US fury as Karzai backs Pakistan

 

The Obama administration should rethink its commitment to the fight in Afghanistan, according to American politicians furious with Afghan president Hamid Karzai for saying his country would back Pakistan in a war with the United States.

Anger over Mr Karzai’s remarks is likely to surface today when US secretary of state Hillary Clinton testifies before the house foreign affairs committee, her first congressional appearance since her trip last week to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In an interview last weekend, Mr Karzai told a Pakistani TV station: “If fighting starts between Pakistan and the US, we are beside Pakistan. If Pakistan is attacked and the people of Pakistan need Afghanistan’s help, Afghanistan will be there with you.”

He said his government would not allow any nation, including the United States, to dictate its policies.

Those comments drew a sharp rebuke from members of US Congress, including some who have been strong supporters of the decade-plus war in Afghanistan.

Norm Dicks of Washington state, a senior Democrat, said: “Without the assistance of the United States, $468 billion from the United States Treasury and the supreme sacrifice of 1,820 American soldiers who have died during Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan would still be ruled by a gang of Taliban thugs with few individual liberties and no popularly elected leaders.”

Mr Dicks said Mr Karzai’s comments underscore the need for the United States to reconsider its mission and schedule for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan.

The United States has about 98,000 troops in Afghanistan and plans to bring most forces home by 2015.

It intends to withdraw the 33,000 additional troops that president Barack Obama sent to Afghanistan in 2009 by the end of the “fighting season” in 2012, 10,000 of them by the end of this year. About 3,000 of those have already left.

Senator Joe Manchin said: “Now more than ever, president Karzai’s insult to America tells me that it’s time for our country to stop pouring our limited taxpayer dollars and losing precious American lives in a country where we aren’t even welcome - and even worse, where they have the gall to threaten to side against us.”

Republican representative Connie Mack said the US “needs to have a foreign policy - as [former US] president Bush said — you’re either with us or against us”.

American politicians have been critical of Pakistan, demanding it crack down on the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, considered a major threat to American forces.

Admiral Mike Mullen, the former joint chiefs of staff chairman, told Congress last month that the violent Haqqani network “acts as a veritable arm” of Pakistan’s intelligence agency.

While in Pakistan, Ms Clinton bluntly said that if the government in Islamabad is unwilling or unable to take the fight to al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network operating from its border with Afghanistan, the US “would show” it how to eliminate its safe havens.

Politicians are also expected to press Ms Clinton on the Obama administration’s recent decision to pull its ambassador out of Syria temporarily, the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq by year’s end, and the Palestinians’ push for statehood at the United Nations over objections from the US and Israel.