Are the U.S. and Hamid Karzai Growing Apart?

The Afghan president appears to be chilling to the West

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai's relationship with the U.S. and UN has chilled in recent days, following a series of diplomatic incidents that widened a rift between Karzai and the international forces in Afghanistan. It began when Karzai accused an independent, UN-designated watchdog of conducting electoral fraud and undermining his leadership. President Obama rescinded Karzai's invitation to visit Washington. Karzai responded by inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to give a "fiery anti-American" speech in Kabul. Is the back-and-forth just a diplomatic squabble or a sign of a changing relationship? What's behind the shift?

  • Officials: It's Getting Bad  The New York Times' Dexter Filkins and Mark Landler report, "Karzai is putting distance between himself and his American sponsors, prominent Afghans and American officials here said. Even as Mr. Obama pours tens of thousands of additional American troops into the country to help defend Mr. Karzai’s government, Mr. Karzai now often voices the view that his interests and the United States’ no longer coincide."
  • U.S. Trying to Oust Karzai's Brother  Well that could help explain things. Spencer Ackerman notes that, in the ongoing run-up to the U.S.-led assault on Kandahar, U.S. officials are insisting that Karzai's influential brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, leave the province. "It would be surprising if Ahmed Wali Karzai leaves Kandahar after being threatened, or if Hamid Karzai, already embittered by what he considers unreasonable U.S. demands on his performance, sacrificed his brother to a U.S. political/military objective."
  • Karzai Undermines Entire Mission  The New York Times' Thomas Friedman frets. "When you can steal an election, you can steal anything. How will we get this guy to curb corruption when his whole election, and previous tour in office, were built on corruption? How can we be operating a clear, build-and-hold strategy that depends on us bringing good governance to Afghans when the head of the government is so duplicitous?"
  • Why We Shouldn't Worry  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer shrugs. "Ultimately the U.S. goal in Afghanistan is to leave behind a stable Afghan government. If distancing himself from the U.S. publicly allows Karzai to gain more popular support and legitimacy for his government, then it's in the U.S. interest for him to do that, regardless of whether it hurts our feelings."
  • Karzai Wants Electoral Control  Spencer Ackerman explains Karzai's attacks against the U.N.'s control over the electoral panel. "Karzai is trying to convince parliament to respect an edict he issued in February that reserved himself the right to appoint the members of  an independent election fraud watchdog, the Electoral Complaints Commission, that presently has the majority of its membership appointed by the United Nations. Parliament’s lower house has already rejected the move, but Karzai is trying to convince the upper house to support him."
  • U.N. Official Hits Back  Former U.N. representative to Afghanistan Peter Galbraith, who Karzai named in his attack on the U.N., fumes, "I sometimes wonder if Karzai is a little too enthusiastic about Afghanistan’s most popular export," he said, referencing Afghanistan's opium field. "When I first heard the news this morning I thought that obviously Mr. Karzai is pulling an April Fool’s joke, but then I reflected and realized we don’t have that kind of warm and fuzzy relationship. Needless to say, the U.N. fired me for wanting to do something about the [election] fraud, so it’s a big lie that I was the one who committed it."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.