- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan’s former foreign minister, says he is concerned that militants locked up at a Bagram Air Base could be released after the U.S. detention facility is handed over to Afghans next year.

“It is quite possible that guilty people — people who have committed crimes against you, against us — will get released and harm us back,” Mr. Abdullah said in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times on Tuesday.

He said he supports handing over the facility but stressed there must be joint oversight once it is in Afghan control.

Army Maj. John Redfield, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said the U.S. government will transfer the detention facilities “to an appropriate Afghanistan ministry or ministries … as soon as transfer can responsibly occur in accordance with all applicable international and national laws.”

On other issues, Mr. Abdullah said he does not favor reconciliation talks with the Taliban, assessed the results of a U.S.-led military operation in Majah as “mixed” and said a surge of U.S. troops in a major offensive in Kandahar is “needed” in order to “defeat the Taliban and win the people.”

Mr. Abdullah, who dropped out of a runoff election against Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the wake of what international observers said was as rigged election in August, dismissed as a “PR exercise” a “peace jirga” Mr. Karzai plans to call this month.

“Of course I will be opposed to a situation where after all the sacrifices made by the Afghans as well as the rest of the world we turn it back to the old days,” he said.

The former foreign minister said he sees national reconciliation as a broad effort that focuses on the 30 million citizens of Afghanistan, not just 30,000 people — a reference to the Taliban. “[The Afghans] are the people in which all the investment should be” made, he said.

In addition, Mr. Abdullah said it was wishful thinking to assume that the Taliban militants would willingly give up their arms, adding that “they are not fighting in order to be part of a democratic system.”

“To think that we can invite those that are fundamentally against the process, have intimate links with international terrorism and are there in order to return Afghanistan to the old days, that in itself is a false hope. That will not happen,” he said.

In a separate interview, Bruce Riedel, who led a review of the U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan for President Obama, said: “It has always been very unlikely that Mullah Omar and the Taliban would accept any peace process with Karzai. They prefer his head.

“That said, Karzai has domestic political reasons for wanting to be seen as open to talks with his fellow Pashtuns,” said Mr. Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Currently, the U.S. military is involved in a major effort against the Taliban in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province following an operation in Marjah.

Mr. Abdullah described the outcome of the Marjah operation as “mixed,” saying the Taliban “might come back or is already back.”

Discussing the situation in Kandahar, he said the political corruption in the province is a key problem.

“It requires a political decision to change the environment so the people can feel part of it and contribute,” he said. “The mission in Kandahar should be clearly defined.”

A spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of troops in Afghanistan, said the strategy and goal of the Kandahar offensive have been well defined.

The operation in Kandahar is “focused on enhancing the presence of the Afghan government across Kandahar province, increasing security in targeted areas to allow the government to bring essential services to the people,” Maj. Redfield said.

“Unlike Marjah, the operation in Kandahar will not start with a decisive ‘D-Day.’ The effort has already begun, and the level of activity will continue to expand throughout the coming months,” the Central Command spokesman said.

Kandahar is governed by Ahmed Wali Karzai, a half-brother of President Karzai who has been accused of benefiting from the drug trade and against whom Afghanistan’s defense ministry has recommended an investigation over land deals.

According to an Associated Press report, the defense ministry has asked President Karzai to investigate whether Ahmed Wali Karzai used his sway to help associates use and build profitable projects on government-owned land in a key city in the south.

Mr. Abdullah said President Karzai and the international community were not on the same page as far as defining the problem in Afghanistan and finding a solution.

“The reality on the ground is the prime beneficiary of your contributions in Afghanistan, which is the president and his team, he is blaming you for all the evils of that country openly in public,” he said. “You are losing the support and sympathy of the people because of the failures of our government.”

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