Kabul: Afghanistan’s former president said on Sunday the US came to his country to fight extremism and bring stability to his war-tortured nation and is leaving nearly 20 years later having failed at both.
In an interview with The Associated Press just weeks before the last US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan, ending their forever war, Hamid Karzai said extremism is at its “highest point” and the 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.
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-Qaida network and its leader, Osama bin Laden, blamed for the 9/11 attacks on America.
During Karzai’s rule, women re-emerged, 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, a flourishing drug trade and in the final years relentless quarrels with Washington that continue even until today.
“The (US/NATO military) campaign was not against extremism or terrorism, the campaign was more against Afghan villages and hopes; putting Afghan people in prisons, creating prisons in our own country…and bombing all villages. That was very wrong.”
In April, when President Joe Biden announced the final withdrawal of the remaining 2,500-3,500 troops, he said America was leaving having achieved its goals. Al-Qaida had been greatly diminished and bin Laden was dead. America no longer needed boots on the ground to fight the terrorist threats that might emanate from Afghanistan, he said.
Still, the US’ 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 terrorist groups and keep Afghanistan from again being a staging arena for attacks on America.
There is little evidence the Taliban are fulfilling their part of the bargain. The United Nations claims the Taliban and al-Qaida 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 two decades in Afghanistan. Yet he has become a linchpin of sorts in a joint effort being launched by the United States and Britain to get a quarrelsome Afghan leadership in Kabul united enough to talk peace with the Taliban.