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Kabul-Washington Relations: Defiance and Tensions

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Once again, President Hamid Karzai asserted on his position critical to the US, repeating the controversial comments on the handover of the Bagram prison and secret negotiations between the Taliban and the United States. During a visit to the southern Helmand Province, the President warned if the Bagram Prison was not completely transferred to the Afghan government, the Afghans would themselves consider a strategy. The President did not explain it further.

According to reports, President Karzai repeated his comments that the Taliban were in service of the America, a comment which previously outraged the US. Previously, Karzai had said there were ‘daily negotiations’ between the Taliban and the United States. In response to the comments, US commander Gen. Joseph Dunford called the statements as ‘categorically false’.

Karzai’s assertion on his previous comments indicates that he is determined to challenge the US on the Bagram prison handover and the peace process. Critics believe that such incendiary comments by the president is not in interest of Afghanistan as it damages the relations between Kabul and Washington at a critical time when both Kabul and Washington are working on a successful transitions to the Afghans. Seemingly, the recent objections by President Karzai are an arbitrary critical attitude towards the US rather than a coherent national policy.

The president could negotiate with the US and use diplomacy leverage to convince the Americans for accepting, or at least compromising, on position of Afghanistan on prison handover and the peace process. But the desperate objections expose weakness of the government of Afghanistan in negotiations with the US. During past two year or more years, Hamid Karzai portrayed the image of a firm and decisive president as he pushed the Americans to accept his preferences and decisions.

But this time it went differently. The President harshly criticized the US and said that the Bagram handover would take place in a week. It didn’t. But in another flawed move, the President repeated his claims yesterday and announced that if the US doesn’t comply, Afghanistan itself would mull a strategy.

All these recent objections and disagreements indicate troublesome developments in relations of Kabul and Washington. These troubles once again have strained relations of the two countries. The visit of US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel did not help Kabul and Washington on reaching an agreement over the prison handover and the deadline over Maidan Wardak withdrawal.

A planned press conference of President Karzai and US Defense Secretary was cancelled as US and Afghan officials went on haggling over the prison handover. Hagel’s visit was expected to make a breakthrough to the frustrating negotiations between Kabul and Washington over the prison handover and the US military role in Afghanistan. But obviously, there was no breakthrough.

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