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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
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NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Kabul.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: The visit to Kabul two weeks ago by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raised eyebrows both here and abroad.
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: (Foreign language spoken)
SARHADDI NELSON: So did the fact Karzai stayed quiet as his guest railed at the defense secretary of Afghanistan's most important coalition partner, the United States - someone who just left Kabul just hours earlier.
HAMID KARZAI: (Foreign language spoken)
SARHADDI NELSON: At a joint news conference at his presidential palace, Karzai called the Iranian president brother and said Afghans were lucky he had come. But some Afghans felt Karzai had crossed a dangerous line.
HAROUN MIR: I think he has been in this confrontational course with the West, and particularly with the United States, since last year.
SARHADDI NELSON: Haroun Mir heads the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies. He, like many Afghans, was uncomfortable about the visit, given that it happened at the same time the Obama administration was seeking international support for stronger sanctions.
MIR: This could not be explained in a rational manner because United States is our strategic ally and we are dependent of the United States for everything - for the salary of our civil servants, for our security, and for our survival. And we could not find any explanation why President Karzai did not react when Ahmadinejad gave this kind of controversial and provocative speech in Kabul.
SARHADDI NELSON: Waheed Omar is his chief spokesman.
WAHEED OMAR: Two thousand and one - 2002, there was a non-existent government, non-existent institutions. We were more of a receiver on the receiver end. But now it's - we hope that it's now evolved into more of a partnership where both sides are equal partners.
SARHADDI NELSON: Many of those are former warlords who are unsavory to Westerners and Afghans, says Candace Rondeaux, senior Afghanistan analyst for the International Crisis Group.
CANDACE RONDEAUX: Karzai now feels that all bets are off. He doesn't really have many friends anywhere he turns, and that means that he's got to find ways, very quickly, to consolidate his power.
SARHADDI NELSON: But the problem isn't just Karzai, says parliament member Shukria Barakzai. She blames the United States and other allies for focusing on building relationships with individuals like Karzai, instead of strengthening the Afghan government and its institutions.
SHUKRIA BARAKZAI: Even, I am sure, if Barack Obama will be the president of Afghanistan, it will be very difficult for him to find a solution for today's crisis back in Afghanistan.
SARHADDI NELSON: Western diplomats say they are trying to change their approach. Ann Pforzheimer is political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
ANN PFORZHEIMER: Our engagement is long-term. You know, we didn't give up on Western Europe or Korea two years after their war was over. We stayed. And all of these institutions that we're trying to build, we need to build over the long term.
SARHADDI NELSON: Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Kabul.
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