Karzai critical of aid bypassing Afghan government

By Michael Birnbaum
Monday, February 7, 2011

MUNICH - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday called for further reductions in the American presence in his country, saying that the teams led by the United States and its allies that bolster local governments are undermining his government.

Karzai made his remarks in a speech delivered at a defense conference in Munich. He also said he would like to reconcile members of the Taliban "as soon as possible," as long as they are not part of al-Qaeda and are willing to swear allegiance to the Afghan constitution.

U.S. officials at the conference minimized their differences with Karzai, and they struck a guardedly optimistic tone about the direction of the country .

They said that they expect the U.S. presence to last even after the military has withdrawn in 2014, but that Afghanistan's security forces are increasingly bearing the burden of work.

"These gains are fragile, they are reversible, but in my mind they are indicative of very real progress. I am cautiously optimistic that we are on a good track," said Adm. James G. Stavridis, NATO supreme allied commander in Europe.

Karzai said he will announce his plans for the Afghan takeover of security forces from international hands March 21, the Afghan New Year. But he spent much of his speech reiterating his criticisms of Western aid that bypassed the government in Kabul, including private security forces and private non-governmental organizations.

"The Afghan people get confused, they don't know who the authority is," Karzai said. He called aid that is not routed through Kabul "an impediment to the growth of the Afghan capability of government and the delivery of services."

Karzai included NATO-led provincial reconstruction teams among the programs he wanted to see eliminated, something that Stavridis said he disagreed with in the short-term, though he said that he supported a diminished role "over time."