KABUL, Afghanistan >> Afghanistan demanded a clarification today of President Donald Trump’s comments a day earlier that he could have had the country “wiped off the face of the earth” but did not “want to kill 10 million people.”
In a sharply worded statement, the government of President Ashraf Ghani noted that Afghanistan expected its relationship with the United States to be “grounded on common interests and mutual respect.”
Trump made the comments Monday during an Oval Office meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan. The president said he was referring to prepared military plans for Afghanistan, adding, “I could win that war in a week.”
Ghani’s government, facing a bruising reelection campaign this fall, indicated that it did not intend to let the matter drop.
“The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will keep the Afghan public posted on the issue,” its statement said.
Ghani has expended political capital by embracing Trump’s South Asia policy in the face of opposition in a complex region with competing rivalries. The U.S. president’s comments Monday seemed, to many Afghans, to be walking back his commitments to their country.
There was no immediate comment from the State Department early Tuesday.
While Americans may be accustomed to provocative statements from Trump, Afghans tend to interpret any comment by a U.S. president about Afghanistan as an official declaration of policy.
In the meeting Monday, Trump said that Khan would help negotiate peace in Afghanistan and that Pakistan would help the United States “extricate ourselves” from the conflict.
Former President Hamid Karzai, who during his tenure had a strained relationship with the United States over civilian casualties caused by U.S. forces, said that Trump had insulted all Afghans.
In a statement Tuesday, Karzai said that the U.S. president’s comments confirmed the suspicions of many Afghans that the United States had made “secret deals” with Pakistan to undermine Afghanistan’s sovereignty. He offered no explanation for what the “secret deals” might be, but Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of providing safe havens to the Taliban.
Karzai added that the United States “is not respecting our lives and human dignity at all.”
Rahmatullah Nabil, a former Afghan intelligence chief and a current candidate for president, noted that Trump had made no mention of continuing the United States’ commitment to Afghanistan.
“Does this mean,” Nabil wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, that “other US officials are misleading AFG about long term commitments?”
Rangin Dadfar Spanta, a national security adviser for Karzai, told reporters Tuesday that Trump’s words were “a terrible, racist political message.”
“There is no need to brag that you can kill 10 million Afghans,” he added.
The State Department announced Tuesday that the U.S. representative to peace talks with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, had returned to the region to prepare for the next round of talks with the militant group.
In a Twitter message Tuesday, Khalilzad appeared to try to repair the damage from Trump’s remarks by describing an “enduring” U.S. relationship with Afghanistan.
“I’m arriving in Kabul today, focused on achieving an enduring peace that ends the war, ensures terrorists do not use Afghanistan to threaten the US, honors the sacrifices that US, our allies & Afghans made, and cements an enduring relationship w/Afghanistan,” he posted.
The seventh round of peace talks, in Doha, Qatar, was suspended July 9 to allow officials to consult with their leaderships. Khalilzad has said that the Taliban and the United States had agreed to a framework in which the militants would not allow terrorists to use Afghanistan soil and the United States would begin a phased withdrawal of its 14,000 troops in the country.
Any final deal would also include direct negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government and a comprehensive cease-fire, Khalilzad has said. The Taliban has refused to negotiate with the government in Kabul, calling it illegitimate.
Separately, an Afghan delegation — which included government officials acting as private citizens — held two days of informal talks in Doha with the Taliban and issued a statement July 9 promising to work to reduce civilian casualties.
Abdul Latif Pedram, an Afghan presidential candidate who is opposed to the Taliban and who has met informally with Taliban officials, accused Trump of “shameless arrogance.” In a statement, Pedram called on the United States to withdraw its troops and for Afghans to fight Americans “until the withdrawal of your very last soldier.”
Addressing Trump, Pedram added, “Many occupiers have tried to capture this country, but they found only a graveyard. This country will be your graveyard.”
On the street and on social media, ordinary Afghans responded with a mix of fury and bewilderment.
“He is not a sane person,” Khan Ali, 35, a street vendor, said of Trump.
Mohammad Arif, 50, a shoemaker, said of the president’s comments: “This is in no way possible. Trump has a kind of madness.”
On Facebook, Zakir Jalali wrote, “So the fight against terrorism was just a joke?”
Another Facebook user, Masoud Hemayat, posted, “Until there is not a single American in Afghanistan, we will not see a happy day in our country.”