It was not until after the meeting of top security officials had ended, as President Hamid Karzai stood in a corridor with a handful of advisers, that his frustration with the United States boiled over.
The attempt to open peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, he fumed, was “in reality an attempt to cut him out and make an American deal with the Taliban,” according to one of the officials who saw the outburst.
The Taliban’s sudden willingness to talk in June looked like a potential coup for US diplomacy. The result has been anything but - and not just because the Taliban have done more grandstanding than negotiating since opening their Qatar office.
Karzai quickly called off Afghan participation in the talks. And now, two weeks later, persuading him to restore his delegation would most likely take more than the US would be willing to deliver, according to Afghans familiar with his thinking.
He wants a firm commitment on the number of US troops that would stay in Afghanistan past next year, and a lead role in peace efforts, the Afghans said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic matters.
Karzai also wants a mutual security pact that would compel the US to protect Afghanistan against Pakistan, and, possibly, even take direct military action against Taliban havens on Pakistani soil, they said.
All of that is rooted in one of Karzai’s core beliefs, according to those who know him: that the central challenge facing his government is not the Taliban insurgency, but rather in bringing the US around to his way of thinking.
“Assurances that America will take care of us will no longer do for the president,” said the Afghan official who witnessed the president’s outburst. To move forward, Karzai wants “certainties.”
The developments around the Qatar peace opening seemed to be ripped directly from Karzai’s personal nightmare script: that his government would be marginalized in the US endgame in Afghanistan.
He has long voiced suspicions about U.S.-orchestrated Taliban talks, and he recently has told those around him that the Qatar process could result in a separate peace deal between the US, the Taliban and the group’s backers in Pakistan, and perhaps even his political opponents within Afghanistan as well. NYT