(CNSNews.com) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai now says his recent comments suggesting collusion between the U.S. and Taliban were misinterpreted by “the media,” and that explanation appeared to satisfy Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday, even though the contentious remarks were made during a nationally televised speech.
Moreover, Karzai made similar insinuations during a meeting in Helmand province two days after the original March 10 speech, according to Afghan and U.S. media reports.
After Karzai told reporters in Kabul Monday that his words had been misinterpreted, Kerry said he was “very, very comfortable with the president’s explanation.”
“I think the president would be the first to say that sometimes in public, a statement is made that is a reflection of something that you’ve heard or some input that you have that reflects a point of view,” he said.
“But I’m confident that the president absolutely does not believe the United States has any interest except to see the Taliban come to the table to make peace,” he added.
If Karzai’s words were misconstrued as he says, then they were misinterpreted by Afghan and foreign media organizations as well as by 22 Afghan opposition parties – who came together to repudiate them – and by NATO and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) officials.
Among those who rejected Karzai’s comments in the ensuing days were ISAF commander Gen. Joseph Dunford and White House press secretary Jay Carney (who both called the allegation “categorically false”), and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (who called it “an absolutely ridiculous idea.”)
After meeting with Kerry on Monday, Karzai told reporters it was all a misunderstanding.
He said he had been making the point that ongoing Taliban attacks on innocent Afghans were not achieving the group’s declared aim of getting foreign troops to leave, but giving foreign troops reason to stay.
It was the media, Karzai said, that had used the word “collusion.”
“I never used the word ‘collusion’ between the Taliban and the U.S., and those were not my words. Those were used – picked up by the media.”
In fact, Karzai in the March 10 speech made the comments about Taliban violence in the context of accusing U.S. officials of meeting behind his back with Taliban representatives, in Europe and Qatar, “on a daily basis.”
Media accounts of his speech – which took place during a visit by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel – generally used words like “suggested” or “implied” in characterizing Karzai’s comments. (CNSNews.com said, “implying that the U.S. and Taliban are colluding in violent attacks.”)
Afghanistan’s Tolo TV said Karzai “suggested that the U.S. was supporting an environment of fear around the post-2014 years in order to remain in Afghanistan.”
The independent Pajhwok news agency said he had “accused the U.S. and the Taliban of working behind his back to prolong the war in Afghanistan.”
Pakistan’s Dawn daily said Karzai had “suggested that the United States was working in concert with Taliban militants.”
Two days after the speech, Karzai addressed a meeting in Helmand province where, according to the Wall Street Journal he repeated the allegations that “the Taliban and the U.S. are conniving to perpetuate instability.”
“He also suggested that recent Taliban propaganda footage of attacks in the strategic Wardak province near Kabul was likely filmed by foreign helicopters, and distributed by foreigners in order to exaggerate the insurgency's strength and justify a continued foreign presence,” the WSJ report added, reinforcing the view that Karzai was indeed alleging some kind of complicity.
Outlook Afghanistan also reported on the Helmand meeting, where it said Karzai had “repeated that the Taliban were serving American interests with violence to make a reason for [the] continued stay of foreign troops.”
Outlook warned then that the words would likely be misconstrued. “To a conspiracy theory prone ordinary Afghan, such remarks are not taken with context, but as if the president is suggesting that the U.S. and Taliban work on concert,” it commented.
‘Not there to lecture him or chide him’
Even before Kerry arrived in Afghanistan for the previously unannounced visit, it was apparent that the Obama administration had decided to play down the issue.
“We’re not there to lecture him or chide him,” a senior administration official told reporters in a background briefing en route to Kabul.
A second official in the briefing said Washington had stressed to Karzai that it was not true the U.S. and Taliban were meeting secretly – but also suggested that there had been problems in the translation of Karzai’s original remarks.
“One has to get into what he actually said in Pashto, how it was translated in English, how it was reported, and so on. But I mean, we’ve gone through some level of detail in clarifying with him already,” the official said. “And like I said, I hope at this point we can begin to move forward and look past this.”
It’s not clear why Karzai waited until Kerry’s visit before offering the public explanation that his words had been taken the wrong way.
For instance, when NATO head Rasmussen last week called the notion of ISAF-Taliban collaboration “ridiculous,” Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi did not use the opportunity to say Karzai had been misunderstood. Instead, Faizi issued a terse statement saying that the Afghan people consider NATO’s “so-called war on terror … aimless and unwise.”