Thursday, June 23, 2011

US troop withdrawal forces Karzai to reach out to extremists

From the AP:
President Hamid Karzai is increasingly isolated and has surrounded himself with an inner circle of advisers who are urging him to move closer to Iran and Pakistan as the U.S. draws down its role in Afghanistan, several friends and aides tell The Associated Press.

Their advice is echoed in Karzai's anti-West rhetoric, which has heightened both in his public speeches and in private. He met recently with Iran's defense minister, and constantly cautions against trusting the U.S. to have Afghanistan's best interests at heart.

Several of Karzai's close friends and advisers now speak of a president whose doors have closed to all but one narrow faction... who belong to a nonviolent wing of Hizb-i-Islami, a radical Islamic group whose relentless attacks on American soldiers forced the U.S. to withdraw from bases in northeastern Kunar and Nuristan provinces.

The group's leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, was once an American ally but has since been declared a terrorist by the United States...

Human Rights of Afghanistan Commissioner Nader Nadery said... Karzai [is dissapointed that he did not get] a strategic forces agreement with the United States that would allow for U.S. bases in Afghanistan as well as give the president protection and negotiation room with Washington. Instead, the document the U.S. gave to Karzai spoke only of a complete withdrawal, he said.

The United States has said it will have all its fighting forces out of Afghanistan by 2014 and that the security of Afghanistan will be turned over to Afghan forces. The U.S. has not asked for any bases or centers to remain under its control.

"I think the reality of their complete withdrawal has struck home," Nadery said. "Now he sees they may go and they don't want a (military) presence here, there were no bases that they requested and perhaps now he is thinking, 'Who will protect me?' And he has turned to Hizb-i-Islami and conservative elements in the country like those on the Ulema (clerics) Council, former warlords, as well as getting closer to Pakistan and to Iran."

The growing influence of Hizb-i-Islami, some analysts warn, is also possibly paving the way for another civil war in Afghanistan once the U.S. and NATO withdrawal is complete...

Fahim Dashti, an ethnic Tajik and former editor of the defunct Kabul Weekly, told the AP that militia groups in northern Afghanistan have rearmed, frightened by the growing influence of Hizb-e-Islami in the government and the future implications of peace negotiations with the Taliban...

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar sheltered Osama bin Laden... and [kept him] safe until sometime in 2003 when he helped the al-Qaida leader escape to Pakistan...

Hekmatyar, whose men have also attacked Afghan security forces, sent a delegation to Kabul last year to discuss a formal reconciliation. The delegation has since delivered a blueprint which calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan as well as an interim government until new elections can be held.

Some think Hizb-i-Islami may be achieving at least some of its goals more effectively from within the existing government.

"What I see is very dangerous not just for Afghanistan and the region but for the world," Dashti said. He called the U.S. phased withdrawal "a strategy of escape."

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