Connect to share and comment

Peace Jirga hangs in balance of Karzai-Obama visit

If Karzai comes home empty-handed from Washington meeting, he could easily turn Peace Jirga against Americans.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai talks during a meeting with elders in Kunduz, April 11, 2010. Karzai is headed to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama prior to the planned Peace Jirga in Kabul on May 29. (Dusan Vranic/Pool/Reuters)

KABUL, Afghanistan — As Afghan President Hamid Karzai goes off to Washington for what promises to be a cordial meeting with his U.S. counterpart, he will be closely watched by his countrymen, who are expecting him to bring home major American concessions.

The main topic of conversation at the Karzai-Obama summit is more than likely to be reconciliation with the Taliban, the subject of a large Peace Jirga to be held in Kabul later this month. While many have posited that the Afghan president is looking for direction from Washington, others argue that he will hold the Jirga like an unsheathed sword over the heads of his foreign backers.

“If Karzai comes home from Washington empty-handed, he can very easily turn the Jirga against the Americans,” said Wahid Mojda, a political analyst and longtime government insider. “This will make things much more difficult for the United States.”

Popular sentiment is already running against the foreign troops, as civilian casualties soar and the U.S. Marines plan their largest-ever offensive in Kandahar this summer. Coping with a major anti-American campaign by the Afghan government would certainly complicate the counterinsurgency strategy (COIN) advocated by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

McChrystal emphasizes winning the trust of the local population as a central tenet of COIN. That will be difficult if Karzai is fanning the flames of popular discontent.

“We are hearing that the United States will pledge to channel $4 billion through the Afghan government for reconstruction and for equipping the Afghan security forces,” continued Mojda. “It should be a good trip.”

Washington certainly appears to be rolling out the red carpet, which should soothe the Afghan presidents’ wounded feelings, so obviously on display over the past month.

Tough talk from U.S. President Barack Obama at a lightening-quick midnight meeting in March provoked a war of words that had many of the Kabul political elite wondering about the Afghan president’s mental stability.

Obama criticized the Afghan president for not doing enough to tackle corruption, and characterized his government as weak and ineffective. Karzai then erupted in several public forums, accusing the international community of perpetrating fraud in last August’s presidential elections (from which Karzai emerged victorious), and even, at one point, threatening to join the Taliban.