Cablegate: Boucher and Karzai, Spanta On Jirgas, Drugs, Econ

DE RUEHBUL #2998/01 2511423
O 081423Z SEP 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 06 KABUL 002998




EO 12958 DECL: 07/10/2017
Classified By: Charge Christopher Dell for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D)
1. (C) SUMMARY: Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher’s August 27 meetings with President Karzai, Foreign Minister Spanta, Lower House Speaker Qanooni and National Security Advisor Rassoul spanned a range of key topics. Boucher, Karzai and Rassoul agreed to focus on themes of economic cooperation, intelligence- sharing, refugees, controlling illicit border traffic, and engaging the tribes during the upcoming trilateral meeting between Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte, Rassoul, and Pakistani National Security Advisor Aziz. Karzai’s vision of a UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan largely mirrors U.S. thoughts on the issue. Discussion of counternarcotics and governance led Karzai to make a pitch for the international community to give the Afghan government room to do governance “the Afghan way.” Boucher pressed Spanta and Qanooni to ensure that Iran’s role in Afghanistan is limited to a constructive one. End Summary.


2. (C) Karzai seemed pleased when Boucher shared that the recent Afghanistan-Pakistan jirga had been portrayed favorably in the U.S. media. Karzai commented that six months would be an ideal time frame after which to host the next jirga in Pakistan. Both agreed that the Afghan jirga was an important confidence-building measure, but Boucher expressed his hope that the next jirga in Pakistan might produce more concrete agreements. He raised the upcoming visit of Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte as an opportunity to capitalize on the momentum of the jirga and ensure continued progress towards the next one. Boucher raised the idea of having the Afghan and Pakistani National Security Advisors meet together with Negroponte during his visit to Jalalabad near the Afghan-Pakistani border and proposed that the three work together to identify specific issues where the greatest cooperation is needed (such as economic cooperation, intelligence-sharing and controlling illicit border traffic). Boucher also pushed for a discussion of how to engage the tribes along the border, whose buy-in is essential to the staying power of any future jirga agreements. Karzai, Spanta and Rassoul were each on board with this.

3. (C) Karzai shared that there was a recent gathering of Pakistani tribal chiefs in Peshawar during which the chiefs expressed a desire for the same rights and freedoms as ordinary Pakistani citizens. However, Karzai noted that these same tribes had recently refused to celebrate Pakistani Independence Day. Karzai said the Pakistani government needed to pull tribal leaders into a system of formal representation, while Boucher noted that Pakistani Interior Minister Sherpao did not think a political party system within the Tribal Areas would be feasible in the near term.

4. (C) In a separate discussion with Boucher, National Security Advisor Rassoul said Karzai had initiated the process of finalizing the list of participants in the commission that will implement the agreements from the first jirga. Boucher seconded Sherpao’s desire to see a commission comprised of those “who can get things done.” In an encouraging sign, Rassoul acknowledged that Sherpao had been a very helpful partner in the lead-up to, execution of and follow-up to the first jirga. Rassoul stated that the first task would be to work on the continuation of dialogue with the “opposition,” including Taliban. Boucher pushed specifically for the jirga commission to identify who the opposition is and relayed Sherpao’s interest in bringing those “who are not part
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of the Taliban but sympathetic to them into the jirga process.” Both agreed that Afghanistan’s official reconciliation process (commonly referred to as “PTS”) is not appropriate for high-level leaders and large groups, so the jirga commission could play a role in defining a more appropriate process for people in this category.

5. (C) Boucher shared his opinion that Pakistan is “making a real effort now by going after the hardest targets, including Pakistani and Arab insurgents,” which has already yielded results. Rassoul noted that his government is considering using the Provincial Communications Center model (currently used to coordinate information among the Afghan National Security Forces at the provincial level) to set up a nexus for intelligence-sharing between the Afghan and Pakistani governments. Pakistan is concerned about Baluch rebels who are operating in and supported from Afghanistan, and Boucher stressed the importance of the Afghan government doing all it can to crack down on this.

6. (C) During the meeting with Spanta, the Foreign Minister indicated that while he had been skeptical about the jirga himself, he had considered it a major success in the end. He said that the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs was sending five newly appointed diplomats to Pakistan for training -- a significant goodwill gesture following the jirga, as Afghanistan has refused educational assistance from Pakistan in the past. Spanta said Musharraf’s appearance at the end of the jirga was a real high point. Boucher emphasized that it was Karzai’s urging that changed Musharraf’s mind. Boucher clarified that Musharraf’s initial decision not to attend was not a snub to the jirga itself but a cautionary move by Musharraf, who feared the Pakistani Supreme Court would rule to allow former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan. Spanta conceded that, “We know Sharif is bad news. He is the author of Islamic radicalism in our region.” Boucher agreed that Sharif could return to lead a movement that is pro-Islam, anti-Musharraf and anti- U.S.


7. (C) When Boucher asked Karzai his thoughts on the best role for a UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan, Karzai stated, “If it would be a UN Envoy that would bring better coordination among the international community at capitals and also cause better coordination in Afghanistan, and within the Alliance on Afghanistan, then good. But if it is someone who would set up a parallel government of internationals, then no.” At one point Karzai stated, “I do not want a stronger UN,” then clarified that “I want the UN to be a stronger coordinator of the international community, yes, but not a parallel government in Afghanistan.” (Note: The British have indicated their vision of a Special Envoy who would be based in and work primarily in Afghanistan, whereas the U.S. and Afghan sides envision an envoy who would spend a great deal of time fund-raising and coordinating donor strategies in donor country capitals. End note.)

8. (C) During his meeting with Rassoul, Boucher commented that the French government had been considering running a Provincial Reconstruction Team and that the French Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs plan to visit Afghanistan soon. Boucher, Rassoul, and the Ambassador discussed future prospects for other donor country involvement in Afghanistan, noting that the Canadians were “iffy” and that the Dutch may leave after 2009. The British, French, Australians and U.S. will likely stay
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for longer periods. Rassoul asserted the importance of “Afghanizing” the war in Kandahar both in order to reduce Canadian casualties, which might encourage the Canadians to stay longer, and to prepare the Afghan National Army and police for Canada’s likely withdrawal. Boucher noted that after a withdrawal of maneuver troops, the Canadians may still be willing to run a Provincial Reconstruction Team focused on development, as well as the training and equipping of Afghan National Security Forces. Boucher noted that as 2009 is an election year, it would be good to encourage donor countries to stay throughout 2009- 2010. He also expressed hope that efforts to engage Pakistan now would increase security significantly in the next year or two, perhaps encouraging other countries to stay present in Afghanistan.


9. (C) Boucher noted that the UN Office of Drugs and Crime had released its latest assessment of drug production in Afghanistan. He highlighted the report’s findings that while the number of poppy-free provinces had increased from six to thirteen, overall production in Afghanistan had increased by 34 per cent, particularly in Helmand. Karzai reiterated his position against an aerial eradication campaign. When Boucher asked Karzai for his thinking on ground-based spray, Karzai replied, “We have not said no, but we’re not saying yes either. We would have to inform the population and do it in a way that does not create enmity.” The Ambassador noted the difficulties in relying on manual eradication and pointed out that 16 of the 135 eradicators had been killed last year. Boucher assured Karzai that the aerial spray decision was one for another year. “Another few years,” Karzai interjected. Boucher planted the idea of eventually doing aerial spray in Taliban controlled areas and manual eradication in those parts still loyal to the central government. Karzai gave no immediate reaction.


10. (C) The discussion on increased drug cultivation in Helmand sparked Karzai’s thoughts on establishing and maintaining central government authority in the provinces. According to Karzai, “The question is why do we have Taliban controlling these areas now when two years ago I had control of Helmand? When Sher Mohammad was governor there, we had girls in schools and only 160 foreign troops. The international community pushed me to remove him and now look where we are.” Referring to Sher Mohammad, Karzai retorted, “My question for you is, do you want a bad guy on your side or working for the Taliban? Where Afghans are in charge, drugs are less but where the international community is in charge, drugs are up.” The Ambassador countered that the scenario is more accurately read as the international community has invested its resources and manpower in the tougher provinces where, not coincidentally, the Taliban have stepped up their counterinsurgency and drug cultivation efforts to discredit both the Afghan government and international community. Karzai conceded but added that the Afghan people do not see it that way from the ground.

11. (C) Pressing the issue more firmly, Boucher asked Karzai whether it is possible to have the Afghan government in control using good guys, rather than the likes of Sher Mohammad as its agents. “Yes, but that is a gradual process,” said Karzai. Maintaining that
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“the most important thing is bringing the tribes to our side,” he explained that the problem with the international community’s approach to date is that “You are trying to pick and choose tribal chiefs (who will expand the presence of the central government into rural areas), but that is not how the tribal system works. A tribal chiefdom is jealously guarded. It cannot be taken by force and it cannot be imposed from the outside. When we distort tribal structures, the vacuum is filled by the Taliban, and that is exactly what has happened in Helmand and Uruzgan.” He noted that Kandahar is an exception because of his outreach to all the tribal chiefs there. According to Karzai, “the people in Helmand and Uruzgan are uneducated, so you have to fight the Taliban with local ingredients,” unlike in more developed Kandahar. He added, “We cannot bring tribal chiefs on board with governors because we say to them that we want you to support the governor, but we single out particular chiefs and say we don’t want them involved in the process. Whether we like it or not, we have to work with these people.” Karzai and Rassoul both indicated that Karzai is currently focused on an outreach campaign to win backing from tribal leaders in Helmand.

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12. (C) Boucher informed Karzai that he would meet with Lower House Speaker Qanooni later that day. Boucher told Karzai that his message to Qanooni would be: “Political opposition is okay, but it has to be constructive.” Karzai’s advice was to remind Qanooni that he would not hold his position without U.S. backing. As the conversation turned to political parties, Karzai commented, “I will not be a political party man, but I will support parties,” presumably referring to his rumored alliance with the newly formed Republican Party.

13. (C) During the meeting with Qanooni, Boucher emphasized that Iran and Russia should not be given inroads for influence in a way that would disrupt the system. Boucher clarified that while Iran’s investment in cultural and educational institutions was acceptable, its role in smuggling weapons into Afghanistan was not. Qanooni responded by assuring Boucher and the Ambassador that Afghanistan continues to see the U.S. as its “long-term partner.” Stressing that “We are not asking Afghans to choose sides,” Boucher expressed U.S. understanding for Afghanistan’s need to cultivate cooperative economic, business, cultural, and “normal” political relationships with Iran but reiterated that the line should be drawn at any activities that are disruptive to the establishment of a strong central government in Afghanistan. Qanooni indicated that, aside from Iran and Russia, people allied with the Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin party continue to seek more positions of influence within the Afghan government administration.

14. (C) Pointing out that, “The security problems in southern Afghanistan are spreading to the north,” Qanooni added that, “While others think the security situation will remain in control, I and other members of Parliament have some concerns.” He pointed to recent Taliban activity in Kapisa, Nuristan, and Baghlan as evidence of this. “Only Panjshir is protected,” he stated. When Boucher asked how Taliban are able to operate in the north, where Pashtuns are a minority, Qanooni insisted that the Taliban have located and begun to infiltrate the predominantly Pashtun districts which are scattered around the north.

15. (C) Qanooni mentioned the formation of a special committee from the Lower House that will be
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investigating why decisions made by Parliament are not implemented by the executive branch. (Note: He was referring primarily to the decision of Parliament to impeach Foreign Minister Spanta and Minister of Refugees Akbar. Karzai mentioned that the Palace has also established a committee of six ministers to settle the issue with Parliament. End note.)

16. (C) The topic of Iran also surfaced during Boucher’s meeting with Spanta, who acknowledged, “We agree with the U.S. and U.K. that Iran is engaged in a lot of interference, but our interest in dealing with Iran is to be careful not to open a second front along the Iranian border with Afghanistan.” Spanta noted the Afghan government’s recent decision to reject a Memorandum of Understanding on military cooperation proposed by Iran. Spanta also shared that Karzai had raised the issue of Iran’s involvement in smuggling weapons into Afghanistan with Iranian President Ahmedinejad, who Spanta said, “denied it, of course, but the point was made.” Spanta noted that Iran was primarily invested in supporting political parties, mobilizing Shia mullahs, influencing the Afghan media, and providing material support to the Taliban. He added that Iran is funding the completion of a railway that will go from Iran into Afghanistan and end outside Herat City. Spanta expressed his uncertainty about the complicity of the Iranian Foreign Minister in providing material support to the Taliban, stating that “He promised me he is not involved, but said that he is involved in supporting political parties in Afghanistan.”

17. (C) Spanta commented that his biggest problem is that Iran continues to send back Afghan refugees - both those who are registered and those who are not - and added that Iran does not coordinate with the Afghan government on the forced returns.


18. (C) Spanta explained that Afghanistan continues to work with Pakistan on transit trade and updating their formal treaty from the 1960’s. They would also like to address this in the framework of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Afghan Commerce Minister Farhang will travel to Pakistan shortly in hopes of making some progress. Spanta moved next to a request for U.S. financial assistance for the upcoming conference of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), October 16-20, 2007 in Herat, which is focused on regional economic cooperation between Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan. Boucher promised to pass on the request but cautioned Spanta that the prospects were not good given how soon the conference would take place and the lack of U.S. membership in the organization.

19. (C) Boucher stressed to Karzai and Spanta the need to follow-up on the success of the Tajik- Afghanistan bridge opening with a trucking and transit agreement that allows Afghan and Tajik vendors and distributors to transport their goods across the border. The Ambassador pitched the idea of a truck leasing consortium project that would allow small- scale distributors, who could not afford to own trucks, to rent them when transporting their products. Both Karzai and Spanta welcomed the idea. Spanta noted that Afghan Commerce Minister Farhang will soon travel to Pakistan to discuss similar issues.

20. (C) Spanta also noted that the Chinese are increasingly interested in becoming a regional economic partner as well as knowing more about what the larger international community is doing to invest in Afghanistan.
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21. (C) Note: Renewed focus on regional economic cooperation will be part of the agenda for the upcoming Afghanistan Ministerial Meeting on September 23 (co-chaired by President Karzai and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon) that will precede the UN General Assembly. The October 3 meeting of the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board will also focus on regional economic cooperation. This will be an important follow-up to the success of the Tajik- Afghanistan bridge opening and an opportunity to capitalize on the momentum of the jirga, with economic cooperation presenting a clear win-win for all parties involved. End note.

22. (SBU) The Office of the Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs has cleared this cable. DELL

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