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Afghan leader meets US commander amid tensions

Afghan leader meets US commander amid tensions

Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with the commander of U.S. forces in the country Sunday amid tensions over Karzai's recent scathing attack on the West and accusations of foreign interference in last year's elections.
Karzai and Gen. Stanley McChrystal flew together to the southern city of Kandahar, deep in the heartland of the Taliban insurgency, and were to meet with scores of tribal elders as part of efforts to build political support ahead of an expected U.S. and NATO push into the area.
Most of the 30,000 new troops promised by President Barack Obama will be headed to Kandahar city and the surrounding province.
Security was extremely tight as Karzai and McChrystal flew into the city center in a U.S. military helicopter for a tribal conference, known as a shura, at the governor's compound.
The substance of the talks wasn't immediately known, although the event seems bound to be overshadowed by the fallout from Karzai's Thursday remarks, which the White House described as troubling.
In a speech to electoral officials, Karzai lashed out against the U.N. and the international community, accusing them of perpetrating a "vast fraud" in last year's presidential polls as part of a conspiracy to deny him re-election or tarnish his victory.
He also said foreigners were looking for excuses not to help fund the September parliamentary elections because they "want a parliament that is weak and for me to be an ineffective president."
Karzai also suggested that parliament members who threw out a presidential decree strengthening his power over the election process were serving foreign interests. That drew a sharp rebuke Saturday from Yunus Qanooni, speaker of the lower house of parliament and a former Karzai Cabinet minister who finished second in the 2004 presidential election.
Karzai has increasingly clashed with the independent-minded parliament, which has refused to confirm nearly half of his Cabinet nominees because they were allegedly incompetent, corrupt or too weak to resist pressure from powerful people.
Despite Karzai's attempt at damage control, including a telephone conversation Saturday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, his allegations laid bare the growing mistrust between the Afghan government and its international partners as the United States and NATO ramp up troop levels to try to turn back the Taliban.
Karzai attempted to clarify his remarks in his conversation with Clinton. She told him they should focus on common aims for stabilizing Afghanistan, according to State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
"They pledged to continue working together in a spirit of partnership," Crowley said. "Suggestions that somehow the international community was responsible for any irregularities in the recent election is preposterous."
A U.N.-backed watchdog threw out nearly a third of Karzai's votes in the Aug. 20 ballot, forcing him into a runoff that was canceled after his remaining opponent dropped out saying he had no assurances that the second round would be any cleaner than the first.
The tone of Karzai's speech reflected the strain in his relations with the Obama administration, which has been far more critical of his stewardship than former President George W. Bush _ especially his failure to curb corruption and improve governance.
A strong Afghan partner is key to the Obama strategy of winning over the civilian population and turning Afghans against the Taliban.
Obama flew to Kabul late last month, where he pressed the Afghan leader over the need for good governance, merit-based appointments of Afghan officials and corruption.
A friendly fire incident late Friday in which German troops mistakenly killed six Afghan soldiers appeared unlikely to damage ties with another key foreign partner.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday to express her condolences over the deaths, while Karzai expressed sympathy regarding the deaths of three German soldiers in fighting the same day.
German forces were sharply criticized last September when they ordered an airstrike on two tanker trucks that had been captured by the Taliban. Up to 142 people died, many of them civilians.


Updated : 2021-04-22 02:31 GMT+08:00