Despite past conflicts, White House sees Karzai as ally
WASHINGTON — Administration officials returned to same theme over and over at the White House on Monday: President Hamid Karzai is the elected leader of the Afghan people and a valuable partner in efforts to stabilize the region.
U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said that U.S. and Afghan relations “have never been better aligned.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Karzai understands what needs to be done to root out corruption in his country and is actively working to fix that.
The friendly tone on the eve of the Afghan president’s four-day visit to Washington is a sharp contrast from just a few weeks ago, when White House officials were hinting that Karzai may not be invited for the diplomatic summit.
In late March, Karzai publicly vented about lingering criticism of fraud in Afghanistan’s latest election, when he was re-elected to the presidency. He also accused Western nations of wanting a government of “puppets” and hinted that the U.S. might be more interested wiping out their enemies than helping the Afghan people.
But both sides have emphasized a message of cooperation and trust in recent days; On Monday, Gibbs said the two delegations prefer to “look ahead” instead of dwelling on past problems.
However, that will include conversations about corruption within the Karzai’s government. A recent Defense Department report to Congress on progress in Afghanistan accused the government of only dealing with the problem when pushed by the international community, adding that “real change remains elusive and political will … remains doubtful.”
On Monday, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told White House reporters that upcoming military operations to root out Taliban forces in the south will only be successful if they can be followed by responsible governance.
He said he has confidence that Karzai’s administration can provide a stable government presence in the south, though many regional experts have questioned Karzai’s record on such efforts in recent years.
A report released Monday from the Center for American Progress blamed the Karzai government and the international community for a lack of progress fighting corruption, saying that U.S. officials have not pushed hard enough for “serious institutional and systemic reforms.”
White House officials promised that will be a major topic of conversation this week. Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, assistant to the president on Iraq and Afghanistan, said during a three-hour meeting last week that Obama will press Karzai to uphold anti-corruption promises he made in his election campaign last year.
One topic that won’t be covered, however, is Karzai’s half brother, Ahmad Wali. Lute said the U.S. does not have credible intelligence supporting claims that he is involved in drug smuggling and other destabilizing activities in Khandahar, echoing comments made by U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus earlier this month.
On Wednesday Obama and Karzai are scheduled to deliver remarks about the future of Afghanistan in a White House press conference. Gibbs said they will address more details on the path ahead in Afghanistan, for civilians and U.S. troops stationed there.