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The latest verbal skirmishes between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and US officials illustrate the new depth in relations between the two sides. Karzai leveled a harsh accusation at the US on Sunday – that it’s trying to destabilize his country. Coming from the leader of a country which the US has helped liberate from the Taliban, the statement is surprising. Not because the statement is true, or false, but because it comes at a difficult juncture in Afghanistan’s history.
All eyes are on the Nato pullout from Afghanistan scheduled for next year. As the US is busy preparing for an exit, questions are being asked about the future of Afghanistan – whether the government of Karzai will be able to govern the country on his own, whether the Taliban will wreak havoc and undo the gains the US and Nato forces have made, and whether Afghan forces are capable of taking on the insurgents.
Karzai has been very critical about what he sees as doomsday reports his country’s future. The president sees it as pure propaganda, spread by the Western media and picked up by the rest of the media with the goal of undermining the confidence of Afghan people and undermine faith in his government. Karzai’s accusations need to be taken seriously. Even if there are serious doubts about the ability of the government to face the Taliban threat after 2014, there is no need for leveling such allegations as if it’s a certainty. What Karzai needs is words of support, measures which will boost his confidence.
Karzai accused Americans of sending contradictory messages about the Taliban: on the one hand claiming to see them as enemy and on the other reaching out to them for negotiations. The opening of a Taliban office in Doha is meant for bringing the two sides together, and comes from the realization that a negotiated settlement with the Taliban is easier than victory in the battlefield. There is nothing wrong with talking with the Taliban, but if Karzai accuses Washington of double standards, it’s because he has been left out of the negotiation process. A peace deal with the insurgents is impossible without the cooperation of the government in Kabul.
Karzai-US relations have been strained for some time and are showing no signs of an improvement. Both are divided on a number of issues, like the civilian deaths in US airstrikes, accusations of abuses by American forces, and most recently, the refusal of American forces to fully hand over the Bagram Prison to Afghan control due to differences over American role.
Kabul and Washington are engaged in tense negotiations over the role of US forces after 2014. But the current war of words will only help Taliban. Or, by accusing the US and Taliban of being in collusion, Karzai could be trying to win the confidence of Afghans•