Afghanistan’s former president has said the United States has failed in its two-decade mission of bringing stability to “fight extremism” and bring stability to his war-tortured nation.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday just weeks before the last US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan after nearly 20 years, Hamid Karzai said departing troops are leaving behind a disaster.
“The international community came here 20 years ago with this clear objective of fighting extremism and bringing stability … but extremism is at the highest point today. So they have failed,” he said.
He said their legacy is a war-ravaged nation in “total disgrace and disaster”.
“We recognise as Afghans all our failures, but what about the bigger forces and powers who came here for exactly that purpose? Where are they leaving us now?” he asked and answered: “In total disgrace and disaster.”
Still, Karzai, who had a conflicted relationship with the US during his 13-year rule, wanted the troops to leave, saying Afghans were united behind an overwhelming desire for peace and needed now to take responsibility for their future.
“We will be better off without their military presence,” he said.
“I think we should defend our own country and look after our own lives. … Their presence (has given us) what we have now. … We don’t want to continue with this misery and indignity that we are facing. It is better for Afghanistan that they leave.”
Karzai’s rule followed the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 by a US-led coalition that launched its invasion to hunt down and destroy the al-Qaeda network and its leader, Osama bin Laden, blamed for the 9/11 attacks on the US.
During Karzai’s rule, women gained more rights, girls again attended school, a vibrant, young civil society emerged, new high-rises went up in the capital Kabul and roads and infrastructure were built.
But his rule was also characterised by allegations of widespread corruption, flourishing drug trade and in the final years relentless quarrels with Washington that continue even until today.
In April, when US President Joe Biden announced the final withdrawal of the remaining 2,500-3,500 troops, he said the US was leaving having achieved its goals. al-Qaeda had been greatly diminished and bin Laden was dead.
The US no longer needed boots on the ground to fight the security threats that might emanate from Afghanistan, he said.
Still, the US’s attempts to bring about a political end to the decades of war have been elusive.
It signed a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 to withdraw its troops in exchange for a Taliban promise to denounce armed groups such as al-Qaeda and keep Afghanistan from again being a staging arena for attacks on the US.
There is little evidence the Taliban are fulfilling their part of the bargain. The United Nations claims the Taliban and al-Qaeda are still linked.
The architect of the US deal and current US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad says some progress has been made but without offering any details.
Karzai has had harsh words and uncompromising criticism of US war tactics over the past twenty years in Afghanistan.
Yet he has become a linchpin of sorts in a joint effort being launched by the US and the United Kingdom to get a quarrelsome Afghan leadership in Kabul united enough to talk peace with the Taliban.
The armed group has shown little interest in negotiating and instead has stepped up its assaults on government positions.
On Friday, US President Joe Biden will meet at the White House with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah to discuss US troop withdrawal amid a surge in fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban across the country.
In their first face-to-face meeting, Biden will seek to reassure Ghani and Abdullah of US support for the Afghan people including diplomatic, economic and humanitarian assistance, the White House said in a statement.
The Taliban have made considerable territorial gains since the May 1 start of the US and NATO withdrawal. They have overrun dozens of districts, often negotiating their surrender from Afghan national security forces.
But in many instances the fighting has been intense. Just last week a brutal assault by the Taliban in northern Faryab province killed 22 of Afghanistan’s elite commandos, led by a local hero Colonel Sohrab Azimi, who was also killed and widely mourned.
“The desire of the Afghan people, overwhelmingly, all over the country is for peace,” said Karzai, who despite being out of power since 2014 has lost little of his political influence and is most often at the centre of the country’s political machinations.
Diplomats, Western officials, generals, tribal elders and politicians on all ends of Afghanistan’s political spectrum regularly beat a path to Karzai’s door in the heart of the Afghan capital.
As the final US military withdrawal is already more than 50 percent complete, the need for a political settlement or even a visible path to an eventual settlement seems to be taking on greater urgency even as Afghans by the thousands are seeking an exit.
They say they are frustrated by relentless corruption, marauding criminal gangs – some linked to the powerful warlords in Kabul – and worsening insecurity. Few see a future that is not violent.
While accusing both Pakistan, where the Taliban leadership is based, and the US of stoking the fighting, Karzai said it is up to Afghans to end decades of war.
To Pakistan’s military and civilian leadership, Karzai said Afghanistan wants “a civilised relationship … if Pakistan adopts an attitude away from the use of extremism against Afghanistan, this relationship can grow into a beautiful relationship, into a very fruitful relationship for both sides”.
To the warring sides in Afghanistan, Karzai said: “I’m very emphatic and clear about this, both sides should think of the lives of the Afghan people and the property … fighting is destruction.
“The only answer is Afghans getting together … We must recognise that this is our country and we must stop killing each other.”