(KABUL, Afghanistan) — In what appears to be the latest sign of a deteriorating relationship between two allies, a news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the Afghan capital of Kabul was canceled on Sunday due to “security concerns.”
The two met privately, and Pentagon press secretary George Little denied the cancellation was because of remarks made earlier by Karzai suggesting that the Taliban and the U.S. were in cahoots.
At an earlier news conference, Karzai suggested that the U.S. government and the Taliban, while using different means, were working in concert to keep Afghanistan unstable and convince Afghans that violence will get worse when foreign troops leave as scheduled at the end of next year.
Karzai described pessimistic reports about his country’s future after NATO troops leave in 2014 as propaganda promoted via the Western news media with the intention of undermining Afghan confidence in their country and his government.
“There is a lot of negative propaganda about what will happen after 2014,” Karzai said, adding that it is being forecast as a disaster film and thought of as “the 2014 movie.”
Karzai also accused the United States of sending different signals about its view of the Taliban. The Afghan leader says the U.S., on one hand, claims the Taliban is the enemy, but then it engages the group in negotiations.
The United States is not presently talking with the Taliban, but it has in the past. Karzai claims many Afghans are confused about the U.S. government’s true intent.
The Afghan leader then said, “On the one hand the Taliban are talking with the Americans, but on the other hand, they carry out a bombing in Kabul,” a reference to a suicide bombing on Saturday outside the Afghan defense ministry.
Karzai continued, “Yesterday’s bombing in Kabul [and another in the city of Khost] didn’t aim to show Taliban’s strength; indeed they serve America. By those bombings they served the 2014 negative slogan. These bombings aimed to prolong the presence of the American forces in Afghanistan.”
Asked about his private meeting with Karzai, Hagel told reporters the two had “a very direct conversation.”
Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, continued, “I know these are difficult issues for President Karzai and the Afghan people. And I was once a politician. So I can understand the kind of pressures — especially leaders of countries — are always under.”
Hagel said he had confidence that the United States and Afghanistan “could move forward” and “deal with these issues.”
In comments to reporters before Karzai’s private meeting with Hagel, America’s new top commander in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Joseph Dunford, insisted that the two countries still get along.
“We do not have a broken relationship,” Dunford declared.
Dunford, however, strongly disagreed with Karzai’s claims that the U.S. wants instability in Afghanistan.
“We have fought too hard over the past 12 years, we have shed too much blood over the past 12 years, we have done too much to help the Afghan security forces grow over the past 12 years to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage,” Dunford told reporters.
Afghan observers note that Karzai’s outburst on Sunday came in the wake of the cancellation of an agreement in which the U.S. had promised to hand over control of Bagram Prison to Afghanistan.
Atiqullah Amarkhel, a former Afghan Army general and a military analyst, told The New York Times that Karzai’s “prestige as president was degraded in the eyes of the public by the Americans’ refusal to hand over responsibility of the prison to the Afghans.”
“I think it drives him crazy when he sees it’s not happening,” Amarkhel said, adding, “It also shows a deep sense of distrust between two one-time allies. To the public, it means all the power is with foreigners.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Susan Scutti, CNN
Andreas Preuss, CNN