Home > Afghanistan and Pakistan > Karzai: In the crosshairs?

Karzai: In the crosshairs?

The New York Times reports that as part of his effort to refocus American military actions in the Muslim toward Afghanistan, President Barack Obama is reconsidering the strong backing afforded Afghan President Hamid Karzai during the Bush years.

During his whirlwind world tour this summer, undertaken to prove that he had foreign policy bona fides, Obama captured headlines for criticizing Karzai, saying he needed to do more as the U.S.’s ally. Some of that rhetoric was toned down after his meeting with the leader in Afghanistan, but the hard line is back.

Pushing Obama in this direction are Veep Joe Biden, a longtime Karzai critic, and Richard Holbrooke, the veteran Clinton-era diplomat and Obama’s other special envoy, this time for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This is being sold—you guessed it—as a departure.

The officials portrayed the approach as a departure from that of President Bush, who held video conferences with Mr. Karzai every two weeks and sought to emphasize the American role in rebuilding Afghanistan and its civil institutions.

They said that the Obama administration would work with provincial leaders as an alternative to the central government, and that it would leave economic development and nation-building increasingly to European allies, so that American forces could focus on the fight against insurgents.

It’s a bit remarkable to me as an average citizen that Karzai was given the biweekly video call. It seems an unprecedented level of access for the premier of a nation like Afghanistan, and perhaps illustrates the famed loyalty of the Bush administration to its friends and partners. Cutting this off is an easy carrot/stick move, but I wonder to what extent it may make a difference.

Also popping up here is Zalmay Khalilzad, who hits the trifecta of Afghanistan expert, former Bush hand and rumored challenger to Karzai.

Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American who is a former United States ambassador to the United Nations and is viewed as a possible challenger to Mr. Karzai, warned that the Obama administration must tread carefully as it recalibrated its Afghanistan policy.

“If it looks like we’re abandoning the central government and focusing just on the local areas, we will run afoul of Afghan politics,” Mr. Khalilzad said. “Some will regard it as an effort to break up the Afghan state, which would be regarded as hostile policy.”

One wonder what’s behind Khalilzad’s critique. It’s not suprising that he would see things differently, but the fact that as president of Afghanistan he would likely want the greatest access possible to POTUS must color these comments.

—David Graham, Trinity ’09 and editor

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