Karzai tells US: exit timetable has boosted insurgency

President Hamid Karzai has condemned repeated pronouncements by the US administration that a drawdown of troops from Afghanistan will start in less than a year, warning that such a timeline gives "a morale boost" to the Taliban.

The Afghan president also stated that the insurgency cannot be defeated as long as it continues to enjoy safe havens across the border in Pakistan where it enjoys the support of elements of the military.

While authorising the "surge" of US forces in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama stipulated that withdrawal of troops must begin by July 2011. Prime minister David Cameron has also declared that the British contingent would be home by 2015. Mr Karzai's concern that giving such deadlines sends the wrong message to the enemy echoes the widely held views of US and British military commanders. General David Petraeus, appointed by President Obama as head of Nato forces in Afghanistan, has already stated that he may oppose the July pullout.

Speaking to a group of visiting members of the US Congress in Kabul, Mr Karzai said progress had been made in rebuilding the country after decades of war. But the progress of the war was being hampered by Nato's public statements on pulling out, civilian casualties caused by Western military operations and a lack of focus on "destroying the terrorists' refuge" across the border in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that one of Mr Karzai's senior security aides, arrested by an anti-corruption task force and then released after the Afghan president intervened, has been on the CIA payroll. Mohammed Zia Salehi is the latest figure close to Mr Karzai to be linked with US intelligence. Congressional documents in Washington revealed that the President's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a highly influential power broker in Kandahar who has been accused of making money from the drug trade, was also a CIA "asset".

Relations between Mr Karzai and the US rapidly deteriorated with President Obama taking office. Members of his administration had repeatedly criticised the Afghan president, in particular, over the prevalence of corruption. The disclosure that the CIA had been secretly paying some of the most prominent figures accused of that very corruption is being viewed as an example of Western hypocrisy.

US newspapers have claimed that a whole range of senior officials in the Afghan government, some of them suspected of widespread malpractice, have been receiving money from the US.

Mr Karzai's national security adviser, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, denied that Afghan officials were on the CIA's payroll. He said: "It is a crime if someone directly takes money from foreign intelligence agencies as their employee. We don't."