Kabul: US President Barack Obama is sending more troops to Afghanistan to win the war, but if the plan is going to work, his administration needs to fix its relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Obama is expected to announce later on Tuesday that he will send tens of thousands of extra troops to join the 110,000 US and Nato troops already fighting a worsening Taliban insurgency.
The troops will be arriving at a time when Washington’s ties with the Afghan leader have deteriorated, which Afghan experts say only helps the Taliban.
Western countries lament what they describe as the rampant corruption and ineffectiveness of Karzai’s government, and his alliances with former warlords to shore up political power.
The international community spent some $250 million to help Afghanistan hold an election in August, only to be embarrassed by the scale of fraud in Karzai’s favour - a UN-backed probe found nearly a third of votes cast for him were fake.
For his part, Karzai accuses the West of doing too little in the past to prevent civilian casualties, stoking corruption by mismanaging billions of dollars in aid, and bullying him to sideline warlords without understanding political realities.
Both sides tried to paper over their differences last month with warm words at Karzai’s inauguration: Karzai gave a speech promising to root out corruption, and visitors like US secretary of state Hillary Clinton praised him for it.
Obama has yet to visit Afghanistan since becoming president, but he and Karzai spoke by video phone for an hour on Tuesday ahead of Obama’s speech, Karzai’s office said.
Yet if the two sides are to work together in an ever bigger war against Taliban militants, they are both going to have to work harder to get along.
“Talk of deadlines (by some western politicians), about miraculous improvement of the situation (by Karzai) and pressure and dictation to Karzai will have a counter-productive impact,” said Nasrullah Stanekzai, a law professor at Kabul University.
“I do not see much hope for the future if we have the same diplomacy pursued by America and then Karzai reacting to it.”
Afghan politicians say unless both Washington and Kabul stop the blame game, Obama’s troop surge will not be effective in defeating the militants.
Shukriya Barakzai, a woman parliamentarian, said the failure of Kabul and the White House to stop trading accusations would embolden not only the Taliban, but also Washington’s regional rivals such as Iran, China and Russia.
“This will help those in Afghanistan and the region who are against the presence of America in Afghanistan. Exchange of criticism through the press has added to the worry of the Afghan people and affected the security,” she said.
Sardar Mohammad Oghli, an opponent of Karzai in parliament, said the West needs to strengthen the Afghan government, not criticizing it in a way that undermines it.
“A weak government will further alienate people and I fear that if the situation continues as it is now, one day the people will regard the foreign troops as occupiers,” he said.
“So far the increase of foreign forces has not helped the situation because of the gap that exists between the people, the government and foreign troops.”
He said both Washington and London, which has also pledged to send some 500 extra soldiers to Afghanistan, were using criticism of Karzai to address their constituencies at home.
For western governments, Karzai’s next big test will be appointing his new cabinet, which could come as soon as this week, as well as filling other powerful posts such as the governors of the country’s 34 provinces.
Western diplomats say they are cautiously optimistic Karzai will pick technocrats for key ministries such as those responsible for security and those, like health and agriculture, where they spend the bulk of their aid money.
Nevertheless, there are bound to be people in Karzai’s cabinet that the West does not like. How they respond will be a signal of how well Karzai and the West can work together.
More scolding of Karzai will increase tension and further weaken him, rather than helping him to bring reform and form a professional cabinet, said Khalil Roman, a former chief of staff for Karzai who has become a critic of the president.
“There is tension,” he said. “Unless that is addressed you will not have coordination on operations between the Afghan and foreign forces, you will not be able to focus on training the Afghan forces, and the increase of troops with the presence of tension will have a negative impact.”