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      Volume 10 |Issue 24 | June 24, 2011 |


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Karzai rants at the 'occupier'

Hamid Karzai

The President of Afghanistan was quite plainly thinking aloud in his reference to the coalition forces as “occupiers”. In countering that blunt observation, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, was as diplomatic as he could be. While he stopped short of naming Hamid Karzai in course of his address at Herat University, he did go beyond customary diplomatic niceties by advancing the snub.

“When Americans, who are serving in your country at great cost - in terms of life and treasure - hear themselves compared with occupiers, they are filled with confusion and grow weary of our effort here.”

Karzai couldn't have chosen a more critical juncture to describe Nato as “occupiers” and then to articulate his perception that the Western forces are in Afghanistan for “their own purposes”. The verbal standoff comes ahead of the scheduled pullout of US troops.

Ten years after George Bush mobilised his forces to “smoke out” an elusive Osama bin Laden, Karzai has bared his angst by voicing the sentiment of the average Afghan... not necessarily the Taliban. He has obliquely questioned the rationale of the Afghan-Pakistan strategy. In the event, he has opened an unexpected flank to the relentless ferment in a fractious land. He has struck at America and Nato at large after winning their tacit support in the aftermath of a fraudulent election.

Not that this is the first time that he has spoken against Nato's presence; but he has seldom been so trenchant, a verbal offensive rooted in the death of civilians and the night-time raids that perhaps go against the rules of engagement. Eikenberry was decidedly passionate and virulent in his retort. “When I hear some of your leaders call us occupiers, I cannot look these mourning parents, spouses and children in the eye and give them a comforting reply.”

It is increasingly obvious that equations between the US and Afghanistan are becoming dangerously strained on the eve of Barack Obama's planned troop reduction. In parallel with the weekend's developments, President Karzai's emphasis on negotiations with the Taliban has been undercut by the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates. He has advised against withdrawal of US troops, arguing that the Taliban must be militarily engaged to facilitate the political talks. The rift between the two countries is only too palpable. The prospects of what Gates calls the US's “war of choice” remains ever so grim.


This article was first published in The Statesman. Reprinted with permission.


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