Afghan President Hamid Karzai blamed the U.S. and NATO forces on Thursday for some of the violence and the brunt of corruption that is rampant in his war-torn country. Karzai bluntly criticized allied tactics, declaring that terrorists won't be beaten "by attacking Afghan villages and Afghan homes."
Speaking in an exclusive interview with NBC News, Karzai also said he had written a letter to President Barack Obama warning that Afghans will not permit American and NATO troops to stay past 2014 unless the U.S. turns over hundreds of detainees held at Bagram Air Base and a nearby facility.
"I have written to President Obama that the Afghan people will not allow its government to enter into a security agreement while the United States continues to violate Afghan sovereignty," he said. "Part of the insecurity is definitely coming to us from terrorism, and the attacks of the Taliban. Part of the insecurity is coming to us from the structures that NATO and America created in Afghanistan."
NATO-led forces are currently scheduled to withdraw by the end of 2014, but the Obama administration has entered into negotiations with the government in Kabul on a security pact that would allow some as-yet undisclosed number of troops to remain beyond that point. Their mission would be to train Afghan security forces and carry out counterterrorism missions. White House press secretary Jay Carney recently said that Obama has not yet settled on the size of that residual force. The spokesman also suggested that no troops might remain.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden confirmed to Yahoo News that Obama had received Karzai's letter, but said, "We're not going to discuss the contents." She added that the U.S. and Afghanistan were working out "some remaining issues" regarding the transfer of detainees to Afghan custody. Hayden also said the administration hoped to wrap up the negotiations on the post-2014 agreement "within a year."
Obama made the American withdrawal from Iraq and planned withdrawal from Afghanistan key planks of his re-election platform. But the pullout from Iraq came about in part because of the collapse of negotiations over maintaining an American presence there. The Iraqi government refused to give U.S. forces immunity from prosecution—a deal-breaker for Washington. Karzai's comments raise the specter of another possible deal-breaker.
Would Afghanistan consider giving American forces immunity?
"We can consider that question. I can go to the Afghan people and argue for it," said Karzai. "But before I do that, the United States of America must make absolutely sure that they respect Afghanistan's sovereignty, that they respect Afghanistan's laws, that no Afghan is hurt or his or her rights violated by U.S. soldiers."
Karazi has regularly denounced NATO night raids and strikes that have killed civilians in Afghanistan. But he also aims to secure billions of dollars in long-term aid for his country's military and economy. (At a farewell press conference with then-President George W. Bush in December 2008, Karzai said: "Afghanistan will not allow the international community to leave it before we are fully on our feet, before we are strong enough to defend our country, before we are powerful enough to have a good economy and before we have taken from President Bush and the next administration billions and billions of more dollars—no way that [we] can let you go.")
Karzai also cited "tensions" in the U.S.-Afghan relationship, which he described as "businesslike" and "not based on sentiments."
The Afghan president, who has signaled that he will not run for re-election in 2014, said he "absolutely" felt safe enough to stay in Afghanistan and that he looked forward to being out of office.
"I feel absolutely safe. I will be staying in Afghanistan. This is my country," he told NBC, adding with a laugh: "I'll be very happy to be an ex-president." Still, "there is more corruption than ever before in Afghanistan," he added, citing Afghan officials who take bribes, but placing the lion's share of the blame on the U.S.
"The bigger corruption is the corruption in contracts. The contracts are not issued by the Afghan government. The contracts are issued by the international community, mainly by the United States," he said. "Now whether this corruption in Afghanistan is an accident, a byproduct of the situation in the past 10 years or is it perpetrated also on purpose is today my main question.
"There is, for a number of years now, a growing perception in Afghanistan that a significant part of insecurity in Afghanistan is caused by the way the United States and some of its allies promoted lawlessness in Afghanistan by spreading corruption in Afghanistan by employing private security firms," he charged.
"We have to wait for 2014 for the withdrawal of international forces, for the reduction in the amount of contracts. Then you will see that Afghanistan will definitely be a lot less a corrupt government and country," he predicted.
"The issue of corruption is one of concern and has been in Afghanistan," White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters when asked about Karzai's comment. "We share President Karzai's concern about that, and we work with the government of Afghanistan on this issue regularly. We know it's a problem and has been a problem, and we continue to work with the government on that problem."
"The U.S. government takes the issue of accountability of development assistance in Afghanistan seriously," Hayden also said. "We have a system in place for monitoring and auditing Afghanistan assistance funding, and we are always looking for ways to improve our implementation and oversight."
More than 3,000 American and allied military personnel have been killed in the decade-long conflict launched to catch or kill Osama bin Laden, whom Navy SEALS shot dead in a dramatic May 2011 raid inside Pakistan.