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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Karzai's Friendship Is Undervalued by Bush

Since 2001, many governments in the Islamic world have quietly staked their future on close relations with the United States. But no Muslim leader has been as willing to openly embrace an alliance as Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai. Karzai was in Washington this week to sign a memorandum on a "strategic partnership" with Washington: In return to committing itself to democracy, human rights and opposition to terrorism, Karzai hopes Afghanistan will continue to be protected by American troops and bolstered by U.S. aid for another decade or more. Without this long-term commitment, he says, his country has no hope of achieving lasting stability.

Lots of Muslim leaders think this way; Karzai is virtually alone in his willingness to argue the case for friendship with the United States. He has been willing, even, to forgive the George W. Bush administration's misdeeds -- including the brutal mistreatment of Afghan prisoners. "It's my job as a Muslim to let the rest of the Muslims know that we all make mistakes like that," he said during a visit to The Post. Support like that from a democratically elected leader in a country that once hosted al Qaeda is priceless -- which is why it's disappointing that the Bush administration remains relatively parsimonious in its support for Karzai.

Some 17,000 U.S. troops continue to defend the Afghan government from the remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda, and more than two dozen have been killed in escalating violence since the end of March. But the military commitment remains well short of what is needed. By Karzai's account, Afghan army and police forces are years away from being able to handle the job on their own. Equally, the Afghan government is able to fund only half of its own operating budget and has nothing for reconstruction; in that context $5 billion in U.S. non-military aid, while generous, is not enough to decisively turn the country around.

Now would be a good time to accelerate the aid effort. The upsurge in violence, including recent anti-American riots, is in part aimed at derailing September parliamentary elections that would consolidate Afghanistan's transition to democracy. More U.S. and NATO troops are needed to secure those elections; more aid would help convince Afghan voters that Karzai's bet on Washington makes sense. For no cost at all, the administration could cease its gratuitous undercutting of its ally. Since the U.S. government is itself divided over the wisdom of an aggressive assault against poppy cultivation, it makes little sense to fault Karzai for his caution. Better, again, to supply his government with the resources that would allow it to tackle the underlying problems.

This comment appeared as an editorial in The Washington Post.