KABUL — Hamid Karzai was in the midst of negotiating a security agreement with the United States when he met a 4-year-old girl who had lost half her face in an American airstrike.
Five months later, the Afghan president’s eyes welled with tears as he described visiting the disfigured little girl at a hospital. He took long pauses between words. Sitting behind his desk Saturday night, the man who has projected a defiant image toward the West suddenly looked frail.
“That day, I wished she were dead, so she could be buried with her parents and brothers and sisters” — 14 of whom were killed in the attack — he said.
In an unusually emotional interview, the departing Afghan president sought to explain why he has been a harsh critic of the 12-year-old US war effort.
He said he’s deeply troubled by all the casualties he has seen, including those in US military operations. He feels betrayed by what he calls an insufficient US focus on targeting Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. And he insists that public criticism was the only way to guarantee an American response to his concerns.
To Karzai, the war was not waged with his country’s interests in mind.
“Afghans died in a war that’s not ours,” he said in the interview, his first in two years with a US newspaper.
In Karzai’s mind, Al Qaeda is “more a myth than a reality” and the majority of the United States’ prisoners here were innocent. He’s certain that the war was “for the US security and for the Western interest.”
Such statements elicit scorn from US officials, who point out that Americans have sacrificed mightily for Afghanistan — losing more than 2,000 lives and spending more than $600 billion in the effort to defeat Al Qaeda and the Taliban and rebuild the country.
Some Americans call Karzai a delusional leader, an ally who became an adversary during the 12 years of his presidency.
In the latest blowup, he has refused for months to sign a security agreement that his government had negotiated with the United States that would permit a residual US force to remain here beyond 2014. He has added several demands in exchange for signing the deal.
But in a phone call with Karzai last week, President Obama said he will accept having the winner of Afghanistan’s April presidential elections sign the pact. Karzai indicated that he views this as a best-case scenario.