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With bin Laden killed in Pakistan, Afghans urge end to the war in Afghanistan.
KABUL, Afghanistan — The satisfaction on the Afghan president’s face was palpable as he teased his audience with the news.
“This is a very important day,” Hamid Karzai told the first national conference of district development councils. “Perhaps you have already heard something about it? Yesterday American forces found and killed Osama bin Laden. They have brought him to justice.”
The crowd of provincial dignitaries erupted in applause.
But the president was not finished. The most important message was yet to come.
“Now the world knows that Afghanistan was right,” he said. “Afghans have been the first victims in this war on terror. We have said many, many times over the years that the war on terror should not be fought in Afghan villages, in Afghan homes. We appreciate the sacrifice of the American people in Afghanistan … but we also want them to acknowledge our losses. Afghans were being killed by both sides. Now we have proof before all the world that Afghanistan is not the center of terrorism.”
Karzai called on the Taliban to lay down their weapons and embrace peace; he also urged the international community to stop their war on Afghans.
“Osama bin Laden was found in Pakistan,” he said. “I call on NATO to stop destroying our houses, stop bombarding our women and children.”
Civilian casualties have been a constant and contentious issue between the Afghan president and his international partners.
The Taliban were quite cautious in their reaction to the news.
“We are not commenting at the moment,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mojahed told the BBC. “We are conducting our own investigation, and then we will issue a statement.”
The Taliban response could be extremely important to the future of the war in Afghanistan, said Martine van Biljert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think-tank based in Kabul.
Judging by Karzai’s statements, he is hoping that the removal of the Al Qaeda leader will help to end this long and extremely bloody war.
“I can see where Karzai is coming from,” said van Biljert. “The way he probably sees it is that if the Taliban come out and distance themselves from Al Qaeda, that could give the U.S. a reason to say that it has accomplished its mission and leave. That then would end the war. But I don't think that is realistic.”
U.S. President Barack Obama, in his first major policy speech on Afghanistan in March 2009, said that the United States had “a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Some would argue that the killing of bin Laden goes a long way toward achieving this goal. But van Biljert cautioned that the international players in Afghanistan were almost certainly not contemplating any major changes.
"I do not expect that the killing of bin Laden will have a major impact on the war in Afghanistan,” she said. “It now has its own momentum.”
This is certainly borne out by the reaction of the international community.
“This victory will not mark the end of our effort against terrorism,” said Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, in a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. “America’s strong support for the people of Afghanistan will continue as before.”
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen echoed his American colleague.
“NATO Allies and partners will continue their mission to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for extremism, but develops in peace and security,” said the NATO chief, in a prepared statement. “We will continue to stand for the values of freedom, democracy and humanity that Osama bin Laden wanted to defeat.”
But it may be a lot trickier for the United States to justify the costs of the war to an increasingly skeptical public now that bin Laden is dead, said van Biljert.
“It will probably become more difficult for the United States to explain to its public why they are in Afghanistan, particularly if it becomes more complicated to portray the Taliban and Al Qaeda as closely linked,” she said.
For the people of Afghanistan, she added, the most important aspect of the whole affair has been the damage done to Pakistan’s reputation.
“The death of Bin Laden in itself doesn't seem to mean that much for people in Afghanistan,” she said. “The most important thing from their point of