Pleasantries But No Change as Bush Greets Karzai
lavishing praise on his guest Monday, President George W. Bush indicated
that Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai will receive neither greater
control over U.S. troops in his country nor substantially more aid
to persuade poppy farmers to drop out of the narcotics business.
got great faith in this man as a leader," Bush told reporters
at a brief White House press conference after their morning meeting
to Karzai's appeals for a greater say the operations and conduct
of the 20,000-odd U.S. troops in Afghanistan, however, Bush added:
"Of course our troops will respond to U.S. commanders, but
our U.S. commanders and our diplomatic mission there is in a consultative
relationship with the government."
leaders, in a three-page joint declaration, stated that U.S. forces
operating in Afghanistan "will continue to have access to Bagram
Air Base and its facilities, and facilities at other locations as
may be mutually determined."
and Coalition forces are to continue to have freedom of action required
to conduct appropriate military operations based on consultations
and pre-agreed procedures," the document added.
doesn't look like [Karzai] will take much home with him," said
Afghanistan specialist Barnett Rubin of New York University (NYU)
after the summit. Rubin suggested that the trip could weaken Karzai's
political position, particularly in the Pashtun strongholds of Kandahar
visit was the first of several by key Muslim political leaders due
here this week, including Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono
and Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
came amid rising tensions in Afghanistan three months before twice-delayed
who hopes that the elections will reinforce his authority over the
country, has been badly embarrassed by a New York Times investigative
report published over the weekend that detailed the torture-killing
by U.S. military personnel of two Afghan detainees at Bagram Air
base in December, 2002, as well as other recent reports about the
abuse of Afghans both in their country and at the detention facility
at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
this month, a Newsweek story about an alleged incident in which
a Koran was flushed down the toilet by U.S. guards at Guantanamo
reportedly triggered demonstrations and rioting in Afghanistan in
which at least 17 people were reported killed.
to Karzai's embarrassment was the leak of a State Department cable
just two days before his arrival here that partly blamed the Afghan
president's "unwillingness to assert strong leadership"
for the failure of a U.S.-financed drug eradication program to make
heroin production was down slightly over the past year, the State
Department warned in a March report that Afghanistan was "on
the verge of becoming a narcotics state."
on the defensive both at home and in Washington, Karzai's stance
here has been mixed.
Monday's meeting, he strongly condemned the two 2002 killings and
demanded "very, very strong action" in punishing the perpetrators.
He also called for greater Afghan control over U.S. operations and
the transfer of all Afghans held by the U.S., including those at
Guantanamo, to the Afghan authorities.
U.S. control made sense during and immediately after the ouster
of the Taliban government in late 2001, he told a television interviewer
Sunday, "now we are in a different phase of this struggle.
The Afghan people now feel that they own the country, Afghanistan."
particular, he said, U.S. forces should not be able to enter people's
homes "without the permission of the Afghan government"
a particularly sensitive issue in light of the protests that
have been provoked by U.S. raids of suspected Taliban supporters
in predominantly Pashtun areas.
the same time, he emphasized that his government remained committed
to eliminating the poppy crop over five to six years and that it
was making strong progress toward that end.
we have done our job; the Afghan people have done their job,"
he told CNN's Late Edition. "Now the international community
must come and provide alternative livelihood to the Afghan people,
which they have not done so far."
both issues, however, Bush was not particularly encouraging.
agreeing that Washington must "consult" with the Afghans
on its military operations, Bush gave up nothing on the question
of control. "They've invited us in," he said, "and
we'll consult with them in terms of how to achieve mutual goals,
and that is to rout out the remnants of al-Qaeda, to deal with those
folks who would come and like to create harm to U.S. citizens and/or
also said Washington hoped to return all prisoners held in Guantanamo
to their "host countries" but that "part of the issue
is to make sure there is a place where the prisoners can be held."
the drug issue, he praised Karzai's efforts but failed to offer
additional assistance. While agreeing that crop diversification
should be an important part of U.S. drug strategy, citing the promise
of specialty crops, like pomegranates and honeydew melons, he did
not suggest that it would be given a higher priority than eradication,
a tactic many Afghan officials believe will foment far more hostility
toward his government, particularly in Pashtun areas.
his part, Karzai played the perfect guest both by effusively praising
the president and the United States for their role in Afghanistan
and avoiding comment on his own appeals for greater control over
U.S. Military operations or even on the U.S. Military abuses, other
than to insist that reports of such abuse did "not reflect
at all on American people."
result, while sure to remain in the Bush administration's good graces,
was unlikely to boost Karzai on the home front, according to Rubin.
Karzai is now an elected president of Afghanistan, a sovereign state,"
he said. "He is facing parliamentary elections in the fall,
and therefore must be much more responsive to his constituencies
who are very concerned about the treatment of Afghans by coalition
forces, as indicated by the riots, and some of whom are concerned
that the U.S. is pressing the government to destroy their livelihoods
without providing meaningful assistance in the form of alternative
is not an elected official in the world who would destroy the livelihood,
or even reduce the incomes, of his key constituents without having
something to offer in return," he added. "Poor farmers
in Afghanistan are looking for aid on the ground, not a press conference
about pomegranates and honeydew melons."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service