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Karzai faults coalition, says it is using ‘thugs’

Afghan President Hamid Karzai sat down to talk with Chicago Tribune correspondent Kim Barker in Kabul last week. Excerpts from the interview follow.

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What do you think about being described [by then-presidential candidate Barack Obama] as weak and spending too much time in a bunker?

Bunker? We are in a trench, and our allies are with us. . . . The coalition forces began to employ thugs, and went with those thugs to the homes of hundreds of elders and community people, frightened them into running away from Afghanistan. . . . For years I’ve been saying that the war on terrorism is not in Afghanistan, that it’s in the training camps, it’s in sanctuaries [in Pakistan]. Rather than going there, the coalition went around the Afghan villages, burst into people’s homes and . . . [has been] committing extrajudicial killings in our country. . . . And if this behavior continues, we will be in a deeper trench than we are in today. And the war against terrorism will end in a disgraceful defeat.

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What do you mean, the coalition hired thugs?

They hired [Afghan] thugs . . . thugs or warlords or whatever. They created militias of those people who had no limits to misbehavior. . . . This has to stop if you want to succeed.

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But the West is now talking about doing some sort of Awakenings movement [the mainly Sunni Arab fighters in Iraq that now serve the government] in Afghanistan, which would do precisely what you’re talking about -- empower these tribal groups.

That’s wrong. If we create militias again, we will be ruining this country further. That’s not what I want. I have been talking for a long time first of all about raising a proper police force.

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How will more troops solve the problems in Afghanistan?

Sending more troops to the Afghan cities, to the Afghan villages, will not solve anything. Sending more troops to control the border is sensible, makes sense. Sending more troops to help the Afghans regain the territories that we had, in that by making terrible mistakes we lost to the Taliban, makes sense. That is where I need help. I don’t need help anywhere else.

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But the U.S. is talking about sending the bulk of 4,000 troops to Wardak and Logar provinces, just outside Kabul, next month. What do you think about that?

I don’t think we need forces there. I think we need them on the border, and I think we need them especially to bring [the southern province of] Helmand back under the control of the Afghan people and the Afghan law.

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Do you believe that your neighbor, Pakistan, is serious about the war on terrorism?

President [Asif Ali] Zardari is, no doubt -- there’s no doubt about that. And I hope he and his government will succeed in this regard. . . . I have full trust in him and his intentions. He has personally suffered a colossal loss [the assassination last December of his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto] at the hands of terrorism, so I am sure he will do the right thing.

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What about the Pakistani civilian government’s ability to control the country’s powerful army and intelligence agencies?

That’s a different question. The intention’s right with President Zardari. The ability is something we must all help around.

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What is your biggest mistake in the last seven years?

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There’s a lot that I can talk about. . . . I began to talk to the international community in private, with persuasion, and with a very soft manner. And unfortunately a lot of them thought that it was weakness. It was not. It was manners.

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What is the status right now of negotiations with the Taliban?

I’d like to negotiate with them very much. And I’ve had an opinion on this from the very first day. But I don’t have an address for them. I don’t know where to find them.

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What do you think of President-elect Obama?

I find him a very capable person, and I’m sure he has an understanding of the needs and the difficulties of the Afghan people. I’m not treating his remarks as a criticism of me. He reads reports.

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In many ways, it seems you have become the face of what’s gone wrong in Afghanistan, and people just blame President Karzai for everything. What do you think of that?

That’s absolutely wrong, but I’m the president. Naturally people will blame me. I’m the president. I’m the punching box.

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kim.barker@tribune.com


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