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Now is not the time for Western patience to be running out with the Karzai regime in Afghanistan

2010 May 12
by Paul Vallely

There was a chill in the air in Washington yesterday, and it had nothing to do with the weather. Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, arrived in the United States to meet Barak Obama and found a very different mood from six years ago when he arrived to meet George Bush and was much feted. The relationship between the two capitals have deteriorated significantly.

At stake is the success of  the US president’s strategy to turn the course of the Afghan war. Mr Obama has committed to sending more than 50,000 extra troops to try to salvage the West’s nine-year campaign against the Taliban, just as Mr Karzai has been surrounded by a cloud of questions about his electoral legitimacy and his slow progress in tackling the corruption which meant he has failed to win the hearts and minds of the ordinary Afghan people.

The recent bomb in Times Square, whose origins can be traced back to the Afghan/Pakistan border, underscore the importance of the encounter.  The two men have a lot of ground to make up. In March Mr Obama visited Afghanistan and not very obliquely, criticised Mr Karzai by publicly calling for a crackdown on graft. Mr Karzai’s bizarre response was to accuse the West of orchestrating the fraud in last year’s Afghan presidential elections and suggest he might join the Taliban out of frustration with his US allies.

The Obama strategy in Afghanistan is multi-faceted. The troop surge and the pushing of the Taliban from its strongholds is part of it. So is Western troops holding the land they clear. But restoring the ordinary Afghan’s faith in good governance in the Kabul regime is key to creating long-term stability. The West must press Mr Karazi to clean up his regime. The extent of the corruption emerged yesterday with reports that Mr Karzai’s half-brother is demanding $1,000 to protect each truck that passes through Kandahar province as part of Washington’s $2.16bn trucking contract there.

The two presidents are to spend more than three hours together, an unusually long period for such a visit. For his part Mr Karzai wants US financial assistance to help bolster Afghan government institutions, rather than creating a parallel state run by foreigners. It will not be an easy meeting. But now is not the time for Western patience to be running out with the Karzai regime.

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