KABUL, Afghanistan — 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 also made 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.
The progress of Afghan forces, however, has been uneven.
A weekend attack on an army convoy in Badakshan province killed 16 soldiers, according to Abdul Marouf Rassekh, a spokesman for the province's governor. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
Then on Sunday, Afghan forces thwarted an attempted jailbreak by rioting prisoners at the central jail in Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, according to the chief of Afghan prison system, Gen. Amir Mohammad Jamshid.
Jamshid said his forces disrupted a complex plot in which Taliban fighters planned to launch suicide attacks outside as rioters attacked guards inside the jail.
The rioting prisoners managed to take three guards hostage and at one point controlled large portions of the jail, but when a group of prisoners freed two of the guards, vicious infighting ensued among the rioters and several were injured, Jamshid said.
Late Tuesday night, Afghan security forces managed to retake most of the prison and freed the final guard through negotiations, he said. A small group of prisoners was still in a standoff with the police in one section of the prison Wednesday, demanding improved conditions, including weekly visits by family members and more freedom of movement within the prison, Jamshid said.
Staff at a nearby hospital said nearly a dozen people – mostly prisoners but also some Afghan security forces – were being treated for injuries sustained during the riot. The medical staff spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential medical records.
Associated Press Writer Rahim Faiez contributed to this report from Kabul.
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