(CNSNews.com) – Two weeks after Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Hamid Karzai’s assessments of progress in the war in Afghanistan were “legitimate,” the Afghan president on Sunday delivered another assessment – implying that the U.S. and Taliban are colluding in violent attacks to justify a post-2014 U.S. presence in the country.
In a nationally televised speech Sunday, Karzai accused the U.S. and Taliban of holding undisclosed talks in Qatar and Europe “on a daily basis,” and said suicide bombings on Saturday in Kabul and Khost -- which killed 19 civilians -- were not a show of strength by the Taliban but were rather intended to serve America’s interests.
“The bombing that took place yesterday and was carried out in the name of the Taliban – these actions, in fact, show that the Taliban are serving the foreigners and are not against the foreigners,” he said. “These bombings show that the Taliban want the longer presence of foreigners, not their departure from Afghanistan.”
Karzai said the Taliban wanted to frighten Afghans into believing that if the foreign forces were no longer in the country, “we would be facing these sorts of incidents.”
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander, U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, took issue with Karzai’s insinuation, calling it “categorically false.”
“We have shed too much blood over the past 12 years, we have done too much to help the Afghan security forces grow over the past 12 years to think that violence or instability would be to our advantage,” he told a press conference in Kabul.
The jarring remarks by a leader whose government has been propped up by the U.S. and other Western governments over the past eight years came during a visit by newly sworn-in Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
After his talks with Karzai, Hagel was asked during a press briefing about the allegations in his speech.
“We did discuss those comments,” he replied. “I told the president it was not true that the United States was unilaterally working with the Taliban in trying to negotiate anything.”
Hagel sounded reluctant to admonish Karzai.
“I know these are difficult issues for President Karzai and the Afghan people,” he said. “And I was once a politician, so I can understand the kind of pressures that especially leaders of countries are always under. So I would hope that again we – we can move forward, and I have confidence we will, and deal with these issues.”
After a reporter recalled Dunford’s comment about 12 years of fighting and dying, Hagel said, “Yeah, Gen. Dunford’s right. And it wouldn't make a lot of sense, it seems to me, but, again, I spoke clearly and directly, as the president [Karzai] did, on this issue. And I think he understands where we are and where we’ve been and hopefully where we’re going together.”
Another reporter pressed the point, asking Hagel whether he found Karzai’s claim “astonishing.”
“Well, like I said, I addressed that issue rather directly with the president,” Hagel replied.
‘Many legitimate evaluations’
In another development on Sunday, Karzai’s office published a decree instructing foreign troops to refrain from entering university premises in the country and ordering Afghan forces to ensure that they do.
Accusing foreign forces of entering university compounds “to harass, annoy and detain Afghan students,” it said such acts were “a serious breach of Afghanistan sovereignty.”
The decree ordered Afghan security agencies and university leadership “to strictly stop the entry by foreign troops into compounds of universities and other education institutions.
In the event of a forced entry into such compounds by the international coalition, the Afghan security forces shall take required legal action.”
A day earlier, according to a report in Afghanistan’s Weesa daily, “U.S. special forces arrested a student at the Kandahar University and took him to their base.”
Sunday’s presidential decree is the latest in a series that have sought to impose stricter controls over how ISAF operates.
In 2011 he demanded an end to ISAF-led night raids on suspected militant targets, calling them “uncoordinated and arbitrary.”
Last month, after civilians were killed alongside Taliban fighters during an air-raid, Karzai instructed that the ANSF may no longer request ISAF air support, under “any circumstances.”
Days later, Karzai ordered the expulsion of U.S. special forces from the eastern province of Wardak over allegations of torture by Afghans working alongside the American troops. (An ISAF spokesmen said in Kabul no evidence had been found to support allegations of U.S. special forces misconduct in the province.)
When Kerry, who was on the visit to Europe at the time, was asked about the Wardak decree, he replied that Karzai has carried out “many legitimate evaluations” of ISAF actions and of “how sometimes some things have gone wrong or might be changed and be done better.”
He also expressed understanding for the concerns expressed by Afghan government officials about the situation in Wardak and stressed they would be “appropriately evaluated.”
More than 2,170 American soldiers have been killed in the conflict in Afghanistan since late 2001, among a total of more than 3,250 ISAF fatalities.
The U.S.-Taliban talks that Karzai alleged are taking place daily were formally suspended a year ago, when the Taliban in a March 15, 2012 statement complained that it did not like the way they were proceeding, particularly with regard to its demand for the release of its members held at Guantanamo Bay.
Two months earlier the Taliban had opened a “diplomatic office” in Qatar as a venue for the talks.
The Obama administration’s declared position on dialogue is that it supports an Afghan-led reconciliation process, on condition Taliban leaders pledge to stop fighting, end support for al-Qaeda, and abide by the Afghan constitution, including its guarantees of rights for women.