Cablegate: Karzai and Codel Mccain On Progress, Elections,
OO RUEHDBU RUEHPW RUEHSL
DE RUEHBUL #0085/01 0100912
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 100912Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4615
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 KABUL 000085
EO 12958 DECL: 01/10/2020
TAGS PGOV, PREL, AF
SUBJECT: KARZAI AND CODEL MCCAIN ON PROGRESS, ELECTIONS,
Classified By: Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Reasons. 1.4 (B) and (D)
1. (S) Summary: In a positive and free-ranging discussion, President Karzai and visiting CODEL McCain agreed that more should be done to tell Afghans and Americans about the progress in Afghanistan since 2002 and the positive role of the international community. On the timing of parliamentary elections Karzai held firmly to 2010 but conceded that a few months could, and probably should, be added to the projected date of May 22. He explained the parameters of Afghanistan’s projected reintegration program, promising that it would be unveiled before the January 28 London conference, and consulting with the CODEL on the right way to gain U.S. acceptance of the plan. The CODEL and Karzai discussed the situation in Pakistan and potential for violence that would affect Afghanistan. End summary.
2. (U) CODEL McCain (Senator McCain (R-AZ), Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Senator John Barrosso (R-WY)) met with President Karzai and his senior security leadership, including the Ministers of Defense, Interior and Foreign Affairs, as well as National Security Advisor Rassoul, on January 6, accompanied by Ambassador Eikenberry, Deputy Ambassador Ricciardone, and COMISAF McChyrstal.
The Bad Old Days ... And The Better New Ones
3. (S) Karzai and the CODEL, who maintained a positive mood throughout the meeting and a dinner immediately following, discussed the American political debate over the health care bill and what Karzai termed the “unbelievable” status of uninsured Americans. Karzai told McCain that he’d been “inspired” by McCain’s gracious November 2008 concession speech and that “if it had not been for that speech I would not have accepted a second round” in the recent Presidential elections. Karzai added that his acceptance of the second round (“even though I know I had won”) would be what he was remembered for in Afghan history; McCain said Karzai had been in his thoughts during that difficult period.
4. (S) McCain and Lieberman reminded Karzai that they had met in a tent at Bagram Airbase in January 2002, with flashlights instead of electricity; all three mentioned the “treasured” bilateral relationship and tremendous accomplishments in Afghanistan over the past eight years. “In 2001 Kabul was in darkness and misery; now it is amazing and vibrant,” Karzai said. At another point he noted that it was “wrong” to make statements that the Bush Administration had only made mistakes; there had been real development during those years. As one example, he said, he had been given a list of women to consider for his next Cabinet nomination slate - having such a list shows progress from just five years ago.
5. (S) The CODEL noted that President Obama’s December 1 speech on the Afghanistan strategy had brought about a more favorable U.S. opinion about the war and our goals here, and a recognition that “a threat to you is a threat to us.” Karzai responded that while he was somewhat concerned with any discussion of end dates he had publicly emphasized to the Afghan people that we “have to do this for ourselves” and continue the “struggle against terrorism.”
6. (S) In view of the need to do more to tell both Afghans and Americans about what is going right in Afghanistan, Karzai noted his extremely positive impression of his January 2 trip to Helmand, accompanied by COMISAF McChrystal. He said that it had been his “best trip in seven years” and McCain noted that the trip had been covered by U.S. media, reinforcing the positive message. Karzai complained, mildly, that while he knew that media statements were out of our direct control, U.S. leaders should also make statements that recognize Afghan progress. “We will get the army and other institutions built, even if there are setbacks,” he said, but it is vitally important that we “bring back” a sense of shared purpose. Afghanistan had seen incredible developments in education and the treatment of women, Senator Thune said, noting the particular potential of agriculture. Karzai agreed but pointed out that climate change was a new and growing concern - at this point in the year there should be abundant snow and there had been none to date.
7. (S) Karzai linked the issue of Afghan perceptions to elections by saying “progress is there but confidence isn’t” among the people because they hear rumors of an election delay that would undermine the constitution. He said that
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“talk in diplomatic circles” is of an election delay which makes the Afghan people “extremely frightened.” A delay would be a “dangerous” opening that the Taliban would exploit, he said, and “pleaded” with the CODEL to help him. Senator Lieberman emphasized that this was an Afghan decision, but pointed out the security issues involved. Karzai responded that then-President Bush had asked him two years ago to delay the Presidential elections until 2010 and he had refused since such a delay by the sitting President would amount to a coup. This applies again to Parliament (NFI) and “if we’d had a second round I’d be less worried now” (because he would have a more certain mandate from the people.)
8. (S) Conceding that a few months’ delay would not engender the same fear and uncertainty, Karzai said that although he could announce a delay, he had to do so in a way that would “convince” the people that elections really will occur. “The MPs want to stay in their jobs, but the country would suffer” if the delay were indefinite, he said. Lieberman agreed, noting that President Obama’s message had also emphasized the importance of democracy in Afghanistan and that comparison of the Taliban’s approach to democracy with Karzai’s was “night to day”. Senator Barrosso pointed out that in a second term the “clock starts to tick” and asked Karzai how he would contribute even further to Afghan democracy. Karzai replied that his two contributions would be being the first Afghan leader to hand over power peacefully to his democratically-elected successor and defeating terrorism.
Peace and Reintegration
9. (S) Karzai noted that the peace process and reintegration efforts help in the fight against the Taliban by working with those who are willing to come back, especially the “foot soldiers”. Reconciliation would extend to more senior level Taliban (not Mullah Omar, he clarified) who are not linked to Al Qaeda, “some of whom are willing” to talk. Lots of contacts are taking place, Karzai said, but no common reconciliation policy has emerged. McCain noted that for this to be successful the other side should be convinced they can’t win and this should probably be timed to work with the new influx of troops now underway. He agreed that those fighting for reasons other than ideology should be helped to return and that the fight should continue against the ideologically-motivated Taliban, stressing the importance of educating the country that both efforts were ongoing at the same time.
10. (S) Lieberman pressed him to explain the concept of offering incentives to the Taliban, and emphasized that this outreach could be problematic if it,s not explained right to the American people and the importance of Karzai articulating his plan before the U.S. could support it. The “carrot and stick” aspect (rewarding those who want to end their allegiance, punishing those who abuse human rights and embrace terrorism) has to be understood, Lieberman said. Karzai said he was currently revising the methods and would soon announce a strategy in which sub-commanders might be induced to reintegrate into Afghan society but reconciliation would need Pakistan to end its support for high-level Taliban. Later in the conversation, Karzai said he could refer to American history and the “lenient” terms extended to members of the Confederate Army, including General Robert E. Lee, when they surrendered after the Civil War.
11. (S) Karzai asked the CODEL how the U.S. Congress will receive this plan, to which McCain said it would be supported in view of the success of the comparable Anbar Awakening in Iraq. Lieberman, however, noted that outreach to the Taliban could be misunderstood so it would be vital to have Karzai first explain it, in clear terms, as part of Afghanistan,s own approach to peace and justice. Karzai told a story about a Taliban atrocity against a woman in Oruzgan as an example of some excesses which should be punished and would not be tolerated. But “innocent country people” fighting for the Taliban should be treated differently, he said. (Note: Embassy information is that the perpetrator of this atrocity was a Talib but that it was a case of domestic violence, not a political act as Karzai indicated.) Karzai said that the “mainstream” is against the Taliban and on our side. McCain noted that while there was concern over governance and corruption in Afghanistan the people don’t want the Taliban and do participate in elections. He and Karzai pointed out the absence of religious and sectarian violence in Afghanistan as a very positive sign.
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12. (S) The group reviewed current developments in Pakistan, and Karzai said that the overall bilateral relationship, while an improvement over past years, was “held back” by the Army and ISI who continue to help the Afghan Taliban. He said that he wants to engage more and have U.S. support in doing so, since “the war won’t end easily without Pakistani cooperation.” He was pessimistic about the internal situation, as was his intelligence chief, Amrullah Saleh. Saleh noted that Pakistan’s energy sector was in decline and that discontent in Pashtun areas was higher than it had been in the volatile 1960’s and 1970’s; meanwhile, he said, President Zardari is using Baluch nationalists as his base of support. Saleh predicted that neither the army nor Nawaz Sharif would bring Zardari’s term to an abrupt end.
13 (U) CODEL McCain was unable to clear this message. EIKENBERRY