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Viewing cable 09KABUL1767, KARZAI ON THE STATE OF US-AFGHAN RELATIONS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09KABUL1767 2009-07-07 13:01 2010-12-02 21:09 SECRET Embassy Kabul
VZCZCXRO6511
OO RUEHDBU RUEHPW RUEHSL
DE RUEHBUL #1767/01 1881329
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 071329Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 0009
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 KABUL 001767

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/03/2019
TAGS: PGOV PREL AF
SUBJECT: KARZAI ON THE STATE OF US-AFGHAN RELATIONS 

Classified By: Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d
).

1. (S/NF) SUMMARY. In a series of meetings this week, I
discussed with President Karzai a number of issues, including
Karzai's concerns with the future of US policy on
Afghanistan, and his opinions on where US policy here had
failed. The meetings were cordial, but raised certain
concerns for me about the status of the US-Afghan
relationship, both in the lead up to the election and over
the long term, should Karzai win reelection. Karzai's
comments reinforce my belief that our relationship must be a
two-way partnership of obligations and responsibilities. We
must also convince Karzai to put his backing behind
democratic institutions and professionalized security forces
are better equipped to lead Afghanistan into the future,
rather than Karzai's preference for tribal structures and
informal power networks. This cable summarizes the content
of these four recent meetings, as well as a subsequent
conversation with Interior Minister Atmar. End Summary.

2. (S/NF) I met with Karzai on four occasions this week: on
June 30 with COMISAF Gen. McChrystal and most of Karzai's
national security team, and three times on July 1, xxxxxxxxxxxx, and
finally with CODEL Ellsworth. Karzai maintained a calm
demeanor throughout, but at several times displayed views
that troubled me with their potential implications for
US-Afghan relations. I also called on Atmar on July 2.

Kandahar Incident
----------

3. (S/NF) At the June 30 meeting with Karzai and his
national security advisors, Gen. McChrystal and I briefed
Karzai on a June 29 incident in which a USG-funded, equipped,
and mentored paramilitary force attacked a Kandahar
courthouse. The incident resulted in the deaths of several
Afghan National Police officers. Karzai had earlier received
phone calls from high-level US officials regretting the
incident, so was calm and did not display the type of emotive
anger he has shown following civilian casualty incidents. In
the later one-on-one meeting with me, I reminded Karzai that
he had selected and introduced this paramilitary unit's
recruits to the USG in 2002, a fact that he had conveniently
omitted in larger group settings.

4. (S/NF) Karzai insisted that units operating outside of
the Afghan armed forces must be brought under the legitimate
control of the Afghan government. Gen. McChrystal and I
agreed that both counterterrorism paramilitary units and
private security companies (PSCs) require more rigorous
oversight and be brought under the eventual control of the
Afghan government. PSCs required stronger regulations, yet
the government should also adopt more transparent licensing
procedures.

US Policy on Afghanistan
----------

5. (S/NF) Karzai declared in all four meetings that he
believed the US was not speaking clearly to Afghans on its
goals in Afghanistan. Karzai contended that in 2002 the US
had stated a clear purpose for being involved in Afghanistan
but had lost its purpose over the past six years. As he has
in past meetings with us, Karzai either stated his belief in
or repeated rumors questioning the US commitment to a strong
partnership with Afghanistan.

6. (S/NF) Karzai reported Pakistani intelligence officials
had alleged to Afghan officials that the US intended to
divide Pakistan and weaken Afghanistan in order to pursue its
fight against terrorist groups. At the same time, Karzai
accused Iran of trying to weaken Afghanistan by supporting
the presidential campaign of Abdullah Abdullah in order to
promote a decentralization agenda that would strip power from
the central government to give to sub-national actors over
whom Iran believed it would have more control.
Incredulously, Karzai appeared to accept so-called rumors
that the US and Iran were working together to support
Abdullah against him.

7. (S/NF) I pushed back strongly on this misinformation in
the June 30 meeting with Karzai's national security team,
reiterating to Karzai that there was no overt or covert US
program to support any presidential candidate. I then asked
Karzai if he took me at my word on this issue. Karzai,
perhaps not wanting to back down in front of his advisors,
said that he did not. Karzai said the US had actively
encouraged Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani, and Zalmay Khalilzad to
run for the presidency. At one point Karzai joked that I
should "consult my (above) buddies" on national security
issues. I repeated that the US had no favored candidates in

Kabul 00001767 002 of 003


the race and the formal setting of the meeting was not a
proper forum to make such inappropriate comments. He was
embarrassed and helpfully shifted the conversation to another
topic. I also urged Karzai to move away from conspiratorial
thinking and instead focus on bringing ideas for the future
into his campaign. Introducing a clear platform now will put
him in a better position to move forward if he wins
reelection.

US Mistakes in Afghanistan
----------

8. (S/NF) Karzai and I held a one-on-one meeting shortly
before meeting CODEL Ellsworth. Karzai agreed with my
suggestion to make a better effort to present the case for
continued and productive US engagement in his meetings with
USG visitors from Washington. However, as the CODEL meeting
began, Karzai reverted to old form and launched into a
familiar review of the many instances where he believed the
US had miscalculated its policies in the region. In summary:
The US had failed to formulate an effective post-2001 policy
on Pakistan, had pulled out of southern Afghanistan
(particularly Helmand) too soon and given too much
responsibility to ill-equipped and casualty-averse NATO
allies, had failed to effectively engage with and pay respect
to the importance of tribal leaders in Afghan society, and
had allowed tribal leader networks to be decimated by
insurgent attacks. I spoke up then, observing that I had
visited Helmand several years ago before other NATO forces
took over military operations there and witnessed signs that
governance and security were declining under then-Gov. Sher
Mohammed Akhundzada.

Atmar on Karzai's Paranoia
----------

9. (S/NF) I told Interior Minister Atmar at our July 2
meeting that with his conspiratorial behavior, Karzai would
run the risk of leaving USG interlocutors with the impression
that we have accomplished very little here and that the
Afghan government believed most of the failures lay with us.
This is not a dialogue that will lead to an effective
partnership. The US has been clear in its past shortcomings
in Afghanistan, but we have yet to see Karzai admit to the
serious shortcomings in his administration.

10. (S/NF) Atmar agreed with the importance of Karzai
presenting himself as a better international partner. He
also detailed three existing paranoias that affected Karzai's
worldview: (1) Karzai did not understand US policy in the
region and suspected ulterior motives in our relationship
with neighboring countries; (2) he suspected the US was
contemplating a short-term strategy in Afghanistan that would
result in our disengagement within the next two years; and
(3) the US was intent on dumping Karzai and supporting
another candidate. A fourth emerging paranoia was of a US
plot to divide and weaken Pashtuns on both sides of the
Afghan-Pakistani border. Despite these paranoias, Atmar
assured me that Karzai had confidence in his personal
relationship with me and recognized the need to meet more
frequently to work through his misperceptions of US policy
and intentions.

Our Relationship with Karzai
----------

11. (S/NF) In these meetings and other recent encounters
with Karzai, two contrasting portraits emerge. The first is
of a paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics
of nation building and overly self-conscious that his time in
the spotlight of glowing reviews from the international
community has passed. The other is that of an ever-shrewd
politician who sees himself as a nationalist hero who can
save the country from being divided by the
decentralization-focused agenda of Abdullah, other political
rivals, neighboring countries, and the US. In order to
recalibrate our relationship with Karzai, we must deal with
and challenge both of these personalities.

12. (S/NF) The danger of long-term damage to our
relationship with and thus our influence over Karzai ) who
for now is the clear favorite to win the election ) is real,
but not irreversible. We need to carefully ensure that the
distance between us and Karzai does not grow over the
remaining weeks before the election. Karzai has invited me
for a series of one-on-one meetings in the near future.
According to Atmar, Karzai recognizes the importance of a
closer dialogue. I will use this opportunity and others to
re-focus our dialogue on several points that can improve our
mutual understanding, including:

13. (S/NF) We need to seriously examine the issue of armed
groups that currently operate outside of the purview of

Kabul 00001767 003 of 003


official Afghan government control. The activities of
paramilitary units and PSCs, combined with civilian
casualties, night searches, and others issues related to the
presence of foreign forces, play into the manifestation of
Afghans' anger that they are not in control of their own
country. Karzai claims only to be a vessel for his peoples'
anger. All hubris aside, he is expressing a legitimate
concern of his constituents. These problems will be a
barrier to moving forward in other areas of our relationship
until we have properly addressed them.

14. (S/NF) At the same time, we must convince Karzai that
the US-Afghan relationship is a two-way street of obligations
and responsibilities. While we accept our own
responsibilities, Karzai must accept and act on our
expectation that he elucidate a clear vision for how he
intends to lead Afghanistan over the next five years in a way
that encourages democratization, promotes economic
development, and recognizes the poisonous effects corruption
has had on his government's ability to win the trust and
respect of its people. If reelected, it is my hope that a
Karzai who no longer needs to run for reelection will be
better positioned and in a healthier frame of mind to pursue
this agenda, as well as a meaningful national reconciliation.

15. (S/NF) I will work now to lay the foundation for
improved trust and advances on the two key themes outlined
above. I will work in tandem with Gen. McChrystal on both of
these fronts. On the discussion of shared responsibilities,
I will begin a frank, collaborative (and perhaps, at times,
confrontational) dialogue with Karzai. No alternative
approach is now evident. Karzai's current vision for
Afghanistan's future relies too strongly on warlords, tribal
chiefs, and other personalities of the past who would be
difficult to reconcile with our commitments to build strong
government institutions and professional security forces.
Eikenberry