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Analysts: Karzai Needs to Rebuild US Ties on Washington Trip

  • Sean Maroney

Analysts in Afghanistan say President Hamid Karzai's trip to the United States next week will be a crucial demonstration of U.S. support for the Afghan leader. Our correspondent examines how Afghans view the talks in Washington.

Hamid Karzai's visit to the United States comes after an exchange of words that played out in the media, in which the Afghan leader and U.S. officials questioned each other's sincerity in working together.

President Karzai accused Western powers of trying to rig last year's presidential election. U.S. officials called his comments "troubling." At one point, U.S. President Barack Obama's spokesman declined to call Mr. Karzai "a U.S. ally," instead insisting that he was "the democratically elected leader of Afghanistan."

Akmal Dawi with the Kabul-based Afghan Rights Monitor group says the visit is vitally important to the Afghan president in repairing Kabul's relationship with Washington.

"American forces are fighting everyday to protect his government against the Taliban," said Akmal Dawi. "U.N. dollars are flowing to [President] Karzai's government to provide a fake legitimacy to his government. So this is unbelievable. This is just making [a] fool of the Afghan people."

Dawi says ordinary Afghans are ignoring what he calls the "fake drama" in the media between President Karzai and the U.S. government. He says Afghan civilians from Kandahar to Kabul have more important things to focus on.

"The situation is worsening day-by-day," said Dawi. "People are dying. Corruption is endemic. Bad governance is everywhere. So what has changed for an ordinary Afghan to believe that they have an independent leader and that Washington has changed its approach to [President] Karzai?"

In late March, President Obama made his first trip to Afghanistan as U.S. commander-in-chief.

While there on his six-hour visit, Mr. Obama praised efforts by Mr. Karzai to secure the country. But he reiterated his call for a crackdown on corruption.

The director of Afghanistan's Center for Research and Policy Studies, Haroun Mir, says he believes President Karzai must be ready to address the issue of corruption during his meeting with President Obama.

"The improvement of his governance is something that he has been criticized for, not only by this [U.S.] administration, but locally by Afghans as well," said Haroun Mir. "And fighting corruption is something that he has to do something about."

Mir says he expects the two leaders to discuss military operations in Kandahar province, as NATO and Afghan forces move against one of the Taliban's major strongholds.

In addition, Mir says the United States should be prepared for President Karzai to request additional funding to carry out his domestic peace plan, especially as he heads into a large-scale meeting of tribal elders in late-May.

"So he needs money, and the money comes from the U.S. and other allies, and it's contingent upon his trip to the U.S," he said.

Daoud Sultanzoy is a member of the Afghan Parliament. He says the traditional peace jirga of Afghan tribal elders and any subsequent U.S. support might backfire, if Afghans find more reliable governance there than in government institutions.

"As a Pashtun, I can say this very safely that jirgas have their place and their use," said Daoud Sultanzoy. "But in light of having institutions which we have just created, instead of empowering them, we cannot distract the people of Afghanistan by creating parallel tracks of governance that do not have any legal basis."

In the end, the analysts agree that Afghans have no interest in more rhetoric, but only results that positively change their lives.