Hagel's Afghan trip marred by blasts, Karzai's comments
Kabul: Even as new US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel is on his first visit to Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has only added to the bitterness by issuing a speech, alleging the Taliban to be working in coordination with the US to "frighten" Afghanistan and retain foreign troops to maintain peace.
"The explosions in Kabul and Khost yesterday showed that they are at the service of America and at the service of this phrase: 2014. They are trying to frighten us into thinking that if the foreigners are not in Afghanistan, we would be facing these sorts of incidents," he said during a nationally televised speech about the state of Afghan women.
Chuck Hagel's first day in Afghanistan saw bombings in Kabul and in the eastern province of Khost that killed nineteen people on Saturday.
Karzai claimed in a speech that the Taliban wanted a "longer presence of foreign troops, not their departure from Afghanistan" and denied to believe that Taliban launched Saturday's attacks to show they are still a potent force fighting the United States. "Yesterday's explosions, which the Taliban claimed, show that in reality they are saying they want the presence of foreigners in Afghanistan," Karzai said.
"It is their slogan for 2014, scaring us that if the US is not here our people will be eliminated," Karzai said.
Reacting to Karzai's comments, Hagel denied any such deal between the US and the Taliban.
"I told the (Afghan) president it was not true that the United States was unilaterally working with the Taliban in trying to negotiate anything. The fact is, any prospect for peace or political settlements, that has to be led by the Afghans. That has to come from the Afghan side."
Hours after Karzai's speech, a joint news conference between Karzai and Hagel was cancelled by officials citing security concerns, though officials said the two men still planned to meet privately.
Karzai said in his speech that any foreign powers that want to keep troops in Afghanistan need to do so under conditions set forward by Afghanistan.
"We will tell them where we need them, and under which conditions. They must respect our laws. They must respect the national sovereignty of our country and must respect all our customs," Karzai said.
Karzai offered no proof of coordination, but said the Taliban and the United States were in "daily negotiations" in various foreign countries and noted that the United States has said that it no longer considers the insurgent group its enemy. The US continues to fight against the Taliban and other militant groups, but has expressed its backing for formal peace talks with the Taliban to find a political resolution to the war.
US and NATO forces commander Gen. Joseph Dunford said Karzai had never expressed such views to him, but said it was understandable that tensions would arise as the coalition balances the need to complete its mission and the Afghans' move to exercise more sovereignty.