Afghan President Hamid Karzai questioned the reliability of the United States as a partner Sunday, as he fought off criticism of his government’s legitimacy following fraud-marred elections.
Mr. Karzai’s main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, warned in an interview with CNN that the U.S. strategy would not succeed without a credible partner in Kabul, blaming Mr. Karzai for deteriorating conditions.
But underscoring the political headache that Washington faces if Mr. Karzai wins a runoff against Mr. Abdullah next month, Mr. Karzai pointed the finger at the United States in a separate, pre-recorded CNN interview.
“Is the United States a reliable partner with Afghanistan? Is the West a reliable partner with Afghanistan?” Mr. Karzai asked. “Have we received the commitments that we were given? Have we been treated like a partner?”
Mr. Karzai said a partnership to him was “where the Afghan lives are respected, where Afghan property is respected, where the Afghan traditions are respected, where we know the direction we are moving to.”
The comments appeared to allude to Mr. Karzai’s longstanding criticism of civilian deaths in U.S. air strikes, and to President Obama’s still-unresolved review of U.S. strategy and a request by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, for up to 40,000 more troops.
Mr. Abdullah said more troops were needed to stabilize the country, but he said that after eight years of war, Afghanistan should have been in a position to ask for fewer troops, not more.
“We are not there. Why? Because of the failures of the current administration in Afghanistan,” he told CNN. “Any success for the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan will depend on the credibility of your partner, on the legitimacy of your partner.”
Mr. Abdullah suggested that only his own victory in November’s head-to-head contest against Mr. Karzai would set his country on a path toward viability and better relations with international partners in Washington and around the world.
“Hopefully, this runoff … whenever it takes place, will provide the United States and the international community with such a partner,” he said.
“There is no doubt that the partnership has not been working quite well in the past few months or few years,” he said, adding that without a credible partner, “I don’t see a successful strategy in Afghanistan.”
Still, he said, “If Mr. Karzai is elected through a transparent and credible process, I will be the first person to … wholeheartedly congratulate him and wish him well in this country, in being the opposition.”
Mr. Abdullah officially won 30.59 percent of the Aug. 20 first-round vote, but Mr. Karzai agreed to a runoff after more than 1 million ballots were discounted because of fraud, leaving him short of the 50 percent required for outright victory.
With Mr. Obama in the throes of a critical decision on a major escalation in Afghanistan, administration officials have pointed to the disputed elections as an impediment to a deepening U.S. involvement.
But Mr. Karzai said charges of election fraud had been blown out of proportion.
“There were some mistakes; there were some incidents of fraud,” he said. But he maintained that “the election as a whole was clean, and as a result was clear.”
Mr. Karzai said that now that a Nov. 7 runoff vote has been scheduled, “whatever happens, this election must present a clear result, and that result must be respected.”
Meanwhile, leading U.S. lawmakers said Sunday it remains an open question whether a new Karzai administration can help put Afghanistan on the road to greater stability.
Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, said the Obama administration would have no choice but to work with a re-elected Karzai government, to “root out all that corruption and help them bring about an efficient government in the delivery of the services to the people, as well as the security.”
Republicans also said Mr. Obama must sign off soon on Gen. McChrystal’s recommendation to increase substantially the number of American troops in Afghanistan.
“Clearly, time is of the essence here,” said Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican. “I’m afraid that with every passing day we risk the future success of the mission.”
“I think it’s taken too long,” added Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah. “Why not follow the advice of his hand-picked general?”