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The Killid Group
U.S. Thaws Towards KarzaiWritten by
Wednesday, 26 May 2010 11:22
Afghan president Hamid Karzai's visit to Washington - ongoing at the time this commentary was written - has dominated headlines, coming as it does after a period of worsening relations between the Obama and Karzai administrations.
President Karzai has been outspoken about his dissatisfaction with the U.S. and Washington has also made clear its misgivings. Washington has been worried about Karzai's inability to deliver on governance and curb corruption at a time of waning U.S. public support for the military intervention which has resulted in high casualties of U.S. soldiers.
The Washington visit is being seen as a way of overcoming the tensions in the bilateral relationship and is viewed as a critical one, as evidenced by the high-level representation in the Afghan delegation accompanying President Karzai which includes 12 members of the Afghan cabinet.
The U.S. in the meanwhile has apparently decided to shelve its misgivings, realizing that it has no option but to work with the incumbent Afghan president for the next five years. The realization has possibly been impelled by worries that the Afghan president may develop closer ties with Iran and Russia if he is pushed into a corner, something that would work against the U.S. government's strategic interests. President Karzai has therefore been accorded an unprecedented warm welcome in the U.S. in a bid to smoothen ruffled feathers.
The Afghan delegation which has travelled to the U.S. is divided into five groups dealing with different aspects of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. The U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton briefed the visiting delegation on the U.S. commitment of $ 5 billion over the next five years which will be spent in these key areas, that of agriculture, health, education, counternarcotics and women.
Secretary Clinton emphasized her country's long-term commitment to Afghanistan. Even after the withdrawal of troops the U.S. would still see Afghanistan as a permanent and strategic partner and ally in the region. The U.S. she said, would not repeat its past mistakes since it believed that the security of Afghanistan and the U.S. were tied to each other. Both allies should work hard jointly to ensure peace and security, both in U.S. and Afghanistan and their cooperation must continue until terrorism is eliminated to the extent possible. Insecurity in Afghanistan was a big threat for the U.S. and its international allies she said.
American officials have reassured President Karzai of their support in extending the authority of the Afghan government and ensuring its decision-making role in the launch of military operations and expenditure of aid money. The reassurance was meant to address the main concern and complaint of president Karzai who has been pointing out publicly that his government is being bypassed in decision-making by some members of the international community.
At the same time, U.S. officials have told President Karzai and his delegation that peace and security, sustainable and equitable development, good governance and reconciliation with those insurgents who oppose Al-Qaeda and accept the Afghan Constitution are very important for the U.S. and the main issues of its new strategy for Afghanistan.
The U.S. has reduced its emphasis on good governance, making it not the top priority but one of the priorities, in a bid to mend fences with the Karzai administration. This demonstrates its attempt to remove the sources of tensions between the two sides and is also evidence of the U.S. dependence on Karzai.
However, most political experts and analysts in the U.S. and in Afghanistan believe that President Karzai will be under pressure from U.S. officials on the issue of corruption during his visit. The Obama administration believes that until the Afghan government brings radical changes and reforms and eliminates corruption and inefficiency, no military operation, no reconstruction and no reconciliation with insurgents can change the situation dramatically.
The United States strategy has been reconsidered and reviewed once again during President Karzai's visit, underlining the importance of the visit. For the Afghan people however what will matter is not the promises and policies but the reality and whether fundamental changes are really made that bring a difference to their living conditions.
If the remaining period of Karzai's term does not succeed in rooting out corruption more Afghans may feel impelled to join the insurgency and in the U.S. Democrats will also suffer a setback in the next U.S. Presidential elections.
U.S. officials are well aware of this reality and will be monitoring President Karzai's performance carefully. Unless he delivers, the thaw in the relationship between Karzai and the U.S. will not be sustained notwithstanding the warmth of a thousand welcomes that he may receive in the U.S.