On the eve of Hamid Karzai's visit, US President Barack Obama has instructed his senior national security team to stop berating the Afghan President and treat him with more public respect, a prominent newspaper reported on Sunday. During a White House meeting last month, Obama made clear to officials that Karzai is the chief US partner in the war effort and it will be reflected in his visit to Washington that begins on Monday, Washington Post reported.
Obama made clear in a meeting with his senior national security team that Karzai is "someone we're going to have to work with for the next 4 1/2 years." Therefore, "high expectations should be set for (Karzai), and he should be held to them," but Obama would not tolerate any more public criticism. In doing so, Obama is seeking to impose discipline on an administration that has sent mixed signals about Karzai's legitimacy and his value to the US-led counter insurgency campaign, the paper said. Karzai, now in his second term as Afghan president, had apparently threatened to join the Taliban just days after Obama concluded his first presidential trip to Kabul in late March.
Karzai was angry after receiving a copy of comments made by James Jones, Obama's national security adviser on the way to Kabul that struck him as insulting. Days later, Karzai read in a newspaper article that an unnamed US official was threatening to put Ahmed Wali Karzai, his half brother, on the military's kill-or-capture list. Karzai had been led to believe months earlier that his brother -- the leader of Kandahar's provincial council -- would remain in his post despite persistent accusations of corruption and ties to drug trafficking. Karzai erupted in anger soon after, stunning the White House. "There has been a rough patch," the paper quoted a senior administration official who participates in Afghanistan policy development, as saying.
Karzai's meeting with Obama in the Oval Office on Wednesday will be the center piece of a rare extended visit. Over the next four days, Karzai and his cabinet ministers will be publicly embraced and privately reassured by Obama of the US commitment to Afghanistan, which officials say will endure long after American forces begin leaving in July 2011. It is not certain whether Obama's message to his aides will be able to reset what has long been a complicated relationship. Some of the mixed signals in recent months appear to be a direct result of Obama's actions.
In contrast to George W. Bush, Obama established more of an arm's-length personal relationship with Karzai. He also raised questions about Karzai's viability as a partner during a White House strategy review of the Afghanistan war last year.