Obama pats Karzai's back
United States President Barack Obama on Wednesday endorsed all the praise showered on Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai a day earlier by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
At a news conference in the White House East Room following their Oval Office summit, President Obama recalled that "President Karzai committed to making good governance a top priority. And I want to acknowledge the progress that has been made, including anti-corruption efforts, improving governance at provincial and district levels, and progress towards credible parliamentary elections later this year."
"Of course, President Karzai and I both acknowledge that much more work needs to be done," he said. But he welcomed "President Karzai's commitment to take additional steps that can improve the lives of the Afghan people in a concrete way, especially with regard to the rule of law, agricultural production, economic growth, and the delivery of basic services."
Obama said he had assured Karzai of "America's continued support for these efforts, and I've asked Secretary Clinton to lead an American delegation to this summer's Kabul Conference, where the Afghan government will be presenting concrete plans to implement the President's commitments."
The US President also said that with regard to Afghan-led peace and reconciliation efforts mooted by Karzai, "I appreciated the President sharing his plans for the upcoming consultative peace jirga (meeting of tribal leaders)-- an important milestone that America supports."
Obama also said that the US supports Karzai's intention "to open the door to Taliban who cut their ties to the Al Qaeda, abandon violence, and accept the Afghan constitution, including respect for human rights."
Since his arrival on Monday, the Obama administration has rolled out the red carpet for Karzai and his entourage, barely weeks after senior officials considered withdrawing the invitation extended to the Afghan President.
Text: Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
Image: US President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a news conference in the East Room at the White House
Photographs: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Tensions, frictions overstated: Obama
Obama had issued strict orders to his aides to be exceptionally nice to Karzai and treat him with utmost respect.
In March, President Obama had made a surprise visit to Kabul and read out the riot act to Karzai. While inviting the Afghanistan president to Washington, Obama had also rebuked him for his failure to end the massive corruption in the Afghanistan government.
An angry and humiliated Karzai had hit back by alleging that the 'massive fraud' in the national elections had been engineered by the US to oust him. He had also threatened to invite the Taliban to the political mainstream.
Taken aback by Karzai's stance, the US administration had warned that if he kept talking in this vein, he would no longer be welcome in Washington. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the invitation would depend on "whatever continued or further remarks President Karzai makes."
But Gates and Clinton stepped in to pacify one of America's most crucial allies in the war on terror. The US administration tried to placate Karzai by saying that not only was he welcome in Washington, he was also indispensable to any solution to the Afghan imbroglio.
At the press meet, both leaders were asked about the frictions that were palpable a month ago and how the bilateral relationship had come off the tracks.
When queried if the concerns raised at the time were discussed, Obama said, "With respect to perceived tensions between the US government and the Afghan government, let me begin by saying a lot of them were simply overstated."
He recalled, "When I came into office, I made it absolutely clear that I intended to resource an effective strategy in Afghanistan and work with the Afghan government so that we have a strong, stable, prosperous Afghanistan. And I've used whatever political capital I have to make the case to the American people that this is in our national security interest -- that it's absolutely critical that we succeed on this mission."
"President Karzai agrees that we have to deal with the extremists that are disrupting life in Afghanistan, and our strategic approach has been entirely consistent," he added.
Obama said, "We've had very frank discussions, and President Karzai agrees with me that we can't win through a military strategy alone; that we're going to have to make sure that we have effective governance, capacity-building, economic development in order for us to succeed."
Image: Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen
Photographs: Jim Young/Reuters
'There are days that we are not happy'
Thus, he declared, "I am very comfortable with the strong efforts that President Karzai has made thus far, we both agree that we're going to have to make more efforts in the future. And there are going to be setbacks; there are going to be times when our governments disagree on a particular tactic."
Obama reiterated, "What I'm confident about is that we share a broad strategy, one that I hope we can memorialise in a declaration by the end of this year."
Obviously buoyed by Obama's vote of confidence, Karzai asserted, "The relationship between Afghanistan and the United States is now into its 10th year, in the form that it has since September 11, 2001. It's not an imaginary relationship; it's a real relationship. It's based on some very hard and difficult realities. We are in a campaign against terrorism together."
He acknowledged, "There are days that we are happy; there are days that we are not happy. It's a mutual relationship towards a common objective."
Karzai continued that "definitely days have come in which we have had a difference of opinion, and indefinitely days in the future will come in which we will have a difference of opinion. But the relationship between the two governments and the two nations is strong and well-rooted, and has endured the past 10 years of extreme activity on both sides."
"So, I believe what you saw in the past few months is reflective of a deep and strong relationship," he said and argued that "in that sort of relationship, as President Obama rightly described, there are moments that we speak frankly to each other and that frankness will only add to the strength of the relationship and contribute to the successes that we have."
Karzai added, "The bottom line is that we are much more strongly related to each other today than we ever were before in this relationship. And that is a good message that I will take back to the Afghan people."
Image: US President Barack Obama with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai
Photographs: Jim Young/Reuters