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Karzai accuses US of destabilizing Afghanistan

As Hagel visits, Afghan leader lobs criticism

Sharp words: President Hamid Karzai accused the United States of trying to keep Afghanistan unsteady to justify a continued US military presence.

Sharp words: President Hamid Karzai accused the United States of trying to keep Afghanistan unsteady to justify a continued US military presence.

KABUL — President Hamid Karzai leveled particularly harsh accusations against the United States on Sunday, suggesting that Americans were destabilizing his country, in a speech that cast a shadow over a visit by Chuck Hagel, the new US defense secretary.

The sharp words came after weeks of the kinds of incidents that Karzai views as an affront to Afghanistan’s sovereignty — civilian deaths in airstrikes, accusations of abuses by US Special Operations forces, and most recently, the last-minute refusal by US officials to fully hand Bagram Prison into Afghan control because of disagreement about the continuing American role there.

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Karzai’s criticism came at a morning news conference in honor of Women’s Day. He charged that the US government and the Taliban, while using different means, had in effect colluded to keep Afghanistan unstable in order to justify a continued US military presence.

After an announcement that a joint news conference with Hagel and Karzai had been canceled amid ‘‘security concerns,’’ the two men met for private discussions and dinner.

Hagel, who is making his first trip to Afghanistan as defense secretary, said afterward that the two had ‘‘a very direct conversation.’’

‘‘I know these are difficult issues for President Karzai and the Afghan people,’’ said Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska. ‘‘And I was once a politician. So I can understand the kind of pressures — especially leaders of countries — are always under.’’

The defense secretary rejected the suggestion that the United States is in collusion with the Taliban in Afghanistan with the goal of making Afghans fearful of more violence if foreign troops leave. He expressed hope that the United States and Afghanistan ‘‘could move forward, and I have confidence we will, and deal with these issues.’’

President Hamid Karzai accused the United States of trying to keep Afghanistan unsteady to justify a continued US military presence.

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A Pentagon spokesman said the planned joint news conference was canceled because of security concerns and had nothing to do with Karzai’s accusations about US and Taliban complicity.

On Saturday, suicide bomber struck outside the Afghan Defense Ministry, killing nine Afghan civilians. Hagel heard the blast from the location where he was meeting with Afghan officials, but was never in danger.

In comments before the meeting between Karzai and Hagel, the new international military commander in Afghanistan, General Joseph P. Dunford, said the two countries were still getting along, saying, ‘‘We do not have a broken relationship.’’

But he contested Karzai’s claims of working at cross-ends with the Afghan government.

“We have fought too hard over the past 12 years, we have shed too much blood over the past 12 years, we have done too much to help the Afghan security forces grow over the past 12 years to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage,’’ Dunford told reporters traveling with Hagel.

As the United States and Afghanistan pursue negotiations about the role of US forces in the country after the 2014 NATO mission expires, Karzai has been critical about what he sees as doomsaying reports about Afghanistan’s future.

He described such reports as propaganda, promulgated through Western news media and picked up by local Afghan media, with the goal of undermining Afghan confidence and, by extension, faith in his government.

‘‘There is a lot of negative propaganda about what will happen after 2014,’’ said Karzai, adding that it has come to be thought of as ‘‘the 2014 movie,’’ suggesting it was being forecast as a disaster show.

Further, he accused Americans of sending contradictory messages on their views of the Taliban: claiming to to see them as the enemy, but at the same time reaching out to them to engage in negotiations.

While the Americans say they are not negotiating now with the Taliban, they have in the past. Many Afghans express confusion about the Americans’ true intentions.

‘‘On the one hand the Taliban are talking with the Americans, but on the other hand they carry out a bombing in Kabul,’’ Karzai said, referring to the Saturday bombing.

‘‘Yesterday’s bombing in Kabul and Khost didn’t aim to show Taliban’s strength, indeed they served America. By those bombings they served the 2014 negative slogan,’’ he said. ‘‘These bombings aimed to prolong the presence of the American forces in Afghanistan.’’

In a separate complaint, Karzai said that on Saturday night an Afghan engineering student in the southern city of Kandahar had been badly abused at a US-run prison after being detained by Afghan forces backed by the CIA.

Afghan analysts said Sunday that the backdrop to Karzai’s anger was the cancellation of the Bagram Prison handover, which embarrassed Karzai after he had announced to the Parliament in his inaugural address in January that Afghans were on the verge of taking control of Bagram’s detention operations.

‘‘He felt quite humiliated by the last-minute cancellation of the transfer of the prison by Americans,’’ said General Atiqullah Amarkhel, a former Afghan Army general and a military analyst. ‘‘His prestige as president was degraded in the eyes of the public by the Americans refusal to hand over responsibility of the prison to the Afghans. I think it drives him crazy when he sees it’s not happening.

‘‘It also shows a deep sense of distrust between two one-time allies. To the public, it means all the power is with foreigners.’’

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