Cablegate: Fm Bildt Agrees On Next Steps in Afghanistan

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EO 12958 DECL: 08/25/2019


Classified By: PolCouns Annie Pforzheimer for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt agreed, in an August 31 meeting with Ambassador Eikenberry, to a post-election course of action for the international community in Afghanistan. Minister Bildt expressed his fears over Afghan perceptions of the upcoming conference of Special Representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) to be held in Paris September 2. We corrected his misperceptions over a reported rift between SRAP Holbrooke and President Karzai. End Summary.

Looking at the Next Five Years

2. (C) Looking ahead to the resolution of the presidential election, Ambassador Eikenberry laid out five key steps which we recommend that the international community should observe, as we have, when engaging with both Abdullah and Karzai, but particularly the incumbent:
-- first, both leading candidates should understand we are paying close attention to their conduct in this interim period before the certification of the vote, and that their conduct will impact their relationship with the international community thereafter, whether as President or in another capacity. -- secondly, the next President shoudl understand that we will scrutinize closely his ministerial appointments for competence and commitment to good governance. -- third, the next President’s first major policy speeches, including his inauguration speech, will set the tone for his second administration and offer an opportunity to establish a compact with his people. Minister Bildt noted that Karzai might use such a speech to confront the international community. -- fourth, as the President begins his new administration, he must take significant, visible acts to deliver his compact, for example by acting boldly against corruption. -- fifth and finally, if the next President accomplishes the first four steps well, we should accept an invitation from him to a ministerial conference in Kabul, to solidify the relationship between the international community and the new administration and to bolster its legitimacy domestically and internationally.

3. (C) Minister Bildt assented to all five points, and noted that the conference of foreign ministers could be a key moment in which to emphasize more Afghan ownership of the political landscape following the election.

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Setting the Stakes for a Second Administration
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4. (C) Expressing concern that President Karzai still seems to think that we are here on an expeditionary mission to kill foreign fighters operating in Afghanistan and that he is just renting land to us for that purpose, Ambassador Eikenberry proposed that the second administration could be an opportunity to clarify anew the relationship between the international community and the Karzai administration. First, we must disabuse President Karzai of the notion that we are just another imperialist force or that we are really here because of China and because we want bases here for strategic regional purposes. Heretofore, President Karzai has expressed negligible political interest in the development of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP), key components of a successful sovereign nation. We need to give him long-term security guarantees so that he will understand the importance of investing in these institutions, Eikenberry said, while assuring him that we will continue to support Afghanistan’s security infrastructure as an element of their sovereign nation.

5. (C) A key agenda item for a second Karzai administration could be the reconciliation process. Ambassador Eikenberry questioned Bildt whether this would pose a public relations problem with the domestic audiences of the European Union. The reconciliation effort, he noted, could be a key opportunity for the Karzai administration to show progress in the development of Afghan governance. Until now, the reconciliation process has been marred by a lack of infrastructure and resources, both of which the international community could help to provide. Bildt assured us that reconciliation would not be a problem in Europe unless it was perceived as rolling back women’s rights, educational development, and other key human rights issues. He noted
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there were constitutional constraints in Europe to supporting programs representing an erosion of human rights in Afghanistan, but affirmed that he did not see any evidence that could support an argument along those lines. The delegation called for the Afghans to establish a precise concept for integration before the process can begin.

Maintaining the Legitimacy of the Elections

6. (C) Minister Bildt expressed concerns that the legitimacy of the election was being called into question. He noted that while the conference in Paris of special representatives was “perfectly normal and routine,” it had been “blown up” by the press, who were insinuating that the special representatives would emerge from closed doors at the conference and declare the winner of the election. Ambassador Eikenberry said that the same message had been relayed to him by a group of pro-Karzai parliamentarians who had called at the Embassy on August 30 (reftel). Likewise, Eikenberry noted that Karzai has begun to express great frustration with the international media, whom he claims are pitted against him and are trying to undermine the credibility of the elections by exaggerating claims of fraud. Eikenberry also noted that Karzai and his supports may attack the findings of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) as biased, because it has foreigners in key leadership positions.

Smoothing Relations with the Palace

7. (C) Responding to Minister Bildt’s statement that both President Karzai and Foreign Minister Spanta had “stern words” that were “not directed at me,” on the subject of post-election posturing, Eikenberry explained the miscommunication that had occurred between Karzai and SRAP Holbrooke regarding the possibility of a second round of elections: Holbrooke had stated in a phone call with other Special Representatives that, if there were to be a second round, the international community would need to coordinate to support the effort. This was misreported to the Afghan government as USG advocacy for holding a second round, no matter the final results of the IEC’s election process. Eikenberry reassured Bildt that he had worked closely with FM Spanta and President Karzai to dispel this myth; the story seemed to have blown over, and relations between the U.S. and President Karzai were and back on track. EIKENBERRY

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