Tales from the Trail

U.S. officials seek to shelve Karzai tensions

April 16, 2010

Tensions, what tensions?

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew arrived back from Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday, touting the performance of several ministers in Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government.

OBAMA-AFGHANISTANHis visit came at a particularly tense time in U.S.-Afghan relations after Karzai made some corrosive statements in recent weeks against his donors, blaming the West for much of the corruption in his country and drawing critical comments from the White House.

Hours after landing home, Lew went out of his way to single out several Afghan ministers, including the finance and agriculture ministers, who he said were “extraordinary leaders.”

He cited a dinner two days ago in Kabul where he was seated next to former presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani and the current finance minister.

“Sitting there between these two leaders of a country — with so much ground to catch up in so many ways — one was left with such a strong impression at the same time that there were extraordinary leaders there, who frankly were on par or above the leaders of many countries that are considered highly developed,” Lew gushed.

“That doesn’t mean there is not a lot of work to do but leadership does matter and it was very heartening,” he added.

USAID chief Rajiv Shah, who was on a joint trip with Lew, sung from the same praise book, telling reporters he had also been impressed by the caliber of leadership in Afghanistan.

“The example of that dinner gives the impression that this is a real partnership,” said Shah.

No mention of whether Karzai was at the Kabul dinner party. AFGHANISTAN/

Asked by reporters whether his kind words meant the United States was comfortable working with the Afghan government and pumping U.S. taxpayer money through its ministries, Lew said such funds would only be given to those departments ”certified” as competent.

So far, just three ministries have been certified  out of about nine the United States is looking at and Lew said there was a strong emphasis on ensuring U.S. taxpayer funds could be accounted for.

Lew and Shah’s positive tone is being echoed across the Obama administration which has gone out of its way this week to try and end a war of words with Karzai, whose performance is seen as key to the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy to turn around the eight-year war.

Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (Obama speaking to troops at Bagram Air Base),  Reuters/Pool (Karzai listens during meeting with elders in Kunduz)

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