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Afghan ambassador blames Obama administration for rough start, suggests runoff possible

The relationship between the United States and Afghanistan deteriorated during the first months of the Obama administration, due to a fumbled transition and the Obama team’s initially cold approach to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a top aide of his said Thursday. Kabul’s ambassador to the United States, Said Tayeb Jawad, made the remarks today at ...

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579126_091015_jawad2.jpg

The relationship between the United States and Afghanistan deteriorated during the first months of the Obama administration, due to a fumbled transition and the Obama team's initially cold approach to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a top aide of his said Thursday.

Kabul's ambassador to the United States, Said Tayeb Jawad, made the remarks today at the United States Institute of Peace, saying that the new Washington leadership placed too much emphasis on meetings and not enough focus on substantive challenges. He also suggested that Karzai, who stands accused of presiding over widespread fraud during the Aug. 20 election, might now be open to a second round of balloting.

"When the new administration came in there were a lot of changes," Jawad said, "and sometimes there was an oversimplification of the issues. It was like ‘Let's just get President Karzai and we'll invite the Afghans and Pakistanis over for tea and we'll resolve all the issues.'"

The relationship between the United States and Afghanistan deteriorated during the first months of the Obama administration, due to a fumbled transition and the Obama team’s initially cold approach to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a top aide of his said Thursday.

Kabul’s ambassador to the United States, Said Tayeb Jawad, made the remarks today at the United States Institute of Peace, saying that the new Washington leadership placed too much emphasis on meetings and not enough focus on substantive challenges. He also suggested that Karzai, who stands accused of presiding over widespread fraud during the Aug. 20 election, might now be open to a second round of balloting.

“When the new administration came in there were a lot of changes,” Jawad said, “and sometimes there was an oversimplification of the issues. It was like ‘Let’s just get President Karzai and we’ll invite the Afghans and Pakistanis over for tea and we’ll resolve all the issues.'”

The administration held trilateral meetings with Afghan and Pakistani leaders in February and then again in May, both in Washington.

The Afghan government interpreted the message as, “We’ll just have a trilateral, from 2 to 4 [p.m.], and then everything will be OK,” Jawad explained.

He also alluded to a U.S. effort to marginalize Karzai, but pointed out that recently the Obama administration has done much better at working with the Afghan government and recognizing that “you could not just get rid of a democratically elected president of a country because you really don’t like him.”

“That’s not how it works,” he added.

Jawad acknowledged that a runoff election for the Afghan presidency might be in the offing after the final election results are tallied by the end of this week. But he portrayed such an outcome as not necessarily constructive.

“If there is a demand or a legal requirement for a runoff, then so be it, then let’s everyone work to make this happen within 2 to 4 weeks,” he said. “It’s not easy to accomplish, but any other arrangement would put the country in limbo for a much longer time.”

Too much outside interference delegitimizes the election process, he argued, and took a swipe at recently ousted U.N. official Peter Galbraith, who says he was fired for speaking out about the fraud he witnessed while in Kabul.

“There were 7,000 international participants and observers, but then all of a sudden one guy, Peter Galbraith, is taking the crusade on himself,” Jawad said, warning that Galbraith’s outspokenness would cause “a reaction by the Afghans.”

Some in Washington and the international community have proposed that Karzai share power with his chief electoral rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah. But Jawad also threw cold water on that idea, arguing that a coalition government would only promote an internal stalemate and ensure the rise of purely political appointees.

“It might be a good political solution,” said Jawad, adding, “If you have a coalition government, then of course both sides will appoint those who are most loyal to them, so you are really sacrificing merits.”

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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