Cablegate: Srap Meeting with Karzai: Moving Reintegration

DE RUEHBUL #0170/01 0190540
O 190540Z JAN 10

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 KABUL 000170


EO 12958 DECL: 01/20/2020

Classified By: Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (S) Summary: President Karzai told S/SRAP Holbrooke January 16 that he wants to announce a reintegration policy before London but save the details of the plan for a rollout at the Kabul conference in late spring. Karzai is still conflicted about finalizing the policy, according to several observers, but has apparently grasped that a pre-London announcement can leverage donations and other support from key nations, especially the Gulf. He said that elections “were likely to slip a few months” although media reports indicated that he told Holbrooke (and UK FM Milliband, who he saw later that day) that the elections would be “on time.” On transition and a NATO SCR, Karzai’s position tracks with ours and he promised to raise his concerns with the UK. End summary.

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Reviewing 2009 - New Policies Literally Bearing Fruit
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2. (S) In a relaxed one-hour meeting with President Karzai, his newly-confirmed Foreign Minister Zalmay Rassoul, and four other senior advisors, SRAP Holbrooke, Ambassador Eikenberry and SRAP Senior Advisor Barney Rubin discussed developments since Karzai’s November 2009 inauguration. Karzai spoke first about the Haiti earthquake and expressed sympathy at the tragedy from “a country that truly understands.” He said that one of his servants had asked him to do something for Haiti and he planned to do so - the Palace announced a gift of $200,000 later that day.

3. (C) Holbrooke noted that the night before the Embassy/ISAF team had briefed President Obama on progress since the elections; this was also a moment to review the nearly one year of the Obama Administration’s work in Afghanistan. Since the new Obama strategy was articulated, Holbrooke said, the impact on areas such as agriculture have been tremendous. Karzai agreed and said that the recent visit by Agriculture Secretary Vilsak had been extremely positive. Holbrooke said that with about $400 million in U.S. assistance, and more from other key donors such as Japan and India, Afghanistan’s agricultural sector was poised to succeed. The next stage, Karzai and Holbrooke agreed, would be the re-establishment of an Agricultural Development Bank by the end of 2010.

4. (C) Karzai said that Afghanistan does have excellent ministers such as Minister of Agriculture Rahimi, who Holbrooke said Vilsack had praised as “world-class” but lacks capable administrators on almost every level. The brain drain of the war years was enormous, Karzai said, and claimed that luring back expatriates would not succeed since now they were “too costly” to keep.

Conferences: “Will Kabul Happen?”

5. (C) Karzai will attend the Munich Security Conference; Holbrooke noted that he and NSA Jones would likely attend and that the Germans hoped to make it a productive event. He said that the recent Abu Dhabi conference of Special Representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan had been very useful, especially with the presentations by Foreign Minister Spanta and Mosoom Stanekzai, the architect of the new reintegration policy. Holbrooke noted than an unusually high number of Muslim nations had been represented in Abu Dhabi, with Saudi Arabia sending a lower-level delegate (for mainly internal reasons.)

6. (C) While the original intention had been to hold the Kabul meeting ahead of London, Holbrooke said, our interest now was to make the January 28 London conference a success. This is a time to rally world support for Karzai and for the new U.S. strategy, he said. A “big headline” that showed the way forward and consolidated this support is the desired outcome of this conference, Holbrooke said, rather than pledging of money or troops; the best headline would be something like “the world community supports President Karzai and his reintegration plan.”

7. (C) Karzai agreed but asked,”will a Kabul conference actually happen” in view of the international focus and efforts that have been expended on London. The U.S. visitors turned the question around to ask Karzai if he plans to hold the conference and invite international attendees. Karzai countered by asking “will the Secretary attend,” we answered that this is the current U.S. intention and he said that his proposed timing would be in April.

Reintegration: Reassurance from the U.S.
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8. (S) Regarding progress to date in establishing both a reintegration policy and a reconciliation approach for Taliban fighters and political leaders, respectively, Karzai indicated that he was close to finalizing the new Afghan policy. Claiming that he had only read the new draft National Security Council policy papers the night before, Karzai said that he “liked this plan more than the previous ones.” He believes that this approach will given foot soldiers lots of incentive to turn, while Rassoul noted that during his lobbying efforts he had spoken to nearly 200 MPs and eighty percent were in favor of reintegration. Holbrooke asked if this applied to women MPs who are especially important to this effort; Rassoul said that if they are given the full information about the program they are less skeptical. (Note: SRAP Holbrooke met with seven female MPs on January 17 - septel.)

9. (S) Despite his positive feeling about the plan, Karzai said, before “technicalities” are figured out he wants to be sure he has understanding and political backing from all relevant quarters - most importantly from the United States. Next, he wants Saudi Arabia’s political support as well as any financial resources they might contribute. Rubin noted that the Saudi officials he had visited a week ago are prepared to not only back the plan politically but to offer Hajj/Umrah “packages” to reintegrees, which would offer a strong religious motivation and undercut the Taliban. The Saudis may also offer deradicalization program advice, Rubin said. (Note: Karzai said that Saudi programs were probably too “hard core” for the “country bumpkins” they believe are currently filling the Taliban ranks, but the offer is appreciated. End note.)

10. (S) Karzai turned to the issue of ensuring Pakistan’s support for the policy since “neither reintegration nor reconciliation would work without them.” If they are not on board it will be “the same vicious cycle of trial - failure - trial - partial success” that previous reintegration plans have faced. In Abu Dhabi, Holbrooke said, senior U.S., Jordanian, Afghan, Saudi and Pakistani officials discussed this issue and all had stressed to Pakistan that they had to support this policy. Pakistan countered that the “totality of the Afghanistan-Pakistan relationship” should be reassessed; Karzai said that “we are beginning to see that point.”

11. (S) Holbrooke assured Karzai that Afghanistan’s current reintegration draft policy has the backing of the U.S. and seems to have strong Gulf buy-in, which Karzai flagged as crucial to psychologically undermining the Taliban. The U.S. would not prevent this from happening as it had in the past, Holbrooke said; on the contrary we plan to help fund the plan. However, “we are all waiting on you” to announce exactly what the plan will contain, he said to Karzai, and to make maximum use of London that announcement should occur before January 28. Karzai asked whether the plan was really for London or Kabul - Eikenberry explained that to leverage the window of opportunity that was now open for contributions by the Japanese, Gulf states and Europe there should be a conceptual plan in time for London. Real implementation, especially given donor funding mechanisms, could wait for the Kabul Conference announcement of modalities.

12. (S) Karzai gave more details about his concept for a “Loya Jirga” which would reaffirm the Afghan partnership with the international community and also endorse the reintegration plan and reconciliation efforts. It could occur before the Kabul Conference, he said, and would involve 500-1000 people including MPs and traditional leaders. He compared it to the gathering of 1200 people who approved the 2005 Strategic Partnership Agreement before he flew to Washington to sign the Agreement with President Bush. He reassured Holbrooke and Eikenberry that “some people will shout” but that the Afghan way is to complain first, then support.

Elections: I Won’t Mention In London

13. (S) Holbrooke noted the ongoing “confusion” over 2010 elections, and advised that in order to avoid a pointless debate in London Karzai should either clarify his position on the timing of elections or take the issue off the table. Krazai said that he is not planning to mention elections in his speech at London - there is no time to discuss this issue and that it wasn’t the right venue to bring up such an internal matter. The Independent Electoral Commission, with reference to the Constitution, would come up with a new date that is likely to be “a few months” after May, he said.
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Eikenberry noted that while it was clear that elections should stick to the constitutional timeframe of 2010, the exact date and the conditions - including reforms - still have to be determined. Karzai pushed for U.S. funding of the elections on the grounds that “democracy in Afghanistan has been your big achievement.” In a later aside, Chief of Staff Daudzai told Eikenberry that if the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior make the case for an election delay, the IEC would accept it. Eikenberry offered to have international community representatives then meet with the IEC to be briefed on the reasons for the new election date and show our support.

14. (S) In later discussions with FM Milliband, he indicated his concern that the elections would take place without any reforms, and in fact expressed his view that a 2010 date was not his preference since it would not allow for significant changes. Eikenberry noted to him that without improvements we were not planning to fund the elections. Eikenberry said that he had pressed Karzai in an earlier meeting on the issue of the IEC having mishandled the elections at a provincial level. Even with Karzai’s myopia (Karzai absolves the IEC at a national level from wrongdoing and blames the ECC for the allegations of fraud) he accepts that the IEC provincial authorities mishandled their duties. Daudzai noted that IEC Chairman Ludin ‘should have returned by now’ but is still outside Afghanistan.

NATO SCR and Transition

15. (S) On another potential point of discussion in London, the civilian “counterpart” to General McChrystal, Karzai said that he did not understand or accept the concept of a high-level NATO “Senior Civilian Representative” with powers and responsibilities commensurate with COMISAF. “In fact, I don’t meet with the current NATO SCR,” Karzai said, adding that he would foresee “conflict” if there were two empowered NATO representatives. For PRT coordination the nation who controls the PRT should take the lead on development in that area, Karzai said.
This cable was cleared by Ambassador Holbrooke. EIKENBERRY

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