Kabul: Afghanistan marked Independence
Day on Thursday as the Taliban-led insurgency drags on, with foreign
troop deaths at record highs and the government under pressure
to honour pledges on corruption and security.
In a new wave of violence one NATO soldier, several
policemen and more than two dozen rebels were killed in
attacks and counter-insurgency operations across the troubled
country, authorities said.
August 19 commemorates the signing of the Treaty of
Rawalpindi in 1919, which granted Afghanistan full
independence from Britain -- though the country was never part
of the British empire -- after three bloody wars.
The day was traditionally marked by a military parade
and other public events, but these were scaled down after a
Taliban attack in 2008 that was seen as an assassination
attempt on President Hamid Karzai.
Karzai on Thursday attended a low-profile event in
Kabul, placing a floral wreath at the base of the marble
independence memorial near his palace.
The ceremony was attended by Western dignitaries
including the commander of foreign forces, US General David
Petraeus, who watched Karzai inspect a guard of honour.
The Taliban, who were ousted in a 2001 US-led invasion
and are the main militant group behind a growing insurgency,
also marked the day, vowing to defeat the NATO force and
calling them "invaders".
"Indeed, the invasion by the British was not the only
one, Afghanistan has suffered many attacks and invasions prior
to the British invasion and afterwards," a statement by the
Taliban "leadership council" said.
"The Afghan nation has never tolerated the occupation
of their country before and will never tolerate it in the
future at all."
Karzai returned to the capital late on Wednesday after
attending a rare summit with his Pakistani and Russian
counterparts, at which they agreed to pursue joint economic
projects to help bring stability to the volatile region.
The summit, which also involved Tajikistan, adopted a
joint declaration supporting the intention of business leaders
from Russia, Pakistan and Tajikistan to help Afghanistan
rebuild its war-battered infrastructure, including in the
energy and transportation sectors.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hosted Karzai, Asif
Ali Zardari of Pakistan and Tajikistan`s Emomaly Rahmon in the
Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Afghanistan`s current war cycle, which has lasted 30
years, began with a Soviet invasion in December 1979 that
sparked a decade-long war which spilled into civil war and was
followed by the Taliban`s brutal 1996-2001 regime.
Karzai has increasingly turned to his neighbours --
which also include Iran and China -- as pressure intensifies
from his Western backers to make progress on pledges to