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Karzai's US visit yields cold comfort

Afghan president's four-day Washington visit realized little for host or guest. So where to now?

President Barack Obama tried gamely to downplay the earlier spats between Washington and Kabul, saying that the disagreements between the two sides had been “overstated.”

But given the publicity that surrounded the war of words in which Karzai reportedly threatened to join the Taliban and the White House press secretary told reporters that Karzai’s visit was under question, the two sides could not entirely ignore the fracas.

“Now, obviously, there are going to be tensions in such a complicated, difficult environment,” said Obama during the pair’s joint press briefing on Wednesday.

The topic of reconciliation with the Taliban also did not move off ground zero.

The U.S. position has always been that any Taliban who renounce violence, break with their ideological mentors and accept the Afghan constitution are welcome to a seat at the negotiating table.

This has always been a non-starter with the armed opposition, who want any negotiations to address some of their conditions — such as the withdrawal of foreign troops.

As Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, the former Taliban foreign minister, put it in an earlier interview with GlobalPost: “Once we have put down their arms and accepted the constitution, what is there to talk about? That is not negotiation, that is surrender.”

Karzai was hoping for something a bit more substantive in advance of his Peace Jirga in Kabul in late May, during which he will try to forge a broad consensus among the Afghan people on the way to a negotiated settlement with the insurgency.

Instead, he got warmed-over assurances that the United States firmly supported peace — on its previously stated terms, of course.

Washington was also lobbying Karzai to gain firmer support for the upcoming offensive in Kandahar, now commonly referred to as “the decisive battle of war.” Operation Omid is unpopular in Afghanistan, and Karzai has publicly assured tribal elders in the south that the offensive will not be forced upon them. But the United States is anxious to show that the troop surge is working, that progress is being made, and that the Taliban are in retreat.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/afghanistan/100514/karzai-washington-obama-jirga