The US strategy in Afghanistan is built around the belief that all good counterinsurgency is local. In recent months, American officials have focused their plans on pushing power and money down to district, tribal and village leaders.
But those plans have not sat well with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has argued that any weakening in his position could fracture the central government and undermine his ability to woo Taliban fighters away from the insurgency.
Karzai, who is set to meet with President Barack Obama, plans to stress that the US search for local governance solutions cannot come at Kabul’s expense, sources close to his delegation said. The challenge for US officials will be to convince Karzai that ceding power and control to local leaders will in the long run strengthen his hold on office.
Karzai presides over a fragile coalition made up of various ethnic groups and divisions within those groups. He is a Pashtun, as are most members of the Taliban, but he leads a government in which many of the most powerful players are from the Tajik-led Northern Alliance, the group that overthrew the Taliban with US assistance in 2001.
Since Obama’s pledge to begin withdrawing US troops in mid-2011, some factional leaders inside the national and local governments and the insurgents themselves have begun maneuvering for a post-US future. The maneuvering has only intensified Karzai’s fears of American abandonment.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sought to allay such concerns on Tuesday at a day-long State Department conference attended by Karzai and more than a dozen of his leading cabinet ministers, saying: “We will not abandon the Afghan people.”
Karzai responded that any US-Afghan tensions are “the sign of a matured relationship” between partners who “have joined hands to bring security to Afghanistan and by extension to the United States and the rest of the world.”
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