- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 6, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan | Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened over the weekend to quit the political process and join the Taliban if he continued to come under outside pressure to reform, several members of parliament said Monday.

Mr. Karzai made the unusual statement at a closed-door meeting Saturday with selected lawmakers — just days after kicking up a diplomatic controversy with remarks alleging foreigners were behind fraud in last year’s disputed elections.

“He said that ‘if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban,’” said Farooq Marenai, who represents the eastern province of Nangarhar.

“He said rebelling would change to resistance,” Mr. Marenai said — apparently suggesting that the militant movement would then be redefined as one of resistance against a foreign occupation rather than a rebellion against an elected government.

Two other lawmakers said Mr. Karzai twice raised the threat to join the insurgency.

The lawmakers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of political repercussions, said Mr. Karzai also dismissed concerns over possible damage his comments had caused to relations with the United States. He told them he had already explained himself in a telephone conversation Saturday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that came after the White House described his comments last week as troubling.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said reports Mr. Karzai threatened to abandon the political process and join the Taliban insurgency if he continued to receive pressure from Western backers to reform his government are troubling.

“On behalf of the American people, we’re frustrated with the remarks,” Mr. Gibbs told reporters.

The lawmakers said they felt Mr. Karzai was pandering to hard-line or pro-Taliban members of parliament and had no real intention of joining the insurgency.

Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar’s phone was turned off and another number for him rang unanswered Monday. Deputy spokesman Hamed Elmi’s phone also rang unanswered.

In an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. television on Monday, Mr. Karzai for the first time appeared to ascribe blame for election fraud specifically to Washington, rather than the West as a whole, Reuters news agency reported.

“What I said about the election was all true, I won’t repeat it, but it was all true,” Mr. Karzai said. “That the U.S. carried out the fraud?” the BBC correspondent asked. “That’s exactly what happened; I mentioned the elements who did it,” Mr. Karzai said.

The comments come against the background of continuing insurgent violence as the U.S. moves to boost troop levels in a push against Taliban strongholds in the south.

NATO forces said they killed 10 militants in a joint U.S.-Afghan raid on a compound in Nangarhar province’s Khogyani district near the Pakistani border early Monday, while gunmen seriously wounded an Afghan provincial councilwoman in a drive-by shooting in the country’s increasingly violent north.

NATO also confirmed that international troops were responsible for the deaths of five civilians, including three women, on Feb. 12 in Gardez, south of Kabul.

A NATO statement said a joint international-Afghan patrol fired on two men mistakenly believed to be insurgents. It said the three women were “accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men.”

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