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Afghan president says war has brought 'no gains'

Sydney Morning Herald - October 9, 2013

Ben Doherty The outgoing President of Afghanistan, the same man who will do much to determine who next holds the office, says a dozen years of war in his country has brought "a lot of suffering, a lot of loss of life, and no gains".

With six months left of his final term in office, Hamid Karzai has delivered a stinging attack on the US-led NATO mission, saying America should not have a "free hand to raid the houses of the people of Afghanistan and strike them".

"On the security front the entire NATO exercise was one that caused Afghanistan a lot of suffering, a lot of loss of life, and no gains because the country is not secure," he said in a BBC interview. "What we wanted was absolute security and a clear-cut war against terrorism."

Thousands of civilians have been killed in Afghanistan since foreign troops ousted the Taliban in 2001. The violence continues. A recent UN report found more than 1000 civilians were killed and 2000 injured in the first half of 2013, a 23 per cent increase on the year before.

Mr Karzai, seen by many early in his premiership as America's candidate installed as President, said his relationship with US President George W. Bush soured in 2005, as foreign casualties and civilian deaths mounted in his country.

He vowed he would not be rushed into signing a bilateral security agreement with Mr Bush's successor, Barack Obama, a treaty that would formalise relations between Afghanistan and America after foreign troops leave next year.

"If the agreement doesn't suit us then of course they [the US] can leave. The agreement has to suit Afghanistan's interests and purposes. If it doesn't suit us and if it doesn't suit them then naturally we will go separate ways."

Mr Karzai said it was necessary for him, and for the man who will succeed him, to negotiate with the Taliban in order to secure a lasting peace for Afghanistan. He rejected criticism that installing senior Taliban figures in a new government would undermine the gains, albeit marginal, made in improving the lives of Afghan women.

"The return of the Taliban will not undermine progress. This country needs to have peace. I am willing to stand for anything that will bring peace to Afghanistan and through that to promote the cause of Afghan women better."

Mr Karzai will complete his second term when polls are held next April. He is constitutionally prohibited from running again, but he is expected to wield enormous power in determining who is likely to succeed him.

During a dozen years in power, Mr Karzai has built up a powerful network of allies and acolytes, kept loyal through patronage, jobs, and lucrative contracts.

Political parties and ideological policy platforms are almost non-existent in Afghanistan so a candidate's personal vote-bank, tribal ties, and influential backers are crucial. The support of Mr Karzai and his network could be a decisive factor in the ballot.

Twenty-two candidates have nominated to be the next President of Afghanistan, including the runner-up in the last election in 2009, Abdullah Abdullah. Then, he withdrew from the final run-off against Mr Karzai amid widespread allegations the President had rigged the ballot.

Mr Karzai's older brother Qayum Karzai has also nominated. Qayum was an inactive politician for the single term he sat in parliament. He has instead concentrated on the family's business empire, which includes numerous media outlets in southern Afghanistan and a restaurant in Baltimore.

Former warlord and the man who trained the 9/11 terrorists and the Bali bombers, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, has also nominated.

The President has not yet indicated a preference for any candidate, but his imprimatur is expected to make a favourite of whomever he anoints.

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