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The Killid Group
Mixed signals from WashingtonWritten by A. Dawi
Saturday, 21 May 2011 12:48
John Kerry, an influential U.S. Senator and head of the Senate's Foreign Relation Committee, breached a diplomatic nicety during his 14-15 May visit to Afghanistan: he first flew to the northern Mazar city to shake hands with Governor Atta Mohammad Noor and then came to Kabul to meet President Hamid Karzai.
Standing alongside President Karzai in a press conference on 15 May, Kerry said Kabul's reconciliation with the Taliban "has to be further defined". He warned that the reconciliation should not come at the cost of giving up hard-won rights for women and "other sectors of Afghan society''. Already briefed in Mazar-e-Sharif, Mr. Kerry clearly knew what he meant by "other sectors" of our society.
The so-called "opposition" of Dr. Abdullah, former foreign minister, and Amrullah Saleh, former director of the national intelligence agency, strongly opposes President Karzai's Taliban reconciliation policy. Abdullah, Saleh and governor Atta come from a distinct political front which has evolved from the former anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. The three accuse Taliban leaders of atrocities against the Shomali Tajiks in 1996-2001 and of plotting the assassination of their former leader Ahmad Shah Masoud in September 2001. Abdullah and Saleh have warned that they would organize large-scale street protests if President Karzai continues his reconciliation efforts.
Senator Kerry's strong tone about Pakistan was yet another point which pleased messrs Abdullah and Saleh who are well-known for their anti-Pakistan rhetoric.
Whilst President Karzai has maintained a bumpy relationship with the Obama administration, Dr. Abdullah visited Washington in April and requested U.S. officials to stop Karzai's rapprochements with the Taliban. Mr. and Mrs. Saleh have also been issued U.S. visas and the couple is expected to visit the U.S. where Mr. Saleh would lecture policy makers on the alleged risks of reconciliation with the Taliban. Saleh has also been given a high profile in the U.S. media and the U.S.-backed media in Afghanistan. On 15 May, Saleh appeared in the popular 60 Minutes TV show the online links of which were repeatedly shared in the Facebook walls of the owner of Tolo TV.
Senator Kerry appears to be more influenced by the anti-Taliban advocates than by the pro-reconciliation Karzai government but other U.S. officials have shown interest in talks with the Taliban in order to end the unpopular Afghan war.
U.S. officials have held secret talks with senior Taliban representatives inside and outside the country and have agreed to the idea of a Taliban contact office in Qatar or elsewhere, the Washington Post reported on 17 May.
Indeed stealth diplomacy is part of the U.S. tools in the Afghan war but where covert acts contradict overt talks they send mixed messages and creates confusions as to what really is Washington's ultimate plan for the endgame in Afghanistan.