Sunday, March 15, 2009

Afghan Envoy Assails Western Allies as Halfhearted, Defeatist by Karen DeYoung

Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States attacked Western governments fighting in and providing billions in aid to his country, saying that those who claim the international community is not winning the war against extremists there "should know that they never fully tried."

"We never asked to be the 51st state," Ambassador Said T. Jawad said, a reference to a suggestion last month by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) that the United States should concentrate on "realistic goals" and its "original mission" of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.

"To suggest that Afghans do not deserve peace, pluralism and human rights is wrong and racist," Jawad said.

He said negotiations with the Taliban should be conducted by the Afghan government and should be withheld until it was in a "position of strength." President Obama, in a New York Times interview last week, echoed numerous administration and U.S. military officials in suggesting that the United States seek negotiations with "reconcilable" Taliban elements.

Obama also said the United States and NATO were not winning the war in Afghanistan and spoke favorably of U.S. military plans to bolster Afghan tribal forces to participate in the war against extremists -- a policy seen as successful in Iraq and being tried in pilot programs in Afghanistan. Jawad said yesterday that such plans "will not work" and would undermine the country's stability.

Jawad's remarks, in an address last night at Harvard University, were a forceful public expression of issues privately raised here last month with the Obama administration by a top-level national security delegation from President Hamid Karzai's government.

Jawad accused those aiding Afghanistan of "total negligence" in building the Afghan police force and judicial system, "under-investment" in the national army, and providing "meager resources" devoted to helping the Afghan government deliver services and protect its citizens.

U.S. military expenditures in Afghanistan have totaled more than $173 billion since 2001, with an additional $35 billion spent in reconstruction aid. U.S. military deaths total more than 660, with 431 NATO troops killed.

Many of Jawad's complaints echo assessments made by the Obama administration, which lays much of the blame for the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan on what it sees as its predecessor's obsession with Iraq at Afghanistan's expense. But the ambassador's tone and rejection of any Afghan responsibility for the situation reflected an escalating tension between the Obama and Karzai governments as Obama's national security team forges a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Karzai "doesn't seem to be ready to take any responsibility for the problems," an administration official said.

Obama officials have made little secret of their concern that Karzai -- installed as Afghanistan's interim leader in 2001 and elected president in 2004, both times with U.S. backing -- is incapable of providing the leadership needed to extend government control and services. They believe corruption is rife within his government, although they have not accused Karzai himself.

U.S. hopes of replacing him in elections this year have foundered on the lack of a viable opposition candidate. Meanwhile, the near-term future of Afghanistan's government hangs in the balance as Karzai's term expires in May, while the independent electoral commission has scheduled the ballot for August, a delay that administration officials hope will allow other possibilities to emerge.

Jawad's speech came the day the administration announced its nomination of Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. The selection of an active-duty officer -- Eikenberry is deputy chairman of NATO's military committee and the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan -- appeared to be an exception to the administration's stated goal of increasing the civilian and diplomatic profile of the military-heavy U.S. regional presence.

Afghanistan appreciates Obama's deployment of 17,000 more American troops to the country, Jawad said. But he couched his praise in terms of casualty levels, saying increased U.S. ground operations that "will allow for surgical operations instead of relying on aerial bombings that lead to unacceptable levels of civilian deaths."

"We welcome President Obama's plan to unveil a new comprehensive U.S. strategy by the end of this month," Jawad said, adding that Afghanistan was "grateful for being officially consulted" in the Washington talks last month.

Jawad also praised Pakistan's civilian government as "sincere in fighting extremism and terrorism," but said it "lacks the capacity to wage this fight." The Pakistani military, "on the other hand, has the capacities to do so but not the commitment" and considers Islamist extremists "an ally" in Pakistan's conflict with India, he said.

Although Afghanistan "welcomed President Obama's remarks about talking with the Taliban," Jawad said, the government would handle the negotiations. "In fact," he said, "the process of talking with individual Taliban commanders has been going on for the past six years, and about 600 mid-level Taliban commanders have joined the peace process."

He outlined three major Taliban groups -- the "ideological" forces affiliated with Pakistan-based al-Qaeda and regional terrorism networks; the mid-level commanders who "can be reconciled through dialogue, buying off, bribery and coercion"; and the "paycheck Taliban" made up of "unemployed, uneducated and brainwashed" young foot soldiers who need "employment and education, not too much dialogue."

Citing "defeatist and reductionist media statements and policy recommendations in the U.S. and European capitals," Jawad noted that "NATO and U.S. forces are saying that we are not winning in Afghanistan, implying that the Taliban are not losing.

"If they are not losing," he said, "why should they talk to us?"

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