US, Afghanistan to weather diplomatic storm


The Obama administration’s ties with Afghan President Hamid Karzai remain solid despite an unusual public rebuke from the US envoy to Kabul this weekend, Karzai’s ambassador to Washington said on Monday.
Ambassador Eklil Hakimi sought to downplay the significance of remarks over the weekend by US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who complained in surprisingly blunt terms about “hurtful and inappropriate” comments from Afghanistan’s political leaders — a clear reference to Karzai.
“There are many positive things in the bigger picture” that underpin bilateral ties, Hakimi said in an interview with Reuters.
“But there are minor things that happen too. We have an old saying: a true friend is someone who can tell you the things that make you cry.”
Yet such candor — friendly or otherwise — comes at a sensitive moment as NATO-led forces prepare to begin handing off to local troops and as Afghanistan and the United States negotiate a deal outlining their long-term relationship. A day before Eikenberry spoke, media reported comments from Karzai, which a spokesman said were misunderstood, appearing to confirm for the first time direct US contacts with the Taliban, a tightly held initiative to strike a peace deal that may have caught President Barack Obama’s administration off guard.
While a surge of 30,000 extra US troops last year helped push the Taliban out of some areas of the Afghan south, violence has intensified and the insurgency has taken on a new ferocity along the western border with Pakistan. The Obama administration is struggling to prove to a skeptical Congress that costly efforts to improve governance, fight drugs, and foster prosperity for Afghans are paying off.