KABUL, Afghanistan — As so often happens in the fog of war, the attack in a village in Kandahar on Friday missed the enemy patrol that was its intended target, instead killing an 8-year-old boy and wounding two other children.
President Hamid Karzai was silent about the civilian casualties, although just the day before he had responded with fury to a similar attack in Helmand province, which also killed one child and gravely wounded two women.
The attack he complained about was carried out by the U.S.-led coalition and used a drone. The attack he ignored was by the Taliban and used a suicide bomber.
The bomber had targeted a U.S. military patrol in the Daman district but detonated prematurely — killing only himself and the boy and wounding two U.S. soldiers, said Javed Faisal, a spokesman for the Kandahar governor.
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The disparity in the Afghan president’s reaction has been rued by U.S. officials here. Now it has started to draw criticism among many Afghans, who complain that their president has been looking for excuses to besmirch the Americans and delay signing a vitally important security deal with them, while overlooking serious abuses attributed to the Taliban.
That unease has spread throughout governing circles, and several prominent officials have said that a meeting of the president’s Cabinet last Monday was dominated by ministers who tried to persuade Karzai to sign the bilateral security agreement promptly.
Atiqullah Baryalai, a former deputy defense minister in the Karzai government, said, “His entire Cabinet is against him on this.”
At the president’s Cabinet meeting last Monday, Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal went through a detailed analysis of what Afghanistan had to lose financially.
After the Cabinet session, Zakhilwal gave a series of interviews suggesting that Karzai was moderating the demands he had made before he would agree to sign the deal, leaving only the insistence that raids on Afghan homes had to stop immediately and that the Americans should make some initial steps to try to restart peace talks with the Taliban.
Zakhilwal predicted the security agreement could be signed within two or three weeks.
Then the drone attack in Helmand took place Thursday.
Asked Friday about Zakhilwal’s assurances, Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, was dismissive. In an email response to questions, he said of Zakhilwal: “His opinion is based on what I said two days ago to 1TV in an interview, which was the case. But yesterday’s incident in Helmand has damaged the whole atmosphere.”
“President Obama assured President Karzai that the U.S. will ‘make every effort to respect the sanctity and dignity of Afghans in their homes and in their daily lives, JUST AS WE DO FOR OUR OWN CITIZENS,’” he said, quoting from a letter that Obama sent Karzai, to which Faizi added his own emphasis. “That is how the U.S. respects the sanctity and dignity of homes in the U.S., bombing a residence for an individual?”
The Taliban for years have been killing far more civilians than the coalition has; the latest U.N. report on the subject said three-fourths of the 1,038 civilian fatalities between January and July this year were by the Taliban, and less than one-tenth of them by the Americans and their coalition partners.
“What does this mean, when every time he says nothing about the Taliban but always is raising questions about the Americans?” Baryalai asked. “I think Karzai is sending a message to the Taliban, that he really doesn’t want a security agreement with the Americans.”
Most of Karzai’s U.S. allies, for all the bruising they have taken from him in public lately, would probably not go that far. But, as one Western diplomat warned, noting how weak public support was in the United States for a continued mission in Afghanistan: “Mr. Karzai should be careful what he wishes for.”