Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

International Engagement

… and now: Eikenberry’s Reply

Thomas Ruttig 4 min

President Karzai’s speech of 18 June, in which he called the US – amongst other things – ‘occupiers’ that ‘have not built the roads for us but for themselves’, has obviously hit a raw nerve. Karl Eikenberry, the US Ambassador in Kabul, gave a ‘surprisingly emotional response’ (The AfPakChannel) in Herat on Sunday which might have been more calculated than Karzai’s remarks, finds AAN’s Thomas Ruttig.

Speaking before professors and students at Herat University Ambassador Eikenberry responded with a full blast. To his planned and as usual positive and forward-looking speech full of example how much good the US did to Afghanistan, he added some sentences he called ‘spoken from my heart’, before taking questions. But this reply to what the New York Times called Karzai’s ‘inflammatory criticism’, was carefully worded and avoided using President Karzai’s name:

‘I must tell you that I find occasional comments from some of your leaders hurtful and inappropriate.

When Americans, who are serving in your country at great cost – in terms of lives and treasure – hear themselves compared with occupiers, told that they are only here to advance their own interest, and likened to the brutal enemies of the Afghan people … they are filled with confusion and grow weary of our effort here. Mothers and fathers of fallen soldiers, spouses of soldiers who have lost arms and legs, children of those who lost their lives in your country – they ask themselves about the meaning of their loved one’s sacrifice. […]

At the point your leaders believe that we are doing more harm than good, when we reach a point that we feel our soldiers and civilians are being asked to sacrifice without a just cause, and our generous aid programs dismissed as totally ineffective and the source of all corruption […], the American people will ask for our forces to come home.’

Eikenberry’s remarks – immediately published word by word by the US Embassy in Kabul (while an official and complete version of Karzai’s speech is still unavailable) – clearly show that, from an US viewpoint, President Karzai’s remarks have overstepped a threshold: Being called occupiers, that poison the land with their weapons and whose aid projects are good for nothing (Karzai has apparently read the US Senate’s report) is clearly unacceptable for them. And it is a bit easier for Eikenberry to be the one who replies: He is soon leaving his job, and his relationship with Karzai was known to be tense.

The US reply fails to note that Karzai’s 18 June speech not only reflects the President’s frustration but also that of a growing number of Afghans that despite the constant Western mantra about ‘Afghan-led’ processes, most key decisions have been taken out of Afghan hands from the very beginning. At the first Bonn conference, the US introduced the hitherto not too well-known Karzai – speaking over a phone line from the region – as the candidate for the new Afghanistan’s presidency and made sure during the two Loya Jirgas of 2002 and 2003 as well as during the first presidential elections in 2004 that no serious rival would dare to run. (The fact that Karzai actually profited from this paternalising US approach makes his current criticism somewhat difficult to understand, though.) Most of what followed, only temporarily ending with the ‘transition’ decision taken at the NATO summit in Lisbon, and not in Kabul, has indeed created a feeling that Afghans are not the masters in their own house.

Also, Eikenberry seems to have spoken more to the increasingly troublesome home audience – from Senate willing to cut funds for Afghanistan to those parents who want to see their kids home rather sooner than later – than to Afghans. For them, some parts of his speech will have sounded hollow or even naive.

‘I also believe in the goodness of the Afghan people.’

No doubt. But does he also include the pillagers of KabulBank? Or the warlords that never disarmed and their sub-commander whose ‘US-funded militias’, according to the Daily Telegraph of 19 June (the full article here), ‘beat, rob and kill with impunity’?

‘At the same time, I believe in the goodness of my own people – the American people. [… W]e do not speak your language and are far from home. But – in spite of our mistakes – we are a good people whose aim is to help improve our mutual security by strengthening your government, army and police, and economy.’

A government that has not put anyone involved in the KabulBank crash on trial, that is not able to disburse large parts of the reconstruction money coming in and still demands more? An army and police that grow beyond sustainability and militias that grow beyond any control? An economy that is fueled by illicit money which allows its owners to buy up what is left of the legal Afghan economy and makes a neo-oligarchy rich while most of the Afghans still have to struggle daily to make ends meet? The biggest problems have often sprung from the best intentions, and Afghanistan seems to become a textbook example for that.

Since Eikenberry knows all that very well, his ‘words from the heart’ are calculated blame shedding and therefore cynical. For the Afghan side – that apparently tried to retract some of the damage Karzai’s words have done by putting his spokesman on the usually Karzai-critical Tolo TV last night where he repeated every 30 seconds how essential the Afghan-US relation were – it remains to be said that frustration is no policy and joining the blame game of the other side is just a reflection of bad US self-judgment.

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Hamid Karzai US

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