June 19, 2011
A Selection From the Cache of Diplomatic Dispatches
SUMMARY This July 2009 cable from Karl W. Eikenberry, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, reports on his meeting with President Hamid Karzai and his request that the Afghan president stop telling people that the United States has “failed” in Afghanistan.
1. (S/NF) SUMMARY. President Karzai and I continued our dialogue on the future of U.S.-Afghan relations (reftel) in our weekly meeting, July 7. We were joined by National Security Advisor Rassoul. Karzai discussed his priorities for the next five years as outlined in his draft election manifesto. The President’s manner was significantly more relaxed and warm than in meetings the previous week when he was often agitated, accusing the U.S. of working against him (reftel). As a result, our discussion was more constructive and forward-looking. When Karzai drifted towards a reiteration of his anti-U.S. conspiracy theories on several occasions, I was able to refocus the conversation on how the U.S. and Afghanistan governments can work together in the near and medium term to achieve combined success.
REVIEWING KARZAI’S ELECTION MANIFESTO FOR NEXT FIVE YEARS
2. (S/NF) As we discussed the long-term goals outlined in Karzai’s draft election manifesto, I reiterated the U.S. commitment to continuing our close partnership with Afghanistan, regardless of whom the Afghan people elect in August. I then outlined what the U.S. was seeking from the relationship over the next five years and commented on some points in Karzai’s proposed agenda. Under President Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan, I noted, we would continue to pursue a more coherent regional approach, while assisting the Afghan government build a more secure and economically sustainable country that would never again permit sanctuary for international terrorism. I emphasized the importance of achieving meaningful progress in the near term to prove to the U.S. and the international community that our ongoing investment of lives and resources in Afghanistan was producing tangible, lasting results for the Afghan people.
3. (S/NF) I took issue with the foreign policy section of Karzai’s draft manifesto which stressed Afghanistan’s relations with the Islamic world and with Palestine, followed by a rather weak comment on relations with the U.S. I pointed out this did not accurately reflect our robust partnership and raises questions regarding Karzai’s perspective on the bilateral relationship.
4. (S/NF) I also noted the document’s lack of a strong emphasis on strengthening Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and judicial system. Five years down the road, I said, success would be defined by whether the ANSF’s increased capacity allowed it to take the lead in planning and conducting effective military operations, as well as apprehending and detaining insurgents under Afghan legal authority. (NOTE: We are seeking a translation of the draft of Karzai’s manifesto passed to us earlier this month and will transmit septel once translation is complete.)
5. (S/NF) Karzai then mentioned that after the election he planned to call a national jirga to make a recommitment to the Afghanistan-U.S. relationship and our partnership in the war against terror. This would, he claimed, clarify the military assistance aspect of the relationship and counter what many Afghan’s perceive to be the “unfocused presence” of international forces, reducing public concerns about those forces. (Note: We have since learned that a later draft of Karzai’s manifesto may include this call for a traditional loya jirga to address the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. If true that Karzai intends to convene a traditional loya jirga instead of a constitutional loya jirga, it would reflect a disappointing continuation of Karzai’s tendency to govern through reliance on personalities of the past, rather than on democratic institutions.)
AMBASSADOR: FOCUS SHOULD BE ON AFGHAN GOVT WINNING HEARTS AND MINDS
6. (S/NF) Karzai then returned to a familiar theme, his wish for Afghan-U.S. relations to recover the spirit of 2002-04 – a period Karzai sees as a “golden age” in the relationship. He would like for U.S. forces to again be able to drive their humvees through villages, greeted warmly by villagers who would shout, “Good morning, Sergeant Thompson.” Karzai claimed, as he has many times, that his concern over the erosion of public trust in the U.S. was a driving factor in his increasingly strident criticism regarding civilian casualties, night raids and detentions.
7. (S/NF) I reminded Karzai that we had agreed our discussion would be forward-looking, rather than dwell on past grievances. I also reminded him the U.S. and ISAF had made a
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tremendous effort over the past year to avoid civilian casualties, noting that in a recent engagement in Helmand where one U.S. marine had been killed and 25 wounded, we had not employed close air support or artillery. Karzai agreed there had been a dramatic reduction in civilian casualty incidents, saying he intended to make a public statement noting his gratitude for U.S. efforts. I welcomed such a statement, observing that the U.S. continues to bear a heavy cost for our assistance to Afghanistan in the American lives lost as we work to ensure a more secure future here.
8. (S/NF) I also took issue with Karzai’s “golden age” perspective, reminding him that I had been in Afghanistan during this period. It was clear, even at that time, that trouble was brewing as the focus on security and reconstruction drifted and declined due to lack of resources and a comprehensive strategy. I urged Karzai to recognize that President Obama is providing the U.S.-Afghan partnership with the tools necessary to build a lasting foundation for Afghanistan’s success, based on sustainable security, accountable government, and a working economy. I stressed to Karzai that our primary goal in Afghanistan is not to win public support for the U.S., but rather to help the Afghan government win its own people’s hearts and minds by enabling it to provide basic security and effective governance to the people. In five years, we expect to still have forces in Afghanistan, but with the majority as advisors and trainers in support of ANSF in areas such as logistics, air support, intelligence, etc. Returning to Karzai’s hopes for the future, I told him Americans do not long for a day in which their soldiers are hailed throughout Afghanistan; they are instead growing impatient for the day a respected Afghan Army and national police force are fully capable of providing security to the Afghan populace. Time is not unlimited.
KARZAI’S ANTI-U.S. RHETORIC UNDERMINES ADVOCACY FOR CONTINUED SUPPORT
9. (N/SF) I then raised with Karzai his regular claim to senior U.S. visitors that the U.S. has “failed in Afghanistan.” I noted that such rhetoric could potentially undermine continued bipartisan support for our current strategy of expanding U.S. assistance to Afghanistan. I said some criticism was fair, but in these meetings with senior U.S. officials, Karzai regularly failed to acknowledge any meaningful progress resulting from U.S. contributions. By condemning U.S. efforts while failing to take any responsibility for Afghanistan’s problems, Karzai was not presenting the Afghan government (or himself) as a responsible partner in this relationship, a partner cognizant of and sensitive to mutual obligations. Leaving meetings with Karzai, officials could easily conclude that the U.S. has accomplished little or nothing here and question why we continue to devote American lives and resources to the effort. Karzai indicated that he understood the need to present a more balanced perspective. (Note. It remains to be seen whether Karzai can or will refrain from this “blame America” tactic he uses to deflect criticism of his administration. Indeed, his inability to grasp the most rudimentary principles of state-building and his deep seated insecurity as a leader combine to make any admission of fault unlikely, in turn confounding our best efforts to find in Karzai a responsible partner.)
ELECTIONS: KARZAI (STILL) SUSPICIOUS OF U.S. INTENTIONS
10. (S/NF) Revisiting a favorite grievance, Karzai asserted that early in the year some officials in the Obama Administration had encouraged potential opposition candidates to run. Karzai indicated he felt Secretary Clinton had been very supportive and noted relations with VP Biden were much improved. He still felt some senior officials were actively working to undermine him. Those officials, he said, were openly discussing election runoff scenarios that would give the opposition an opening to unite against him. Karzai claimed that in a fair and free election he would win on the first round. If there were “irregularities” and the election went to a second round, Karzai believed opposition candidates would play the “ethnic card” to marshal support, undermining national unity.
11. (S/NF) I challenged his assertion that Administration officials had promoted opposition candidates. I emphasized that, in fact, our Mission has gone to great pains to remain balanced in engagement with presidential candidates and to promote a level-playing field, I reminded Karzai that I had decided not to visit Mazar-e-Sharif because of Governor Atta’s overt campaigning for Abdullah and his reported refusal to comply with MOI Atmar’s dismissal of two policemen in the province for corruption. Karzai replied, with humor,
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that he conceded in this instance that the U.S. had been even-handed in demonstrating its commitment to fair elections.
12. (S/NF) Although more relaxed than in recent meetings, Karzai remains deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions and actions regarding key opposition candidates, frequently citing U.S.-based support groups for Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. Karzai is currently most concerned about a potential Abdullah coalition. (He dismissed Ghani, saying that he will know Ghani has admitted defeat when he asks for a position in Karzai’s new government.) Karzai clearly expected (or hoped) to receive the same U.S. support for his candidacy that he received in the 2004 election, and interprets our neutral stance in this election as evidence that the U.S. is “against” him. I will continue to use my weekly dialogues with Karzai to clarify our position on this and other issues, while focusing him on the way forward in U.S.-Afghan relations with an emphasis on our shared desire that progress needs to continue, regardless of who wins the election. In future discussions, I will continue to stress the importance of Afghanistan assuming a more meaningful partnership role, and focus on key issue areas such as ANSF growth and assumption of lead responsibility for security, reconciliation, government accountability, and sustainable development. Through this engagement, we will also seek to avoid the gap between the U.S. and Karzai widening to the point that we will lose precious time closing the distance should he be re-elected.