KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan president on Wednesday called on his security forces to end incidents of torture and abuse of the Afghan people, a shift from past speeches that have solely blamed NATO troops for the violations in the country.
In an address to parliament, Hamid Karzai said Afghan forces are also violating their own people's rights, making it harder for him to raise the issue when abuses are carried out by foreigners.
"It's not forgivable ... Our Afghan people are not safe in their houses," because of Afghan troops' treatment, he said. "Why should I blame foreigners?"
The Afghan leader said he did not initially want to believe reports that his own security forces had tortured prisoners, for instance, but that now he was calling on Afghan forces to respect human rights.
An Afghan government investigation last month found widespread cases of abuse at government-run prisons, backing up the results of a U.N. investigation that Karzai had initially repudiated.
Karzai's speech is likely to be welcomed by diplomats who have called on him to acknowledge his own troops' responsibility for incidents of abuse.
But with the remarks, the Afghan leader is also making a veiled reference to his recent calls for the withdrawal of U.S. special operations forces from Wardak province, neighboring Kabul, because of alleged incidents of abuse by U.S. and Afghan forces there. U.S. officials have said they are investigating the allegations.
Karzai also called on the Afghan Taliban to acknowledge his offer to open negotiations with them through an official Taliban office, which is due to open in Qatar. The senior Taliban leadership has not responded to the offer.
And in a possibly troubling statement for the international community, Karzai criticized the cost of the last presidential elections, saying that paying for international advisers and enablers drove up the price of each vote to between $30 and $40.
He said elections next time around should be run solely by the Afghans, calling into question whether his government would welcome international monitoring. The last round of elections was widely criticized for incidents of fraud.
"Our election must be an Afghan-led election without the interference of foreigners," Karzai said, adding that although the law prohibits him from running for another term, he wants to ensure a free and fair election.
"A good election would bring to Afghanistan more stability and prosperity," he said.
Kimberly Dozier can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/KimberlyDozier.