The Economist offers us a take on what the Obama administration could mean for Karzai's bid for another presidency. They bet that it's rather bad for Karzai. This may seem counterintuitive from a certain point of view.
Karzai, from his, you know, Afghan perspective, saw the need for engaging all major regional powers in his diplomacy, to keep some healthy balance. For the Bush administration, that foreign policy orientation was never to be too much Afghanistan's own in the first place, and consequently it was out of the question that, say, good Iranian ties could be an important thing, for them. Even so there was a cordial relationship between Bush and Karzai, with the well-networked Karzai and Wardak clans in the background especially.
Now comes Obama who had criticised Karzai, citing the default "corruption is the major problem" meme, already before winning the elections in the US. Karzai himself had previously had his relationship even to the Bush administration deteriorate somewhat, with regular and harsh criticism from his part of the civilian casualties caused as collateral damage in fighting. That altogether is not very promising for a close friendship, even while Obama and Karzai have already talked on the phone and had lunch together by this stage, in the past.
Yet Obama's administration, as the Economist notes as well, is likely to be more intensively looking for a regional solution (whatever it is) to its problems in Afghanistan. So there could be a common platform there.
The Economist may not be mistaken, anyway.
"A dream team of Afghanistan-watchers, however, may be a nightmare for Mr Karzai, who enjoys a hearty, backslapping friendship with the loyal Mr Bush. Mr Obama has been sharply critical of him for not having “gotten out of the bunker” to organise the country in a way that would build confidence. Mr Biden, meanwhile, was so angered by Mr Karzai at their last meeting that he stalked out. Mr Holbrooke has also criticised Mr Karzai. Last year, he challenged him for not arresting a warlord, Rashid Dostum, accused of assaulting a rival with a beer-bottle. He asked how the president could “let the thugs back you down over a murderous warlord”. Mr Holbrooke claims Mr Karzai, facing re-election next September, responded with a shrug. He may be rueing that now."
If it is true that Holbrooke said that, it is just silly. Anyway, Rashid Dostum by now is actually back to exile in Turkey. Not a previously unknown experience for him. Apparently he didn't travel there with Karzai's entourage -- Karzai is there in Turkey to meet Pakistani President Zardari -- but alone, earlier. Dostum alone, as an issue, may not weigh so much, however.
The troubling issues for Karzai could be the following ones:
- Personal relations with any US administration will always matter a lot. If those will be bad with the Obama team, that's bad for Karzai.
- US heavyweights made responsible for a regional solution will mean a dozen Paddy Ashdowns for Karzai.
- For the West, and for donors in general, corruption in Afghanistan will always be an issue that's comfortable to point to when explaining why everything is not all fine there. (The assumption being something along the lines of "if only Country X had AB instead of CD as its leader, surely there wouldn't be so much corruption, regardless of general standard of living, the institutional design of a polity and other minor issues".)