Afghan President Hamid Karzai Tuesday shrugged off complaints from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf about his handling of a resurgent Taliban a day ahead of joint talks with Musharraf and President Bush.
Karzai and Musharraf have been trading barbs before a three-way White House dinner Wednesday night that Bush hopes will ease tensions between two key allies in the war against Islamic militants.
Asked at a joint news conference with Bush about Musharraf’s comment Monday questioning whether Karzai understood the political environment in his country, the Afghan leader said: “We know our problems, we know our difficulties.”
Musharraf said Tuesday he believed Karzai was aware of the political situation.
“He is not oblivious. He knows everything. But he is purposely denying, turning a blind eye like an ostrich. He doesn’t want to tell the world what is the fact for his own personal reasons,” Musharraf told CNN.
The resurgent Taliban has become an issue in the Nov. 7 congressional elections in the United States because Democrats charge Bush short-changed Afghanistan in order to pour troops and money into the Iraq war.
Bush, dismissing the charge, sought to assure Karzai that the United States was sticking with him.
“I know there are some in your country who wonder whether or not America has got the will to do the hard work necessary to help you succeed. We have got that will,” he said.
Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry said Bush failed to give Americans a realistic assessment of the situation in Afghanistan.
“We need to get our priorities in order by recommitting to the real front line in the war on terror,” he said.
Bush and Karzai discussed a deal Pakistan signed with Islamic militants in Pakistan’s border region earlier this month.
Musharraf last week called it a “holistic approach” to fighting terrorism that would require them to leave the tribal area of North Waziristan or take up a peaceful life.
Karzai has complained that Taliban fighters carrying out armed attacks inside his country are being sheltered on the Pakistani side of the rugged border.
Karzai was cautious on the deal, saying he wanted to see if it would work. His top priority was to ensure that “the terrorists will not be allowed to cross over into Afghanistan” to launch attacks, he said.
“We will have to wait and see if that is going to be implemented exactly the way it is signed,” he said. “So, from our side, it’s a wait-and-see attitude.”
Bush said he did not believe any tensions between Karzai and Musharraf would dampen the effort to find al-Qaida’s elusive leader Osama bin Laden but that he wanted to see the body language between Karzai and Musharraf “to determine how tense things are.”
He later said he was teasing when he made that remark.
“I’ll be good,” Karzai, wearing his trademark hat and robe, interjected with a smile.
More money for Afghanistan?
The Bush-Karzai meeting was expected to include rising Taliban violence and an unprecedented narcotics trade were also on the agenda — possibly along with a request for more U.S. money to stabilize Afghanistan.
Karzai said Sunday on “Meet the Press” that his country would be “heaven in less than a year” if it received the $300 billion the United States had spent in Iraq.
As it is, Karzai said at a news conference Monday that Afghanistan has $1.9 billion in reserves, up from $180 million in 2002.
And in a speech Monday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, he expressed concern — without elaboration — with “radical neighbors who have very dangerous ideas” and said narcotics had supplanted the growing of grapes, raisins, pomegranates, almonds and other crops.
Struggling farmers need more help, he said. “Give us the roads and we will give you the best grapes in the world,” Karzai said with a smile.
He expressed embarrassment that his country is a major source of the world’s opium. “We have worked on the problem. In some areas of the country, we have succeeded. In other areas of the country, we have failed,” he said.
Afghanistan has been suffering its heaviest insurgent attacks since the Taliban regime was toppled in late 2001 in a U.S.-led war.