KABUL – Afghanistan’s former president argued Tuesday that Washington helped fuel corruption in his nation by spending hundreds of millions of dollars over the past two decades without accountability.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Hamid Karzai responded to findings from a trove of newly published documents that successive U.S. administrations misled the public about the war in Afghanistan.
Karzai said the documents, obtained by The Washington Post, confirm his long-running complaints about U.S. spending.
The documents also describe Karzai, Afghanistan’s president for 14 years, as having headed a government that "self-organized into a kleptocracy." Karzai has denied wrongdoing but hasn't denied involvement in corruption by officials in his government.
Karzai became Afghanistan’s president after a 2001 U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban government. Thousands of pages of documents recently obtained by the Post portray successive U.S. governments lying about successes and hiding failures. After 18 years and over $1 trillion dollars in U.S. taxpayer money spent on the war, the Taliban are now at their strongest and control or hold sway over half the country.
Karzai said the U.S. spent hundreds of millions of dollars in its war on terror, with the money flowing to contractors and private security firms, and that this fostered corruption.
“What could we do? It was U.S. money coming here and used by them and used for means that did not help Afghanistan,” Karzai said.
He argued that there was no accountability.
“I'm glad this report is out, and I hope this becomes an eye-opener to the American people and that the U.S. government begins to change its attitude now toward Afghanistan,” he said, describing America's fostering of corruption as a “tool” to impose their game plan.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the U.S.-based Wilson Center, assessed Karzai's comments by saying: “I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that the U.S. used corruption as a tool, but it has long been suspected — and these new documents make quite clear — that U.S. officials have thrown huge amounts of money at Afghanistan knowing full well that this would lead to more corruption than development or peace.”
The Pentagon said Monday there had been “no intent” to mislead Congress or the public, and that the Defense Department gave regular updates to lawmakers on U.S. challenges in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been trying to broker a peace deal that would pave the way for a pullout of U.S. forces.
U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Saturday held the first official talks with Afghanistan’s Taliban since previous seemingly successful efforts ran aground in September.
The talks will initially focus on getting a Taliban promise to reduce violence, with a permanent cease-fire being the eventual goal, said a U.S. statement. Khalilzad is also trying to lay the groundwork for negotiations between Afghans on both sides of the protracted conflict.
However, Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban's spokesman in Qatar, told the AP that “ceasefire and reduction of violence will come after the peace agreement is signed."
"These issues — foreign troops withdrawal and not allowing Afghan soil to be used against others — are mentioned in the agreement, including intra-Afghan negotiations, which will start after the signing of the agreement," Shaheen said.
Karzai, meanwhile, called on the U.S. to take the first step and announce a unilateral ceasefire.
“The Americans have been calling for a ceasefire for the past year, (yet) while they were calling for a ceasefire they were conducting the heaviest of their operations ever in Afghanistan as well. That's a contradiction," he said.
“You asked for a ceasefire and then you drop hundreds of bombs in a month on our country. How can that be? How can that lead us to a ceasefire?" Karzai asked. “If the U.S. generally wants peace and a ceasefire, it should lead by example.”
Khalilzad, the U.S. peace envoy, has previously held meetings in Kabul with Afghan leaders, including Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban have so far refused to talk directly with Ghani, calling him a puppet because his government was cobbled together in 2014 by the U.S. after presidential polls were mired in fraud.
Meanwhile, the Taliban continue to stage staging near-daily attacks that target Afghan security forces and government officials, but also kill scores of civilians.