Yawning gap

Relations between the Afghan government and western powers seem to be deteriorating by the day. Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai is reported to have told a group of lawmakers at a closed door meeting that he would join the Taliban if he continues to come under outside pressure. He is believed to have warned of the possibility of a national resistance. His remarks have come just days after US president Barack Obama made an unannounced visit to Kabul. Not surprisingly, Karzai’s remarks have ruffled feathers in Washington and other western capitals. Relations have been souring for some time now with western governments accusing Karzai of not cracking down against rampant corruption in his administration and the drug trade, the argument being that this is contributing to lawlessness and poor governance and fuelling support for the Taliban. The relationship plunged to a new low during the presidential election last year, when western officials were seen to be propping up opposition to Karzai.
Former UN envoy Kai Eide has spoken of foreign interference during the elections, citing US special representative Richard Holbrooke’s attempts to get several Afghans, including senior presidential advisers, to run against Karzai. This of course added to Karzai’s suspicions that the West was out to oust him. His recent remarks should be seen as part of the growing trust deficit.

Neither Karzai nor the West can afford this current downswing in relations. The situation in Afghanistan today has never been worse with the Taliban gaining ground rapidly. It is time that the US and other powers realise that whether they like it or not, Karzai is the president of Afghanistan and they have to engage with him. Karzai’s frustrations are understandable to some extent. It is possible that his outbursts are aimed at distancing himself from the foreigners in order to reach out to the Taliban and to signal to the Afghan people that he is not quite the stooge they think he is. However, his threats of joining the Taliban are irresponsible and unbecoming of a head of state.

The war of words between Karzai and the West could have serious impact on the military operations on the ground. It is time the two sides stopped sniping at each other as it is the Taliban that gains from their growing rift.

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