Tags: Karzai | US | Afghan | war

White House Reevaluating Troubled Relationship With Karzai

Wednesday, 07 April 2010 08:56 AM

KABUL - The bursts of angry rhetoric come in quick succession, like the thunderclaps of spring storms. These days, it's difficult to recall that President Hamid Karzai was once hailed by the West as a silver-tongued statesman and an unquestioned ally.

The Afghan leader's incendiary public statements have left even some of those who are close to him wondering: How much of the anti-Western sentiment he has voiced in the last week is genuine, and how much of it is political theater, calibrated for domestic consumption?

"With Karzai, you never know," said Ramazan Bashardost, an Afghan lawmaker who unsuccessfully ran against him in last summer's turbulent presidential election. "He says one thing in the morning, and another in the afternoon. And he might mean both of them."

Concern about Karzai's mercurial temperament is taking on strategic dimensions as the United States and its allies engage in a military buildup and prepare for what they describe as the most important offensive of the Afghanistan conflict, a campaign to wrest the southern province of Kandahar from the Taliban.

The province is the Afghan leader's birthplace and the home turf of his politically influential Popalzai tribe. Without the president's public backing, the campaign would be infinitely more difficult, if not impossible, Western military officials acknowledge.

However, relations with Washington are so bad that the White House hinted Tuesday that it might withdraw an invitation to visit in May, which was extended during President Obama's visit to Kabul, the Afghan capital, late last month. Obama's criticism of the Afghan leadership then may have helped launch the current contretemps.

If the Afghan president falters now, it will cast doubt on the nearly decade-long partnership between him and the United States, forged in the smoldering aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks when Karzai returned from exile to help muster resistance to the Taliban among Pashtun people.

The United States Tuesday pointedly declined to call Karzai an ally, and hinted that his White House invitation could be withdrawn if he repeats his anti-foreigner outbursts.

Frustration with the Afghan leader within President Barack Obama's administration became even more obvious, following Karzai's latest claims that foreigners were behind large-scale fraud in Afghan elections.

Karzai is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama on May 12, invited to visit Washington during the US leader's surprise trip to Afghanistan in late March.

"I would say that that meeting is still on the schedule as of now," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, but when pressed, appeared to tie the fate of the visit to Karzai's future comportment.

"We certainly would evaluate whatever continued or further remarks President Karzai makes, as to whether it is constructive to have that meeting," Gibbs said.

Asked whether the Afghan leader, increasingly viewed with distaste in Washington, was considered an ally, Gibbs answered : "Karzai is the democratically elected leader of Afghanistan."

"There are times when the actions that he takes are constructive to governance. I would say that the remarks he's made -- I can't imagine that anybody in this country would find them anything other than troubling."

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Wednesday, 07 April 2010 08:56 AM
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