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03/14/2013

Afghan-American relations at all time low

The gloves are off in the U.S.-Afghan relationship.

Afghan president Hamid Karzai can barely hold back his contempt for his powerful backers in Washington as America begins to withdraw all its combat troops by 2014.

And the Americans are worried Karzai’s declining support is putting soldiers’ lives in jeopardy.

The New York Times obtained a copy of an email by American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., in which he warned: “(Karzai’s) remarks could be a catalyst for some to lash out against our forces — he may also issue orders that put our forces at risk.”

The general’s warnings came after Karzai’s speech on national television last week where he said two major suicide attacks that killed 19 people were in the “service” of foreigners. Karzai said the U.S. in fact did not want to leave the country after 2014 because it wants Afghan resources and is talking with Taliban leaders behind his back.

“The bombings in the name of the Taliban were aimed at serving the foreigners and supporting the presence of the foreigners in Afghanistan and keeping them in Afghanistan by intimidating us,” he said.  

Rather pathetically, Karzai’s office issued a statement after Dunford’s email was publicized, clarifying that what he wanted was a relationship “between two independent nations.”  

The reality is Afghanistan is going to be reliant on American money and protection for a long time.  The U.S. will have to take the lead in paying for the Afghan army and police.

This is not to suggest Karzai show more gratitude – America’s Afghan policy has been short-sighted and contradictory since 9/11.

The trouble is, when the Americans leave next year, Afghanistan, poor and powerless, surrounded by predatory and nasty neighbours is going to find it very difficult to protect itself.

Pakistan is as paranoid about India as ever and there is no reason for it to end its policy of supporting jihadists in Afghanistan. Iran is locked in a fight with America over its nuclear programme. China has its own regional ambitions tied up with extracting as much natural resources as it can get.

None of these countries is friends of Afghanistan or make any pretense of having its interests at heart. The Afghan-American relationship had at least one pillar: prevention of Taliban or al Qaeda takeover. Afghanistan’s intelligence agency is a key CIA ally in the region.

Some Afghan leaders get this and have distanced themselves from Karzai.  Hanif Atmar, a respected opposition leader who was once in Karzai’s cabinet told Tolo News that Karzai’s accusations did not represent the country.

Washington, however, will probably not register the nuances of Afghan politics and only hear Karzai’s rants as official policy. 

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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