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International
Last Updated: May 21, 2010
US Rolls Up Red Carpet for Karzai’s Political Rival
By Helene Cooper and Mark Landler

The Obama administration, after pulling out all the stops last week to show some love and affection to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, is giving the cold shoulder to Mr. Karzai’s vanquished political rival, Abdullah Abdullah.

Mr. Abdullah, the former foreign minister and presidential candidate, landed in Washington last weekend, just after Mr. Karzai ended a weeklong visit that included an all-day session at the White House, lunch with President Obama, a side-by-side news conference with him in the White House East Room, dinner at the vice president’s mansion, an elegant State Department reception, a walk through Arlington National Cemetery escorted by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and a private walk in Georgetown with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And for Mr. Abdullah?

“I tried all of them, the White House, the National Security Council, the State Department, the Pentagon,” Mr. Abdullah said during an interview on Thursday. “I haven’t gotten a meeting yet.”

Later Thursday, administration officials signaled that Mr. Abdullah might get a meeting after all.

Two administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the diplomatic effort, said they were wary of granting Mr. Abdullah, an outspoken opponent of the Karzai government, an audience with top policy makers in Washington and risking angering Mr. Karzai after investing so much time and effort in soothing him.
For one thing, a senior administration official said, because the two visits were so close together, the administration ran the risk of appearing to be still actively looking for alternatives to Mr. Karzai or of doubting that he would make good on promises to crack down on corruption and drug trafficking in Afghanistan.

“There is no point in rolling out the red carpet for a guy who is wanting recognition for being himself,” said a senior European diplomat who is involved in Afghanistan. “The world doesn’t work that way. Karzai is the elected leader of Afghanistan.”

Just seven months ago, Mr. Abdullah was front and center in the West’s efforts in Afghanistan, with American, European, NATO and United Nations officials all pressing Mr. Karzai and Mr. Abdullah to avoid further inflaming tensions after a disputed election initially left unresolved the question of who would be the next Afghan president.

Ultimately, Mr. Abdullah dropped out of the race, but not before he accused the Karzai government of profound corruption and electoral fraud, a complaint he has continued to voice.

Mr. Abdullah’s repetition of those charges — with which several administration officials privately agree — has begun to annoy American officials, who are now rallying around a new strategy of making nice with Mr. Karzai after getting few results from a year and a half of publicly putting pressure on him.

In the interview on Thursday, Mr. Abdullah expressed skepticism about whether the administration’s new strategy would yield the results it wanted. He sounded themes similar to the ones he struck during appearances this week at Washington policy institutes, where he repeatedly expressed doubts about Mr. Karzai’s plans to reconcile with members of the Taliban, saying the proposal would risk the future of 30 million Afghans for 30,000 insurgents.

“I really don’t think Mr. Karzai knows what he’s up against,” Mr. Abdullah said.

Mr. Abdullah said that “the same sense of urgency that you look at the situation in Afghanistan, our government is not looking at it that way.”

He said the main message he wanted to get across to the Obama administration officials who refused to see him was that along with the military buildup in Afghanistan, the West needed to “rescue the political process,” which he described as deeply flawed.

He dismissed the friendly tone surrounding Mr. Karzai’s visit last week. “They did everything in order to paint it well,” Mr. Abdullah said. “But have they seriously engaged in the real issues?”

The Afghan politician had a similar message when he spoke at the Brookings Institution. “His message was pretty forthright: If we stick with the status quo, we’re going to fail,” said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, who a year ago was a co-author of Mr. Obama’s first review of strategy in the region.

Mr. Riedel said that several administration officials had initially expressed interest in coming to hear Mr. Abdullah at Brookings, but that in the end “the only guy we got from the U.S. government was from the Department of Homeland Security.”

Peter W. Galbraith, the former United Nations deputy special representative to Afghanistan, who tangled with Mr. Karzai before and after he was dismissed from the job, criticized the Obama administration for slighting Mr. Abdullah.
“The United States sees opposition leaders all the time,” Mr. Galbraith said. “This is what you do in a democracy.”

Courtesy: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/21/world/asia/21abdullah.html?hpw=&pagewanted=print)

 


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