Afghan president Hamid Karzai arrived in Washington, DC yesterday to begin four days of discussion and negotiation with President Obama. Karzai will be meeting with officials in the house and senate over the next few days to discuss the Afghanistan war and corruption, among other issues, within Karzai’s government. During the second day of negotiations, Obama pledged his support to making Afghanistan more stable. At a joint Afghan/US press conference held at the White House Obama confirmed his support for Karzai’s strategy to give, money, jobs, and benefits to members of the Taliban, who promise to lay down their weapons.
Yesterday morning, Hamid Karzai and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met for a breakfast meeting, followed by closed-door bilateral partnership talks in the afternoon. After the meeting, Clinton promised her commitment to Afghanistan even after the U.S. Troops have come home. Unlike Secretary of State Clinton, who basically said the presidents could agree to disagree, Obama did not seem satisfied with this solution.
Tensions between Afghanistan and the U.S. have been well-known, since the election of Karzai last year, which was widely suspected of fraud. Just last month Karzai made anti-American remarks and in March 2009, when the two presidents spoke, Karzai accused the US of meddling in the Afghan elections. Despite these rifts, Obama said the tensions leading up to this meeting were overstated. During the joint press conference Karzai admitted his country wasn’t perfect and had its shortcomings.
The biggest news from today’s meeting was Obama’s unconditional support for Karzai’s new plan to give money, jobs, and benefits to Taliban fighters who cut their association with the group. This meeting comes a crucial time for Afghanistan when U.S. troops withdrawing in 2011 and NATO is launching an offensive in the southern-sate of Kandahar, while Afghan officials are simultaneously holding peace talks with tribal leaders.
Washington has gone out of its way to welcome Karzai to the U.S., downplaying any sort of rift, despite known tensions that have been developing for more than a year. Washington was forced to abruptly change its approach, after recent criticism of corruption and drug trafficking was met with an uncooperative response. The meeting’s location in Washington also suggests that Karzai is ready to cooperate with the administration. This week, both leaders were very respectful, pledging their support to Afghanistan and avoiding criticism and unproductive remarks. It almost seems like the rifts of the past are being smoothed over, but it’s very hard to tell the sincerity of these meetings. Obama support for Karzai’s new strategy is a little shocking, especially when the Taliban has been so untrustworthy. It almost seems like Karzai’s plan would help the Taliban while increasing corruption, which American is focused on preventing. Although relations with the U.S. are said to be better it remains to be seen.
BBC, “Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington”, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/world_news_america/8674057.stm, BBC.co.uk
Lisa Millar, “US Plays Down Karzai Visit Tensions,” http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/05/11/2895868.htm, ABC News
CNN, “Putting Tensions Aside, Clinton Opens Key Talks with Karzai,” http://afghanistan.blogs.cnn.com/2010/05/11/putting-tensions-aside-clinton-opens-key-talks-with-karzai/?hpt=T2, CNN.com
BBC, “US President Obama backs Afghanistan’s Taliban effort” BBC.