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All eyes on Afghanistan leader Karzai’s trip to Washington

10 maggio 2010

Source: Los Angeles Times Laura King Sunday, May 9, 2010
KABUL – Rarely does a state visit so closely resemble a very public session of marriage counseling.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s four-day trip to Washington, which starts Monday, offers a much-needed chance to mend his strained relationship with the Obama administration at a pivotal moment in his country’s wrenching conflict.

With so much at stake in preserving the partnership, the two leaders probably will strive to present a united front in the face of a determined Taliban insurgency and growing restiveness among America’s European allies in the nearly 9-year-old war.

“A lot of eyes are on this trip, especially after all the recent problems,” said Fawzia Kofi, an Afghan lawmaker, referring to a string of anti-Western statements by Karzai last month.

The new emphasis, several officials say, lies in forging more pragmatic government-to-government links. That shift was underscored by the fact that nearly all of Karzai’s key ministers, at U.S. urging, are accompanying him to Washington.

“America wants to draw some lines for Karzai,” said Najiba Ayubi, managing director of the Killid Group, an Afghan media organization. “He’ll be told, ‘Here are your responsibilities, and here are ours.’ ”

Karzai is likely to be pressed hard in private for a commitment to rein in corruption in his government and for assurances that parliamentary elections scheduled for September will be reasonably fair, a concern in light of the massive fraud that marred the presidential vote last August.

Although Karzai can point to little tangible progress on corruption six months into his second term, the somewhat hectoring tone taken by top White House aides in March as Obama arrived for a brief visit to Kabul is likely to be muted in Washington in anything other than a closed-door setting.

Even among Karzai’s critics at home, and they are legion, there is little appetite for seeing him publicly dressed down in such a high-profile setting.

“For Afghans, it’s important not to see your president humiliated,” political scientist Haroon Mir said.

The visit comes as Western forces are preparing to try to oust the Taliban from Kandahar province and restore control to the central government.

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