New York Times
December 13, 2006
By Carlotta Gall
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Dec. 12 — In strikingly strong language, President Hamid Karzai warned Tuesday that a failure to bring peace to Afghanistan would destroy the whole region, and laid the blame squarely on neighboring Pakistan.
As if to underscore Mr. Karzai’s warning, as he arrived here, a suicide bomber blew himself up in neighboring Helmand Province, narrowly missing the provincial governor but killing eight civilians and bodyguards in his office.
“Afghanistan either has to be fixed and be peaceful, or the whole region will run into hell with us,” Mr. Karzai told a small group of journalists during a visit to this southern city, his hometown, which has been reeling from almost daily suicide bombings in the last 10 days. “It’s not going to be like the past, that only we suffer. Those who cause us to suffer will burn in hell with us. And I hope NATO recognizes this.”
Mr. Karzai charged that elements of the Pakistani government were still supporting Islamic militants, as they had in the past, and that if such sources of terrorism were not defeated, Afghans and international soldiers would continue to die.
“The state of Pakistan was supporting the Taliban, so we presume if there is still any Taliban, that they are still being supported by a state element,” he said.
“In Afghanistan we are fighting the symptoms of terrorism, not the roots of it,” he added. “We feel we should go to the sources of terrorism and fight it there, or we’ll keep losing men, Afghan and international, in a vicious circle.”
The charge that Pakistan is supporting extremists to destabilize Afghanistan is an old and contentious one between the nations. The Pakistani intelligence agency has long used Islamic militant groups as a tool to press rival governments in Afghanistan and India.
Today Pakistan says it has ceased that support, though evidence is mounting that hundreds of suicide bombers and other militants — from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia — are being recruited and trained in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the Afghan border. Al Qaeda commanders, including possibly Osama bin Laden, are believed to be taking shelter in the area.
Mr. Karzai also criticized NATO for the behavior of some of its troops, who have fired on civilians in the aftermath of suicide attacks on their convoys. British troops caused particular anger in this city on Dec. 3, when they fired repeatedly on civilians after their supply convoy was hit, killing two and wounding five.
“After all, they are here to fight terrorism and bring protection to the Afghan people,” Mr. Karzai said at a news conference, referring to the NATO troops. “We are extremely worried — it hurts us, it hurts Afghan civilians. We are worried by it, and NATO is also worried by it, and we are working together to reduce such casualties.”
Mr. Karzai convened senior ministers, ambassadors and NATO and American generals in Kandahar to address some of the most urgent issues facing the southern provinces, which have been racked by violence this year. The meeting, known as the Policy Action Group, addressed ways to enhance security and NATO’s handling of the insurgency since it took over from the United States in the south in August.
The group was formed over the summer as the Taliban insurgency grew and riots in Kabul exposed growing tensions in society. This was the group’s first meeting outside the capital, and provincial governors also attended. The choice of location was clearly intended to show the people of the south that their leaders were doing something.
Mr. Karzai, who took time in the afternoon to pray at a local mosque and greet people in shops outside, appeared cheerful and determined. That was in contrast to his demeanor in Kabul on Sunday, when he became emotional as he talked about the suffering of the Afghan people and his sense of powerlessness to protect them from the violence.
“We can’t prevent the terrorists from coming from Pakistan, and we can’t prevent the coalition from bombing the terrorists, and our children are dying because of this,” he told an audience marking Human Rights Day. “The cruelty is too much,” he said, and began to weep.
At the policy meeting, governors complained of having no money to manage immediate security concerns or for operational costs, said one diplomat. A new plan to deploy hundreds of auxiliary police officers in the districts nearly collapsed when there was no money to pay them, he said, adding, “We want the president to reach out.”
The meeting also explored practical measures to prevent further casualties from NATO actions, Mr. Karzai said. The NATO commander, Lt. Gen. David Richards, said that he had ordered all NATO members in Afghanistan to review their procedures and training.
“Clearly, the increase of suicide attacks in the last few days has led to a lot of nervousness amongst some of the troop-contributing nations,” he said after the meeting. “We are acutely aware it is not in our interest to overreact to the threat and risk innocent lives. I am confident that we will then strike the right balance.”