Karzai rules out asking for more US troops

Karzai ruled out breaking up the territorial integrity of his country in a bid to reach a deal.

Washington: Afghan President Hamid Karzai ruled out Sunday asking the United States for more troops if the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorates during or following the US military drawdown.

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that 10,000 troops would leave this year and all 33,000 personnel sent as part of a surge ordered in late 2009 would be home by next summer, leaving a US force of some 65,000.

Obama`s top brass, including Afghan war commander General David Petraeus, warned that the decision to pull out so many troops so quickly went against their best advice and could imperil fragile gains made against the Taliban.

Karzai, speaking to CNN in his first US interview since the drawdown announcement, welcomed the move but refused to be drawn into a debate on the specific numbers, saying, "we have no opinion on that."

"The number of troops that he has announced to be withdrawn this year and the rest, next year, is a sign that Afghanistan is taking over its own security and trying to defend its territory by its own means. So we are happy with the announcement."

Asked whether he might go back to Obama and ask him to perhaps reverse his drawdown decision if the Afghan army and police failed to maintain security, Karzai replied: "I will not do that.

"It is the responsibility of the Afghan people to protect their country and to provide security for the citizens of the country."

In tandem with the drawdown, US and Afghan officials are holding preliminary talks with elements of the Taliban, feeling out if some kind of political settlement can be reached. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he doesn`t expect significant progress for months.

Karzai said that if a majority of the Taliban agree to accept democratic gains and the Afghan constitution, including the rights of women, they will be allowed to "return to their homes in dignity."

"The Afghan people need peace. The Afghan people want peace. They want their children sent to school. Mothers want to be without worry when they have their children go to school or their husbands to jobs, or when the women go out to work," he said.

"This country needs to progress, this country needs to live like all other nations live. We must reach this human desire through a reasonable means, through a realistic approach."

Karzai said the input of neighboring Pakistan, where many Afghan Taliban take refuge in the lawless border regions, would be key to the success of reaching any peace deal.

"There are forces beyond the means of Afghanistan that are interfering in this process that has power over the process. And unless those forces begin to cooperate, the Taliban will not be able to come forward as a group, as a unified structure," he said, adding: "Pakistan is extremely important for a quick solution."

The Afghan president ruled out breaking up the territorial integrity of his country in a bid to reach a deal.

Some members of Pashtun tribes concentrated in the south and east of Afghanistan -- from which the Taliban draws much of its support -- have long sought an independent Pashtunistan straddling territory either side of the Afghan-Pakistani border.

"We are not going to make deals on behalf of the Afghan people where a group or a political segment is given a part of the country. That will not happen," he said.

"Afghanistan has a constitution. Afghanistan has a state structure. Those who join the peace process must respect the Afghan constitution. And the Afghan constitution doesn`t allow that."

There are currently up to 150,000 foreign forces in Afghanistan, including about 99,000 from the United States. Obama has indicated a series of drawdowns until Afghan forces assume security responsibility in 2014.

Bureau Report

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