ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel. The worsening conflict in Afghanistan is causing new tension between President Hamid Karzai and the new administration of his most powerful ally, the United States. And they're blaming each other for the way things are going in that country. Officials in Kabul and the Obama administration insist the tensions are a sign of frustration, not a permanent rift. But as NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Kabul, the bickering is a source of concern.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: 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 Mr. Obama's plans to take a hard line with President Hamid Karzai over corruption and the drug trade. 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 terror.
President HAMID KARZAI (Afghanistan): (Arabic spoken)
NELSON: Afghan civilian casualties top 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. This week, the Afghan president renewed his criticism of the U.S. military over several recent raids in eastern Afghanistan. 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.
Mr. HUMAYUN HAMIDZADA (Spokesman, President Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan): He said, it's like a marriage. After seven years in a marriage, sometime you speak with a loud voice with each other.
NELSON: But U.S. Ambassador Bill Wood, like Karzai's spokesman, is adamant that the relationship between the two administrations is a solid one.
Mr. BILL WOOD (U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan): 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. But his readiness to make those decisions, 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 that we strongly support.
NELSON: Others here say they are not convinced the recent public conflict is benign. Faizullah Zaki is a lawmaker from northern Jowzjan province.
Mr. FAIZULLAH ZAKI (Lawmaker, Jowzjan Province, Afghanistan): Through the words of a president, people can see the future. And when they see instability in mind of their leaders and instability in expressions of their leaders, it of course damages their trust.
NELSON: He and others accused 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. 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 is the senior analyst in Kabul for the International Crisis Group.
Ms. JOANNA NATHAN (Senior Analyst, International Crisis Group, Kabul): I think far too much was always thrust on the shoulders of President Karzai early on, and I very much hope that the same mistake is not being made again, in terms of looking around for just another miracle man and somehow bringing in another individual will fix everything.
NELSON: Lawmaker Ahmad Behzad, who serves on the international relations committee in parliament, agrees.
Mr. AHMAD BEHZAD (Member, International Relations Committee, Parliament, Afghanistan): (Arabic spoken)
NELSON: He says, if Americans can elect an African-American like Mr. Obama to be president, then they ought to engage Afghans of all ethnic backgrounds to move the country forward. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News Kabul.