By Laura King, Los Angeles Times –
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai, facing criticism for referring to the Taliban as “brothers” despite a hammer-blow of insurgent attacks on his capital two days earlier, renewed appeals Tuesday for militant groups to come to the bargaining table.
In his first public speech since an 18-hour assault that began Sunday and continued until early Monday, the Afghan leader also said Afghan civilians and security forces had borne the brunt of strikes that were primarily aimed at foreigners, and he questioned why insurgents would harm fellow Afghans.
“People were safe and sound in Washington; life was normal in London — the same everywhere,” he said in an address in the capital.
“But people in Kabul, Logar, Jalalabad and Paktia were affected and terrorized,” Karzai added, referring to the locales of the coordinated attacks which left 11 members of the Afghan security forces, four civilians and about three dozen insurgents dead.
The Afghan president, who appeared to be laying groundwork for talks leading up to a landmark NATO summit to be held in late May in Chicago, said he looked forward to the departure of Western troops in 2014 “so that we will no longer be a burden on them.”
But the foreign community should continue to provide substantial aid to Afghanistan, he said.
“We want at least 4 to 5 billion dollars a year,” Karzai said. “That is enough for us.”
Addressing the Taliban directly, the Afghan leader asked if insurgents had profited from the attacks, during which rocket fire and bullets were rained on embassies, the Afghan parliament and other targets including a Kabul hotel.
“Talib, brother, by doing so, you have not benefited Muslims and Afghans,” said Karzai. “But you worked to prolong a foreign presence.”
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, which were among the most wide-ranging simultaneous strikes in a decade of warfare. Afghan and Western officials, however, say they suspect the assaults were perpetrated by the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based Taliban offshoot that is one of the most deadly groups confronting Western forces.