U.S. Afghan Strategy Hinges On Reliable Ally In Kabul A critical factor in the success of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is a legitimate government in Kabul. Incumbent President Hamid Karzai is expected to be declared the winner of the fraud-marred August election. But the relationship between Karzai and the Obama administration is on shaky ground.
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U.S. Afghan Strategy Hinges On Reliable Ally In Kabul

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U.S. Afghan Strategy Hinges On Reliable Ally In Kabul

U.S. Afghan Strategy Hinges On Reliable Ally In Kabul

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Jackie Northam reports now on doubts about whether the Afghan government will be a reliable ally.

JACKIE NORTHAM: There was always the assumption that the August presidential election in Afghanistan would involve a certain amount of fraud: ballot stuffing, intimidation and the like. But...

ALEX THIER: I think people were genuinely surprised at the scale of the fraud that occurred during the election.

NORTHAM: Alex Thier, the director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace, says the good news is there were mechanisms in place to detect the fraud. The lion's share allegedly carried out by the camp of incumbent President Hamid Karzai. The bad news, Thier says, is the sheer breadth of the fraud reinforced the notion that the Karzai government was corrupt, which he says has a far reaching impact.

THIER: I think that the gravest danger coming out of this electoral process is that we end up with an Afghan government that is not seen as legitimate by the population. And that the international forces, who are effectively propping up that government, are therefore also seen as illegitimate.

NORTHAM: Brian Katulis, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, says the success of that strategy hinges on having a reliable government in Afghanistan.

BRIAN KATULIS: If we have a weak leadership in Afghanistan that doesn't have the same objectives that we do in terms of stabilizing the country, fighting corruption, advancing good governance and justice in the country, then it calls into question whether a counterinsurgency strategy is the most appropriate means to advance U.S. national security interests.

NORTHAM: For his part, Karzai has been sharply critical of the U.S. and NATO for airstrikes that have killed Afghan civilians.

KATULIS: That was a point of contention and a serious concern on the part of Karzai. He felt like those strikes were undermining him and leading to unnecessary civilian casualties.

NORTHAM: Analysts here say the Obama administration has some leverage over the Afghan leader. It could work around Karzai or deal directly with local leaders to help build institutions. And it could withhold aid, on which Afghanistan is heavily dependent, says Alex Thier with the U.S. Institute of Peace.

THIER: So far, whenever we have played chicken with Karzai, it's usually us who swerves. And I think we have to be serious about withholding some resources if things are going wrong.

NORTHAM: Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to both Iraq and Afghanistan, thinks the U.S.-Afghan relationship and Karzai's legitimacy are still salvageable.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD: But it's going to require efforts by President Karzai - should he be declared a winner - in terms of reaching out to the opposition and in terms of putting together a competent government.

NORTHAM: Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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