Afghan Leader Plays Public Blame Game With West

The worsening conflict in Afghanistan is prompting tensions between President Hamid Karzai and the new administration of his most powerful ally, the United States.

Each side is pointing fingers at the other over why things are going badly in Afghanistan, and it's a blame game that Karzai, in particular, has opted to carry out in public.

Officials in Kabul and in the Obama administration say the tensions are more a sign of frustration than any permanent rift. But the bickering is nevertheless causing concern.

That there wasn't going to be a honeymoon for the Afghan president and his new American counterpart was clear from Day 1. Even before the inauguration, news reports hinted at Obama's plans to take a hard line with Karzai over corruption and the drug trade.

Complaints About U.S., NATO

Karzai seems determined to push back. On the eve of the U.S. inauguration, his office announced that Afghanistan and Russia had agreed to cooperate more closely on defense matters.

The next morning, Karzai, in a speech to Afghan lawmakers, made it clear he was fed up with the Western approach to the war on terrorism.

Afghan civilian casualties topped the list of his complaints. A missive to Washington and NATO headquarters followed, with Karzai demanding that his government be given more control of Western troops in his country.

In another speech, Karzai warned that Afghanistan would seek military hardware from other countries if the West didn't step up its efforts in that regard.

This week, the Afghan president renewed his criticism of the U.S. military over several recent raids in eastern Afghanistan.

Officials: Relations Are 'Solid,' Despite Tensions

Karzai spokesman Humayun Hamidzada says his president is frustrated. His administration is struggling with an insurgency and economic turmoil, as well as international partners who prefer to do things their own way.

"[Karzai] says it's like a marriage. After seven years in a marriage, sometimes you speak with a loud voice with each other," Hamidzada says.

But U.S. Ambassador Bill Wood, like Karzai's spokesman, is adamant that the relationship between the two administrations is a solid one.

"The problem set that President Karzai wakes up with every morning is daunting and difficult and sometimes we agree with his decisions and sometimes we don't. That's normal between two adults and two friends," says Wood.

"But his readiness to make those decisions and his insistence that his government do its best to govern in an environment where there has been no meaningful government for so long is something we strongly support," he adds.

Some Worry Rhetoric May Be Damaging

But some in Afghanistan say they are not convinced the recent public conflict is benign.

"Through the words of the president, people can see the future and when they see instability in the minds of their leaders and instability in the expressions of their leader, of course it damages their trust," says Faizullah Zaki, a lawmaker from northern Jowzjan province.

He and others accuse Karzai, who is seeking re-election this year, of maligning his Western allies in a bid to boost his nationalist credentials with voters.

They are also worried that Karzai's overtures to Russia could trigger international tensions that, like the Cold War, would be played out on Afghan soil.

U.S. Criticized For Focusing On Pashtun Leader

Many here are also critical of the Obama administration. They say it, like its predecessor, is too focused on finding a Pashtun leader it can work with rather than working with the Afghan government as a whole.

Joanna Nathan, the senior analyst in Kabul for the International Crisis Group, says that too much was thrust on the shoulders of Karzai early on.

"I certainly hope that the same mistake is not being made again in terms of looking around for just another miracle man to fix everything. The problem is not one individual, and it's certainly not all on the Afghan side," Nathan says.

Lawmaker Ahmad Behzad, who serves on the international relations committee in the Afghan parliament, agrees.

He says if Americans can elect an African-American like Obama to be president, then they ought to engage Afghans of all ethnic backgrounds to move the country forward.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.