Karzai statement highlights frayed US-Afghan relations

If you are wondering just how well things are going in Afghanistan, today’s outburst by President Hamid Karzai should tell you everything you need to know. The ever-mercurial Karzai, who in the past has called the Taliban his “brothers,” accused the Taliban of serving US interests. From The Wall Street Journal:

In a televised speech Sunday, the Afghan president said the U.S. doesn’t really see the Taliban as an enemy, doesn’t want to leave the country after the coalition’s mandate ends at the end of 2014, and is engaged in negotiations with Taliban leaders behind his back.

“Taliban are every day in talks with America, but in Kabul and Khost they set off bombs to show strength to America,” Mr. Karzai said. “The bombs that went off in Kabul and Khost yesterday were not a show of power to America, but were in service to America… It was in the service of foreigners not withdrawing from Afghanistan.”

Mr. Karzai’s accusation drew a swift retort from U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who took command of coalition forces last month.

“It’s categorically false,” Gen. Dunford told a small group of reporters soon after reading about Mr. Karzai’s comments. “We have no reason to be colluding with the Taliban. We have no reason to be supporting instability in Afghanistan. And all that we have been about over the past 12 years is to bring peace and stability to the Afghan people so they can take advantage of the decade of opportunity that will follow 2014.”

Despite the tensions, Gen. Dunford defended U.S.-Afghan relations, especially between military leaders of the two countries, as dynamic partnerships that can be the “shock absorbers” through turbulent times. “We do not have a broken relationship,” he said. “We do not have a lack of trust. We have a relationship that can actually absorb this tension as we work through difficult issues.”

Following Mr. Karzai’s speech, Mr. Hagel and the Afghan leader canceled an evening news conference at the presidential palace. U.S. officials said this was because of security concerns that rippled across Kabul in the wake of Saturday’s bombings.

According to the Guardian, Afghan officials denied that security concerns caused the cancellation:

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said one Afghan official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to discuss the sensitive issue. “It was supposed to take place at the palace, we don’t see any security problems there.”

Karzai’s statement capped several weeks of bad news from Afghanistan (not to mention the daily grind of Taliban suicide and IED attacks). Earlier this week, Karzai embraced the Taliban, calling for them to “save our country.” From TOLONews:

“O Taliban, come and let’s save our country!” He said, adding that he did not mind which political groups dealt with the Taliban as long as the High Peace Council led the peace process.

“Meet with the Taliban. I am fine. But let the peace council take care of the foreign aspect of the peace talks,” he said.

At the end of February, Karzai ordered US Special Forces to leave Wardak province after publicly accusing them of murdering Afghan civilians (a charge the US military says is without basis). Then ISAF was forced to reveal that its statistics that purportedly showed a drop in enemy-initiated attacks in 2012 are incorrect, and that the number of Taliban attacks didn’t drop; ISAF subsequently said it would no longer release statistics on enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan.

And just days ago, as newly appointed US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was visiting Afghanistan, three Afghan soldiers attacked a US base in Kapisa province, killing one US civilian contractor and wounding three US soldiers. The next day, ISAF failed to transfer the Parwan Detention Facility to Afghan control. A ceremony for the planned transfer was cancelled.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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17 Comments

  • blert says:

    He’s been using too much of his nation’s ‘high dollar’ exports.
    ======
    It’s been suppressed for years, but there’s enough documentation to reveal that Karzai is up, down, left and right, so often that he’s driven ambassadors crazy.
    Holbrooke found him ‘difficult.’
    I’d call that code-speak for ‘a loose cannon.’
    Bizarre statements are now coming hot and heavy. They are not thought out collective judgments. Instead, they’re off the top of his head.
    He’s demoralizing Afghanistan.

  • sundoesntrise says:

    Karzai’s comments are merely a reflection of his attempt to secure his own political ‘status’ independent of ISAF forces – but it also reflects the frustration felt by all these years of war with all these armed groups still determined to fight it out. If they were truly defeated by now, these comments would not have happened. In fact, ISAF would have no reason to be there.
    The reason why the war has been so drawn out with mixed results is because of rules of engagement that restrict international forces from truly doing what they need to do. And, also, a very determined enemy that has a large recruitment pool and safe haven across the border with which they can virtually replenish themselves, come back across, cause some trouble, and then scurry back again. Take away these two factors and the armed groups would simply not be able to survive against such a superior enemy. Afghanistan might still have some problems (their conduct as a nation isn’t exactly 21st century…), but it would be THEIR problem. Not OUR problem.

  • Neonmeat says:

    I actually think this is a brilliant move on behalf of Karazai.
    By framing the Taliban as tools of America he makes them the puppets rather than his own regime.
    If he can convince the population the that the Taliban benfit from America being in Afghanistan than surely he can erode their support among the population.
    By equating these opposing forces he kills two birds with one stone, he declares his anti-americanism while at the same time discrediting the Taliban.

  • g says:

    I think Karzai is so nuts, he might be the next perpetrator of a Green on Blue attack. Mr. Hagel should be careful.

  • My2Cents says:

    In the absence of a status of forces agreement the ISAF plans should be based on complete withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014. The negotiations seem to be going the same was as they did in Iraq, so let’s not fool ourselves.
    Make sure that the Afghans in general understand this. Make sure that the military understand that a military dictatorship will not be acceptable if any forces are to remain. Then let the Afghans sort themselves out, assassinating Karzai and immediately holding new elections may be their best option. Allowing the country to split into a cooperative non-Taliban/non-Pashtun/Northern Afghanistan and hostile Taliban/Pashtun/Southern Afghanistan should also considered.

  • mike merlo says:

    Karzai is right to get up in Hagel’s ‘face.’ Since the Obama Administration came to power they’ve done nothing but criticize everybody but themselves. Right from the ‘get-go’ the Obama Administration unnecessarily singled out Karzai for public humiliation & whatever other slights they could heap upon him.
    If one is truly curious of the Obama’s Administration commitment to peace & security among Muslims one need only look to the Middle East & adjoining area’s & reflect on the Obama’s Administration’s responses since the Iran Green Revolution of 2009.
    The ‘Irish Car Bombers,’ Donilon, Brennan, Biden & Chicago ‘Political Machinist,’ Valerie Jarrett, are running Obama’s Foreign Policy in the Middle East & throughout Muslim Ummah.
    Best not to expect anything significantly orderly or responsible to surface any time soon from the Obama Administration. Nothing President Obama has done to date, in respect to International Affairs, has concluded or resulted in a smoothly welcomed transition of any kind or a degree of finality that can be viewed as potentially positive with a lasting outcome. It would be naive to expect anything other than what ‘we’ve’ already experienced. Which is a continuation of a Foreign Policy devoid of certainty or an in depth of understanding of what ‘it’ is confronting.

  • Paul says:

    Taliban are a proxy force of the Pak army not the US

  • wallbangr says:

    @blert: The theory that Karzai’s erratic behavior and fussy outbursts may be drug-induced is not a new one. My favorite was Peter Galbraith’s take on Karzai in 2010: “He’s prone to tirades. He can be very emotional, act impulsively. In fact, some of the palace insiders say that he has a certain fondness for some of Afghanistan’s most profitable exports.”
    Galbraith’s sardonic comments were understandable given the context in which they were made. He had just been sacked at the UN for speaking out in protest of the 2010 elections, where Karzai, et al. essentially stole the vote. Love him or hate him, Galbraith had a point. Karzai tried to blame voter fraud he and his cronies orchestrated on the UN(!) as part of the West’s desire to establish a “puppet government.” Just two weeks before Galbraith’s blast, Karzai’s most recent outburst was an overt threat to join the Taliban. 40 years ago, another American-installed despot found out the hard way what happened when he tried to hold American feet to that fire. Of course, it was the debacle that ensued post-1963 that will likely ensure that Karzai won’t go out the way Ngo Dinh Diem did. But every time Karzai has one of his little fits our silence becomes a tacit approval of his erratic behavior. Just like our failure to stop the corruption, thievery and incompetent governance, which have become commonplace under Karzai’s watch, now means we own the problems in Afghanistan, including its crackhead leader.
    This is all starting to feel disturbingly familiar. We are once again stuck with the strongman we installed, mostly because feasible alternatives are not apparent. Karzai isn’t exactly Diem or Pahlavi, and the desire to read everything about Afghanistan through the lens of the Vietnam experience is overdone. Nevertheless, some of the parallels to previous disasters are troubling. A piece written shortly after the Galbraith affair by Alfred McCoy, gives (IMHO) an interesting analysis of why it seems we keep getting caught up in this vicious cycle:
    //www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175233/tomgram%3A_alfred_mccoy,_our_man_in_kabul/
    This piece still seems timely as ever, even though it was written in 2010. I know nothing about the blog it was posted on or the political leanings of its contributors, but I think it worth a read, if you have the time and inclination.
    I don’t know what the future for Karzai or Afghanistan are. But comments like this are giving ammunition to the folks who think we should just let the whole country implode on itself. While I myself disagree, it’s hard to ask young men to put themselves in harms way to protect the likes of someone who seems to believe that we are colluding with the Taliban to undermine the Afghan people.

  • mike merlo says:

    @My2Cents
    Whats wrong with a military Dictatorship? Many Nations across the Globe seem to be doing ok with their so-called One Party or ‘Authoritarian” Democracies.
    If you’re of the mind to let Afghans sort for themselves what needs sorting then I see no reason not to make space for the Benevolent Dictator. Maybe the interests of Afghanistan might best be seen to by making ‘space’ for a Junta.
    Assassinating Karzai makes about as much sense as letting the Diems fall prey to stupidity or the abandoning of Chian Kai-shek. Even now one can’t help but wonder were the yet unrealized expectations worth the jettisoning of Mubarak & Gaddafi?
    “Allowing the country to split into a cooperative non-Taliban/non-Pashtun/Northern Afghanistan and hostile Taliban/Pashtun/Southern Afghanistan should also considered.”
    Why would the US make allowances or acquiesce to such an arrangement. We’re witnessing that very scenario right now throughout Sahara & North Africa & parts of the Middle East. That ‘evolution’ has done nothing but begat more violence & the spread of uncertainty.

  • TG says:

    Karzai can either follow the US or he can follow Najibullah.

  • Moose says:

    @Mike Merlo
    I think ramping up the drone attacks has been highly effective. Personally, I was also happy to see Obama treat Zardari like crap at the Chicago Summit. Mitt Romney said during their foreign policy debate that he would have worked with Pakistan to get bin Laden. When it comes to understanding what ‘it’ is, I’ll take Chicago Barry every time.
    I disagree with Obama on almost everything else, but on foreign policy he’s a friggin’ ninja.
    @My2Cents
    I have also advocated elsewhere that Afghanistan needs to split up. Nations that are man-made rarely succeed b/c they don’t have a foundation such as shared ethnicity or language to base their society on. Give the Pashtuns their Pashtunistan already so the Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks can live in relative peace.

  • sundoesntrise says:

    Moose,
    I had to be a nag here but every single nation, whether it exists now, or all throughout recorded history, has been ‘man made’. Just pointing that out.
    Mike Merlo,
    The ‘Arab Spring’ critics have been and will continue to be proven right about the ‘Arab Spring’. The results have been nightmarish and time will prove the old adage right that the only stability in that region will come in the form of an iron fisted dictatorship.

  • mike merlo says:

    @Moose
    whats your point on Drones? I never mentioned ‘them.’ Big deal so your Chicago Barry deuced Zadari in Chicago at the so-called Summit. In the realm of International Affairs/Foreign Policy your Chicago Barry has been a near abject failure.
    “Nations that are man-made…,” when is a Nation not “manmade?” A beyond bizarre comment.

  • G says:

    Using Chiang Kai-shiek and Diem as examples of positive leadership seriously flaws an argument.

  • blert says:

    @wallbanger…
    An interesting link… Author is on a crusade, does have many, many, facts wrong, but, anyway….
    He misses the b i g issue: the American government and MSM operate from the grand assumption that our political culture is either exportable or universal.
    That’s the problem.
    ==========
    It deserves a book… Condensing:
    Most of todays societies can not function as representative democracies. Washington culture assumes otherwise.
    Islamic tradition, in particular, is antithetical to public representation — of any kind. Not surprisingly, e v e r y muslim nation is authoritarian — if not hard core totalitarianism.
    (Pure islam is totalitarian beyond all other norms. That’s a stunning news flash for the MSM.)
    ==========
    Next, during civil wars, civil liberties take a holiday.
    (c.f. The American Civil War.)
    This always eludes the MSM, the punditry and D.C.
    ==========
    And, of course, who could overlook the D.C. presumption that it can pick out and promote a Washington, Lincoln or Jefferson on short notice.
    The fact is, American political preferences are always towards the ultimate minority: a towering hero that’s been overlooked by the locals.

  • mike merlo says:

    @G
    How is Chiang Kai Shek or Diem any less of an example than that which was in opposition to them, Mao Tse Tung & Ho Chi Minh(soon to be replaced by Le Duan & Le Duc Tho)? How is Karzai any less of an example than that which is arrayed about him in Iran, Pakistan & the Central Asian Republics?
    Whats flawed is individuals such as yourself who insist on using Standards Of Measurement that flow nicely
    ‘on paper’ yet fail the litmus test of reality.
    @sundoesntrise
    I fail to ‘see’ where ‘your take’ on The Arab Spring ‘factors’ in on my previously alluded to observations.

  • Sam says:

    There is an interesting article at International Policy Digest about how Karzai’s policies are not only alienating the coalition forces, but also undermining the nation’s chance at a stable future:
    //www.internationalpolicydigest.org/2013/03/14/hamid-karzai-champion-of-alienation/

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