the U.S. is now pursuing secret talks with Iran’s mad mullahs in the hope of averting future conflicts and misunderstandings. According to my information the Bush administration is using these channels to deliver serious threats.Â
Mr. Hekmatyar’s present party the Hezb-i-Islami leaflet villages and even neighbourhoods of Kandahar offering cash rewards for American scalps and threatening death to parents who allow their daughters to attend school (among other messages). Meanwhile its propaganda mouthpiece in Peshawar Pakistan tells interested inquirers that Mr. Hekmatyar only wants peace and fair elections. (And not even the Western media believe this.)Â
In the last several weeks he has shown up repeatedly near Kabul. On Monday the CIA took a shot at him with a missile from one of their unmanned Predator aircraft and unfortunately missed though they did kill several of his lieutenants. This happened only a few kilometres west of the city.Â
There are other warlords of whom the most visible to the Western view are those wrestling for control of eastern towns such as Khost and Gardez. They seem to have no particular ideological affiliations enjoy the occasional artillery duel park their tanks presumptuously in each other’s spaces and indulge looting kidnapping blackmail rape and sundry other crimes against humanity while competing with one another in protestations of loyalty to Hamid Karzai and President George W. Bush. One of them fired a couple of missiles into Jalalabad the other day and we’re still not sure what that was all about. We could start killing them but where would it end?Â
(I am being flip about which readers sometimes complain. So pause now and imagine the human consequences of the above. Then realize that for most of the victims life is nevertheless much better than it was a mere six months ago and if the West walks out will quickly get much worse.)Â
The overall response to this from the Bush administration is to dig in a little deeper with programmes such as those to train equip and pay a professional secular Afghan army of about 70 000 men. But even with this further Western help will be needed for Afghanistan is too poor to stand up to its enemies on its own.Â
And there is no choice for the moment you leave Afghanistan it’s back where it was. So long as Iran’s ayatollahs and the like enjoy their freedom of operation the Afghan mess will be fed from the outside. Even without them it feeds from within. Until the scourge of Islamism is removed we can adopt merely expedient measures various forms of damage limitation.Â
In the rather shocking words of a British Afghan expert a man I believe to be deeply humane: “Real progress requires that we address root causes which means putting bullets through the right foreheads.”ÂDavid WarrenÂ© Ottawa Citizen
Karzai reviews process for Afghanistan air strikes
By LOLITA C. BALDOR, Associated PressÂ
MANAMA, Bahrain â€“ U.S. naval officials hostedÂ Afghanistan President Hamid KarzaiÂ aboard an American carrier this week to assure him that the military is taking all precautions to avoidÂ civilian casualtiesÂ during airstrikes in his country.
U.S. Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of the Navy’s 5th Fleet, said naval officers walked Karzai through their process as they conduct air operations against suspected insurgents.
Gortney said that Karzai did not detail his concerns about civilian deaths inÂ military strikesÂ during the visit. But the Afghan president has made public his anger over recent strikes that left civilians dead.
The U.S. and its allies routinely turn to air power to combatÂ Talibanand other insurgents because ofÂ Afghanistan‘s mountainous terrain and limited or impassable roads.
Karzai has said civilian deaths erode support for the war among his people and has pushed for a review of the use of U.S. and NATO air power.
Gortney said Karzai went aboard theÂ USS Theodore RooseveltÂ for four to five hours, his first visit to a U.S. aircraft carrier.
He said they showed Karzai how they communicate with the aircraft and how decisions are made to execute the strike.
U.S. military officials, includingÂ Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have said they do all they can to avoid civilian deaths, including calling off airstrikes if innocent people are nearby. But Karzai has demanded investigations into recent incidents in which civilians died and demanded that U.S. and coalition forces exercise more caution.
According to Gortney, about one-third of theÂ close air supportÂ for operations in Afghanistan comes from the sea. He said that about 28 combat runs are made daily from the Roosevelt into Afghanistan â€” and each one is six to seven hours long.
Asked about the expected increase in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan â€” and whether they will require more ships in the region, Gortney said he has not requested any additional carriers to conduct air strikes.
He also said he has not â€” as yet â€” been asked by commanders to provide additionalÂ air combat missions. He said that he can increase the number of patrols a bit, but would need more ships for any substantial hike.
Karzai was invited to visit the Roosevelt a few months ago by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of heÂ Joint Chiefs of Staff.
In recent months there have been several high-profile attacks in which civilians were killed. During a strike August 22 on the village of Azizabad scores of Afghan women and children were killed, according to Afghanistan officials.
|Picture of the Week|
This Afghan girl says she is determined to resume her studies despite beingÂ disfiguredÂ with acid by Islamic fundamentalists.Â Unfortunately for her, religion is first priority in Islam – even in the West, where most Muslims adamantly oppose the effort to keep the Taliban from control.
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