Afghan leader meets US commander amid tensions

Last Updated: Sunday, April 4, 2010 - 14:16

Kabul: Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with the commander of US forces in the country on Sunday amid tensions over Karzai`s recent scathing attack on the West and accusations of foreign interference in last year`s elections.

Karzai and General Stanley McChrystal flew together to the southern city of Kandahar, deep in the heartland of the Taliban insurgency, and were to meet with scores of tribal elders as part of efforts to build political support ahead of an expected US and NATO push into the area.

Most of the 30,000 new troops promised by President Barack Obama will be headed to Kandahar city and the surrounding province.

Security was extremely tight as Karzai and McChrystal flew into the city centre in a US military helicopter for a tribal conference, known as a shura, at the governor`s compound.

The substance of the talks wasn`t immediately known, although the event seems bound to be overshadowed by the fallout from Karzai`s Thursday remarks, which the White House described as troubling.

In a speech to electoral officials, Karzai lashed out against the UN and the international community, accusing them of perpetrating a "vast fraud" in last year`s Presidential Elections as part of a conspiracy to deny him re-election or tarnish his victory.

He also said foreigners were looking for excuses not to help fund the September Parliamentary Elections because they "want a Parliament that is weak and for me to be an ineffective president”.

Karzai also suggested that Parliament members who threw out a presidential decree strengthening his power over the election process were serving foreign interests. That drew a sharp rebuke on Saturday from Yunus Qanooni, speaker of the lower house of parliament and a former Karzai cabinet minister who finished second in the 2004 Presidential Election.

Karzai has increasingly clashed with the independent-minded Parliament, which has refused to confirm nearly half of his Cabinet nominees because they were allegedly incompetent, corrupt or too weak to resist pressure from powerful people.

Despite Karzai`s attempt at damage control, including a telephone conversation on Saturday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, his allegations laid bare the growing mistrust between the Afghan government and its international partners as the United States and NATO ramp up troop levels to try to turn back the Taliban.

Karzai attempted to clarify his remarks in his conversation with Hillary. She told him they should focus on common aims for stabilizing Afghanistan, according to State Department spokesman PJ Crowley.

"They pledged to continue working together in a spirit of partnership," Crowley said. "Suggestions that somehow the international community was responsible for any irregularities in the recent election is preposterous."

A UN-backed watchdog threw out nearly a third of Karzai`s votes in the August 20 ballot, forcing him into a runoff that was cancelled after his remaining opponent dropped out saying he had no assurances that the second round would be any cleaner than the first.

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First Published: Sunday, April 4, 2010 - 14:16

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