Karzai Says US in Peace Talks With Taliban

Kabul, Afghanistan – President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan launched a broadside against his coalition allies on Saturday, saying their motives were suspect, and repeated his assertion that the United States was negotiating with the Taliban.

Mr. Karzai denied earlier reports — including his own statements — that his government was negotiating with Taliban leaders, but he said that the Americans were doing so.

“From the government side we don’t have any negotiations with them, but the important part is negotiations with the Pakistanis, which are very important for us,” he said.

“The negotiations have started with those people,” he said, referring to the Taliban, and God willing these talks will continue. But foreign military forces and especially America are continuing this process.”

American officials have never publicly acknowledged such talks, and the Taliban have denied them categorically. In late May, American officials were reported to have met with a senior aide to the fugitive Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, at least three times in recent months in the first direct exploratory peace talks.

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Mr. Karzai made his comments in an address to the Afghanistan Youth International Conference that was peppered with attacks on the NATO-led military coalition.

“You remember a few years ago I was saying thank you to the foreigners for their help; every minute we were thanking them,” he said. “Now I have stopped saying that, except when Spanta forced me to say thank you,” referring to his national security adviser, Rangin Spanta, who was present.

“They’re here for their own purposes, for their own goals, and they’re using our soil for that,” Mr. Karzai said.

His timing was puzzling, speaking onthe day an American delegation was due to arrive in Kabul to discuss a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan, which both countries seek. The agreement would provide for long-term American financial and military involvement in the country.

In addition, Afghanistan is expected shortly to release a long-awaited plan for the transition of the parts of the country from NATO to government control. The plan was due on June 15 but has been delayed.

The president’s address was broadcast live on RTA, the state television network. Mr. Karzai often adopts drastically different messages for domestic audiences, and takes a much harsher stance toward the coalition with his own people than he does in private and in international meetings. Nonetheless, such positions conflict with the coalition’s counterinsurgency approach, which emphasizes improving relations with Afghans.

Mr. Karzai also complained of the environmental damage from coalition weapons.

“Every time when their planes fly it makes smoke,” he said. “When they drop bombs, they have chemical materials in them. Our people get killed, but also our environment is damaged.”

Some weapons used by the foreign forces have nuclear components, he said, adding that the issue was under investigation. He was apparently referring to certain types of ammunition and armor that use uranium or other radioactive materials, although he gave no specifics.

“There are 140 countries here in our country,” he said. “They’re using different explosive materials, chemical materials and all these things. We will talk to them and ask them about all these things because this has a negative impact on our environment, our animals, our people, so we will ask them about this. They should not think we are uneducated and do not know anything.”

There are actually 48 NATO and allied countries with forces in Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai also complained about the damage done by NATO trucks to Afghan roads, many of which have been improved with NATO aid. “They have not built the roads for us but for themselves, with their big trucks, with big heavy tires and chains, so as much as they help our country, they get it back more than a hundred times,” he said. The heavy pollution of Kabul, too, was a consequence of the foreign presence in Afghanistan, he suggested.

Mr. Karzai’s previous attacks on the NATO-led military coalition have often come in angry blasts at the war’s high toll on Afghan civilians.

In an emotional speech in the eastern city of Asadabad in March, he called for NATO and the United States to stop military operations in Afghanistan; officials later issued a clarification, saying he was referring only to operations that caused civilian casualties. At a news conference in May, he threatened to denounce NATO as occupiers if they did not stop air attacks that brought civilian casualties. That was in response to an airstrike in Helmand Province that was aimed at Taliban insurgents but killed severalcivilians, mostly women and children.

The departing NATO commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, apologized to Mr. Karzai at a subsequent meeting of his national security council, on June 5, according to Waheed Omer, the president’s spokesman. “General Petraeus did apologize and he also explained to all of us what had happened and the president was satisfied,” Mr. Omer said.

On at least two occasions, most recently in April, Mr. Karzai has threatened at closed-door meetings of Parliament to join the Taliban, according to published accounts.

A coalition spokeswoman for the NATO-led coalition, Lt. Cmdr. Kathleen D. Sweetser, said the coalition had not yet seen an official transcript of Mr. Karzai’s latest remarks. “We would encourage people to go to President Karzai’s spokesman for clarification,” she said.

In the past, Western diplomats have refrained from responding to his attacks, saying they were intended for a domestic audience and not indicative of his true views.

Mr. Karzai is a member of the Pashtun ethnic group, the country’s largest, as are most Taliban insurgents. His overtures to the Taliban, whom he has often described as “our brothers,” have alarmed many non-Pashtun Afghans, who collectively are a majority of the population.

Mr. Karzai “has caused deep division within Afghan society by his constant, unconditional offer of alliance to the Taliban,” said Amrullah Saleh, a non-Pashtun who was Mr. Karzai’s intelligence chief for six years, in an article published by Bloomberg News last week.