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RIA Novosti
February 2, 2009
Karzai scares Obama with Russia

MOSCOW. (Pyotr Goncharov for RIA Novosti) - Russia may become a major factor in the presidential ambitions of the leading Afghan politicians during the country's presidential elections next summer.

Speaking to the graduates of the Kabul Military Academy, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that if Americans did not speed up the implementation of the program to supply armed forces, this task would be carried out by other countries.

Last week, the press service of the Afghan President published Dmitry Medvedev's reply to Karzai. The Russian President expressed readiness to help the Afghan armed forces. An Afghan delegation consisting of high-level civil and military officials will visit Moscow in the near future. Expansion of bilateral military-technical cooperation will be the main subject of the talks.

What has compelled Karzai to turn to Russia, a country he did not care much for until recently? In its foreign policy concept, Kabul has declared "strategic partnership" with the United States and the rest of the democratic world, whereas Russia has been allotted a modest place among regional countries, after India and China.

This intrigue is easy to understand. New U.S. President Barack Obama has declared Afghanistan to be the main U.S. counterterrorist front, and is bent on doubling U.S. troops from 30,000 to 60,000. Moreover, he intends to streamline the Afghan political elite.

While Karzai was scaring the West with "other countries" in the above-mentioned speech, Obama was holding talks with influential Afghan leaders and potential hopefuls at the forthcoming presidential elections, including ex-Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, ex-Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, and current Nangarhar Province Governor Agha Gul Sherzai. Analysts think that the White House will withdraw support for Karzai because it blames him for the drug-based economy, corruption, and embezzlement of donors' funds.

In principle, Karzai's plan is correct. At one time, the Soviet-trained Afghan army was considered one of the most powerful in the region. It was also well-armed in comparison to other regional forces.

However, little has been achieved in recent years. From 2002 to 2005, Russia rendered the Afghan army $200 million in aid, but this cooperation was later curtailed. Neither the United States nor NATO as a whole has made much progress in building an Afghan army during the last seven years. There is no aviation or heavy armament, and the army itself is far from ready to guarantee domestic stability.

In Afghanistan, the army has been traditionally allotted a leading role in politics, and a stake on the army has always been failsafe, which is why Karzai has appealed to Russia for aid. Whether this will help him during the election or not is another matter.