What Kabul Elites, Washington Officials Are Looking for in Meeting of Presidents Karzai, Obama

With the unseasonably warm weather in Washington this week, you’d think the tulips were out, considering how officialdom is tiptoeing around the subject of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to confer with President Barack Obama on Jan. 11.

Such meetings have been tension-filled before. This one is particularly critical because decisions about future relations between the two countries are still “very much in flux,” Andrew Wilder, USIP’s director of Afghanistan and Pakistan programs, told National Public Radio. The visit also is being watched closely in Kabul, where Wilder learned on a recent visit that Afghan elites are anxious about the outcome of the meeting.

"That whole dynamic within Afghanistan is generating concerns that a meeting that doesn't go well could lead to a decision to bring home the remaining U.S. troops more quickly than I think most Afghans feel comfortable about,” Wilder told NPR in a Jan. 8 article on its Web site and the accompanying radio broadcast. “They're worried that could be politically destabilizing," he said.

Media outlets have reported this week that continuing tension with Karzai, especially over the terms of the security agreement that will govern the nature, form and legal protections for any continuing U.S. troop presence after 2014, might result in the full contingent of American forces being withdrawn entirely. The U.S. military has pressed for a continuing troop presence that would allow training and logistical support for Afghan security forces as well as counter-terrorism operations against potential militants who threaten the U.S.

Marine General John Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, submitted options to leave 6,000 to 20,000 American troops in the country, a range the Pentagon later changed to between 3,000 and 9,000 to conform with White House requests, the New York Times has reported.

“Both sides have tried over the last year or so to make an effort to warm up relations,” said former Ambassador Omar Samad, USIP’s Afghanistan senior expert in residence, in an interview with Canadian Television (CTV). Tensions have erupted in the past over alleged corruption in Karzai’s government and the Afghan president’s criticism of the U.S. over civilian casualties and sovereignty issues in military operations.

Those stresses are likely to take a back seat during the talks this week in Washington, said Samad, a former Afghan ambassador to France and Canada. Rather, the discussions will focus on the speed of the U.S. and NATO troop drawdown, prospects for reconciliation between the Afghan government and the Taliban and how the U.S. will help Afghanistan after most, if not all, foreign forces withdraw in 2014.

“I think there’s still a chance to save the day, to put Afghanistan back on track, to turn this into some sort of success for all those who contributed, to make sure the sacrifices are not in vain,” Samad told Olive Branch.

Both sides will come with specific policy and strategy demands.

While Karzai is looking for pledges of extensive aid, including military supplies and equipment and continued training for the Afghan National Army and police forces, Obama is likely to emphasize the importance of a credible election in 2014 to choose a successor to Karzai as a virtual precondition for significant external economic and security assistance to continue to flow to Afghanistan.

What’s your bet on which direction U.S.-Afghanistan relations will go after this week’s presidential summit?

Explore Further

Related Publications

Can Technology Help Afghanistan Avoid the Resource Curse?

Can Technology Help Afghanistan Avoid the Resource Curse?

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

By: William Byrd; Richard Brittan

Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, roughly estimated at upwards of $1 trillion, is sometimes seen as the country’s potential savior—with prospects to generate large government revenues, exports, and some jobs. On the other hand, international and Afghan experience amply demonstrates the downside risks associated with mineral exploitation—macroeconomic and fiscal distortions; waste, corruption, and poor governance; environmental degradation; and the risk of financing or fomenting violent conflict, thereby undermining peacebuilding. The so-called “resource curse” is not destiny, however, and some countries have managed to avoid it, though Afghanistan faces much greater challenges than most when it comes to beneficially developing its mining sector.

Economics & Environment

Youth Protest Movements in Afghanistan

Youth Protest Movements in Afghanistan

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

By: Srinjoy Bose; Nematullah Bizhan; Niamatullah Ibrahimi

The youth-led protest movements that emerged after the 2014 Afghan presidential election added a new dynamic to Afghan politics. Motivated primarily by widespread perceptions of injustice, exclusion and marginalization from governmental policymaking, and rapidly deteriorating...

Youth; Democracy & Governance

Progress in Taliban Talks, But ‘Long Way to Go’, says U.S. Envoy

Progress in Taliban Talks, But ‘Long Way to Go’, says U.S. Envoy

Monday, February 11, 2019

By: Adam Gallagher

Amid a series of positive developments in the Afghan peace process over the last year, a framework for negotiations reached between the U.S. and Taliban has renewed hope that the 17 year-old Afghan conflict could come to a close. Led by Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. has agreed in principle to a conditional withdraw of U.S. and allied troops in exchange for the Taliban pledging to not allow Afghanistan to be a safe haven for transnational terrorists, like al-Qaida, as well as agreeing to talks that include the Afghan government and a cease-fire. Despite this progress, “We are in the early stages of a protracted process,” Ambassador Khalilzad said at the U.S. Institute of Peace on February 8. “We have a long way to go.”

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue; Peace Processes

How can we negotiate with the Taliban? Afghan women know.

How can we negotiate with the Taliban? Afghan women know.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

By: Palwasha L. Kakar

Afghan political leaders met in Moscow this week with Taliban representatives amid new momentum in diplomatic efforts to end Afghanistan’s war. Like other recent discussions, including those between U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives in Qatar, Afghan women remain almost entirely excluded. Yet mostly unnoticed amid the formal diplomacy, Afghan women at their country’s grass roots already have managed negotiations with local Taliban leaders.

Gender; Peace Processes; Religion

View All Publications