The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has blamed Britain for the resurgence of the Taliban and its growing activity in large tracts of the country.
His remarks, made to Afghan MPs, follow a clash with Gordon Brown over the Kabul regime’s links with warlords and drugs barons.
Karzai claims Brown has threatened to withdraw British troops from Helmand province, where 31 of them have died this year, if the president reinstates two provincial governors sacked for alleged dealings in the heroin trade.
One of them is Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, the former governor of Helmand, who was forced out under British pressure two years ago after nine tons of opium and heroin were discovered in his basement. Karzai’s plan to reinstate the governors has alarmed western diplomats in Kabul and dismayed British officials.
The number of British soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since 2001 rose last week to 117 when Justin James Cupples, a 29-year-old ranger, was killed in an explosion while on foot patrol. Diplomats say it would be hard to justify such sacrifices if drug barons held sway.
However, the Taliban have made advances since Akhundzada’s departure and drug production has increased. Karzai believes Britain’s “interference” is to blame. A senior diplomat said: “UK taxpayers subsidise and British troops die to defend an administration which is paranoid, self-deluding and anti-British.”
Akhundzada is a powerful tribal leader in the area and Karzai is convinced his return would help the government reassert control. In a recent interview, Karzai said Akhundzada’s alleged links to drugs could be overlooked.
“We removed Akhundzada on the allegation of drug-running, and delivered the province to drug runners, the Taliban, to terrorists, to a threefold increase of drugs and poppy cultivation,” he said. “Now there are hundreds of tons of heroin in basements across Helmand.”
Karzai denounced Britain’s opposition to the return of Akhundzada in meetings with Afghan MPs last month. According to Khalid Pashtun, the national assembly member for Kandahar, Karzai said: “Gordon Brown told me, ‘If you are reinstating this person, we will take our forces out’.”
Karzai believes Akhundzada’s powerful militia would beat back the Taliban, allowing British troops to focus on winning “hearts and minds”.
Some western diplomats in Afghanistan suspect, however, that Akhundzada has encouraged Taliban attacks on British forces to make his tenure as governor look like “a golden age”. They fear his reinstatement could actually lead to an escalation of fighting between rival drugs gangs.
Security analysts in the country say the situation has become “even more dire”. While not taking territory, the Taliban is terrorising the population, targeting roads and restricting the government’s ability to function.
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