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Karzai and the US “back on the same page”?

March 26, 2013

By Tim Foxley

Summary: Karzai and the US slap a lick of paint on their damaged relationship

This is the direction we're going to take...

This is the direction we’re going to take…

Just in from the New York Times:

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — Within hours of the American military’s formally transferring all but a “small number” of the Afghan prisoners at the Bagram Prison to the Afghan government, President Hamid Karzai held a friendly news conference with Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday that stood in stark contrast to his recent acrimonious tone toward the United States.

The apparent rapprochement, which the Americans worked hard to achieve, was a product in part of policy turnarounds on detention and on the deployment of Special Operations forces in a crucial province.

In both cases, the Americans appeared to choose long-term influence in Afghanistan over holding firm on thorny issues. On detention, American officials had long feared that the Afghans might release dangerous Taliban prisoners. But the Obama administration has made a priority of reaching an agreement on an American military presence here after 2014 that will allow the United States to keep tabs on Iran and Pakistan and contain extremists in Pakistan’s ungoverned tribal areas.

None of the tension that marked Mr. Karzai’s recent meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was on display Monday evening.

Two weeks ago, the news conference with Mr. Hagel was canceled, and he and Mr. Karzai had tense closed-door discussions about the Bagram prison hand-over and alleged abuses by special forces in Wardak Province.

This time, the news conference with Mr. Kerry ran for nearly an hour as he and Mr. Karzai lavished praise on each other.

Mr. Karzai expressed his thanks both to the American people and the American government. And he blamed the news media for misinterpreting his earlier inflammatory comments that the United States was supposedly colluding with the Taliban to keep Afghanistan weak. In making those remarks, Mr. Karzai asserted, he was speaking only to the Taliban and telling them that their bomb attacks were merely giving the Americans a reason to prolong their stay in Afghanistan.

“We talked about the ups and downs of our relationship,” Mr. Karzai said of his talks with Mr. Kerry. “I am very happy about this transfer of Bagram to Afghan control. It was very important for the people of Afghanistan.”

Mr. Kerry, who has known Mr. Karzai for years and met with him five times while he was a senator from Massachusetts, even persuading him to proceed with an Afghan election runoff in 2009, was equally effusive.

“We are on the same page,” Mr. Kerry said. “I don’t think there is any disagreement between us, and I am very, very comfortable with the president’s explanation.”

This is the follow up to my earlier blog item about President Karzai’s outbursts aginst the US.  There is a sense of “forced gaity” here, but I did suggest then that diplomats on the US and Afghan sides would be working hard to repair this intensely scrutinised relationship.  The relationship is not irretrievably lost – neither side can yet afford to give up on it.  But a much used Karzai tactic will remian to throw a tantrum and raise the stakes if he feels he is not being listened to.  The nature of the post-2014 relationship between Afghanistan and the US, together with the manner of leaving of the international forces will be crucial for the country.  The Afghan National Security forces – still supplied, trained and mainly paid for by the international community – surely have a better chance of “managing” the Taliban than Najibullah’s forces did in dealing with the mujahideen.  But if the US cuts its losses after one insult or avoidable casualty too many, the ANSF may well find itself struggling.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 26, 2013 6:02 pm

    One might ask though, just in a theoretical way, why does Karzai feel he is not being listened to? What is it about the way the US deals with Karzai that pushes him to these levels of frustration? The “Karzai is off his meds” comments really are quite tired and useless at this point.

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