In a sombre but dramatic flourish, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan on Saturday used a speech during the annual opening of Parliament to recite an honour roll of 49 senior government officials and elders slain over the past year.
The long list of police chiefs, provincial governors and other officials underscored the carnage inflicted upon Afghanistan's government as the Taliban has stepped up a campaign of assassinations, creating a sense of siege that has made Mr. Karzai a virtual prisoner of his own palace.
While the surge of 30,000 additional U.S. troops has had some success in pushing back the Taliban, particularly in its strongholds in the south, the insurgents have hit back with targeted attacks intended to undermine public confidence by demonstrating the government's inability to protect even its most senior officials. “Our people suffered casualties this year and lots of hardships,” Mr. Karzai said. “Too many of our civilians, soldiers and security forces lost their lives in order to defend this country.”
Speaking before more than 250 Members of Parliament, Mr. Karzai remembered Burhanuddin Rabbani, the leader of Afghanistan's High Peace Council and a former President, who was killed in his home in September by a suicide bomber with explosives tucked in his turban.
He also mentioned General Dawood Dawood, deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, who was killed in May; Gen. Abdul Rahman Sayedkhili, the police chief of Kunduz province who died in March; Muhammad Omar, governor of Kunduz province, who died in October 2010; Jan Mohammad Khan, an aide to Mr. Karzai and a former governor of southern Oruzgan province until 2006, who was killed in Kabul in July by gunmen inside his house; and Hajji Malik Mohammad Zarin, a prominent elder who was killed by a suicide bomber in April.
He also read out the name of his own half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar provincial council and a power broker in the country's south, who was shot to death by a police official in July.
Somewhat conspicuously, and not for the first time, Mr. Karzai avoided mentioning the deaths of foreign troops in Afghanistan, even though his speech came only a day after four French soldiers were shot and killed by an Afghan soldier.
Increasing violence by Afghan soldiers toward U.S. and other coalition forces has raised tensions among the allies.
Mr. Karzai spoke as a top U.S. envoy, Marc Grossman, arrived in Kabul on Saturday for discussions about starting peace talks with the Taliban.
The Karzai government has expressed concern that it is not being fully included in the U.S.-led efforts to reopen direct negotiations with the insurgents, complaining that the Afghan government should lead any talks. Mr. Karzai used the speech to underscore Afghanistan's right to decide its own future.
In reference to the long history of intervention by foreign powers in the country from Britain to the Soviet Union and the U.S.-led coalition, he said: “Afghanistan is not a place for foreigners to do their political experiments or a laboratory that every few years they test a new political system.”
Apparently reflecting the government's longstanding concern about meddling by Pakistan, Mr. Karzai also called on those Afghan insurgents to lay down their “foreign weapons.” Afghan officials have voiced concern that Pakistan, where much of the Taliban leadership resides, could use the insurgents as a stalking-horse to strike a deal with Washington and, in the process, secure its own position in Afghanistan.
In what seemed like an effort to demonstrate that the government was prepared to push forward on its own with peace negotiations, Mr. Karzai said he had personally held peace talks recently with the insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami, or Islamic Party, which operates under a separate command from the Taliban.
His speech was, at least in part, warmly received by Members of Parliament, despite tense relations between deputies and the President over the last year.
After the speech on Saturday, some said they understood his message.
“Afghanistan has suffered for 40 years and we don't want any change which brings more violence and destruction to Afghanistan,” said Haji-Abdul Khaliq Khan, a Member of Parliament from Kandahar.
(Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.) — New York Times News Service