October 24, 2011


[“God forbid, if there is ever a war between Pakistan and America, then we will side with Pakistan,” he said in the interview with Geo Television, which was conducted partly in Urdu, partly in English. He added that Afghanistan would back Pakistan in a military conflict with any other country, including its archrival, India, which recently signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan.]

By  And Sangar Rahimi

Hamid Karzai with U.S. President George W. Bush
at the White House prior to a press conference,
January 28, 2001.
Image: Academy of Achievement
KABUL, Afghanistan — Days after he stood with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and accused Pakistan of harboring his country’s enemies, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said this weekend that his country would support Pakistan if it ever went to war with the United States.
He appeared to be trying to reassure Pakistan of Afghanistan’s friendship after months of increasing tensions between the neighboring countries, while also urging Islamabad to sever its ties to militant extremists who are using the country as a haven to attack Afghanistan.
But the comments, which were broadcast Saturday on Pakistani television, again displayed Mr. Karzai’s ability to mystify his Western backers who have shored up his administration with billions of dollars in aid and military support during his nearly 10 years as Afghanistan’s leader.
“God forbid, if there is ever a war between Pakistan and America, then we will side with Pakistan,” he said in the interview with Geo Television, which was conducted partly in Urdu, partly in English. He added that Afghanistan would back Pakistan in a military conflict with any other country, including its archrival, India, which recently signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan.
“If Pakistan is attacked, and if the people of Pakistan need help, Afghanistan will be there with you,” Mr. Karzai said. “Afghanistan is a brother.”
Gavin Sundwall, a spokesman for the American Embassy in Kabul, referred questions about the comments to the Afghan government. “But,” he added, “we know that we all share common goals and need to work together to resolve common problems. This is not about war with each other, this is about a joint approach to a threat to all three of our countries: insurgents and terrorists who attack Afghans, Pakistanis and Americans.”
The presidential palace did not respond to several requests for clarification. One senior European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he had not had a chance to speak to the president, called the statements perplexing.
“I’m trying to understand what he was really saying,” the diplomat said. “I wish we had clarity on that. This is not the first time that he has made controversial assertions.”
The diplomat added that the president might have been trying to strike a calming tone with Pakistan, whose cooperation Mr. Karzai sees as necessary to bring the Taliban to any peace talks.
“But the way he expressed himself is not very productive,” the diplomat said.
Mr. Karzai was interviewed on Friday, the day after he stood alongside Mrs. Clinton at the presidential palace as she warned Pakistan that it needed to crack down on militants along the Afghan border. Just a few weeks ago Mr. Karzai was in New Delhi to sign a strategic partnership with India, opening the door for it to train and equip Afghan forces to fill the void left by NATO as it gradually withdraws troops over the next three years.
Both actions further frayed relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have been strained recently by cross-border rocket attacksfrom Pakistan and by complaints by some Afghan officials that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency had a hand in the assassination last month of the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, Burhanuddin Rabbani, an accusation Pakistan denies.
In the interview, Mr. Karzai said Afghanistan was forever in Pakistan’s debt for welcoming millions of Afghan refugees during the last 30 years of conflict, while at the same time pleading with Pakistan to end its support for terrorists hiding out along the border areas.
“Against all the Pakistan establishment has done to Afghanistan, Afghanistan is still a brother,” he said. “Afghanistan will never forget, will never forget the welcome, the hospitality, the respect and the brotherhood shown by the Pakistan people to the Afghan people.”
His comments ignited a wave of angry calls to radio talk shows in Kabul on Sunday. Many Afghans, particularly in the north, consider Pakistan the source of much of its current troubles. One caller said, “When the president calls them brother and the nation calls them enemies, then there will be a conflict between the president and the nation.”
There was also political backlash from officials. “We must never involve ourselves in any war, particularly backing Pakistan, which is the cause of all our problems,” warned Arif Rahmani, a Parliament member from the southeastern province of Ghazni, one of the more violent and unstable regions of Afghanistan.
Mohammad Saleh Saljoqi, a Parliament member from the western province of Herat, seemed as baffled as anyone. “One day we say that Pakistan is a safe haven for the terrorists, that the Haqqani network is based there and that it is the source of a lot of our problems,” he said. “And the next day we say Pakistan is our brother country.”
The president’s comments recalled his frequent descriptions of the Taliban as our “upset brothers.”
Mr. Karzai has also frequently irked his American backers with his inflammatory comments denouncing the allied coalition. He has been particularly critical of civilian casualties, and the night raids and airstrikes that often lead to them, but he also frequently blames foreigners, and the way they deliver aid to Afghanistan, for feeding the widespread corruption that has stymied development.

[Unesco, perhaps most famous for designating world heritage sites, is a major global development agency whose missions include promoting literacy, science, clean water and education, including sex education and equal treatment for girls and young women. To some degree, a senior American official said, Unesco helps promote Western values under an international umbrella in places where an American one might be resented or misunderstood.] 
By Steven Erlanger
PARIS — The Palestinian bid for full membership in Unesco — the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — has put both Washington and the organization into an urgent bind.
American legislation dating back more than 15 years mandates a complete cutoff of American financing to any United Nations agency that accepts the Palestinians as a full member. Unesco depends on the United States for 22 percent of its budget, about $70 million a year.
Neither the Obama administration nor Unesco want the cutoff to happen, and diplomats are desperately negotiating with Congress, the Palestinians and other Unesco member states to find a resolution that will preserve the agency’s budget. But with a vote on membership coming as early as this week, time is running out.
Unesco, perhaps most famous for designating world heritage sites, is a major global development agency whose missions include promoting literacy, science, clean water and education, including sex education and equal treatment for girls and young women. To some degree, a senior American official said, Unesco helps promote Western values under an international umbrella in places where an American one might be resented or misunderstood.
That is one reason, the official said, that the United States rejoined the organization under President George W. Bush after 9/11.
Unesco membership “is in the core security interests of the United States,” the agency’s director general, Irina Bokova, said in an interview here. “I think the United States should take a very careful look at this legislation, in their own interests. I don’t believe it’s in the U.S. interest to disengage from the U.N. system as a whole.”
The irony is that the Obama administration agrees, and has been a strong supporter of Ms. Bokova. But lawyers at the State Department see no way around the laws, which date from 1990 and 1994 and provide no possibility of a presidential waiver.
American officials have criticized the Palestinian move, part of its bid for full membership in the United Nations, as “premature.” They fear it will lead to more conflict with Israel, and further undermine the possibility of peace talks.
Despite American objections, Unesco’s 58-nation executive board approved the Palestinian application this month. The agency’s general assembly meets here starting Tuesday, and the 193 member countries are scheduled to vote on Palestinian membership during the two-week meeting and are expected to approve it.
Unesco has long been viewed in the West as politicized, corrupt and anti-American, antipathy that came to a head in 1984 when President Ronald Reagan withdrew American membership. Since then, the agency has been much reformed, both in terms of its finances and its embrace of values like freedom of the press and education for women.
Mrs. Clinton was the first American secretary of state to visit Unesco, coming this year to support an initiative on education for girls and young women, and Ms. Bokova emphasizes that since 9/11, Unesco has run its largest education project in Afghanistan, opening literacy centers for civilians as well as Afghan police officers. It cooperates on teacher training with American companies like Microsoft, she said, and has organized training for Tunisian and Egyptian journalists after the Arab Spring revolts.
Only this month, the United States made separate voluntary contributions to Unesco programs for education and clean water; Washington praises its work on behalf of universal literacy, gender equality and disaster preparedness.
If the United States withdrew its funding, it would still retain a seat at the agency for another two years, but even then its influence would be weakened.
“In a world where soft power is so important, the United States is counter-productively compromising its position in a forum that really matters,” said Ronald Koven, who monitors Unesco for the World Press Freedom Committee, an American non-governmental organization.
Peter Yeo, vice president for public policy at the United Nations Foundation, which supports the organization’s goals, said that “what’s maddening is that this is not your grandfather’s Unesco — it is better managed, more efficient and U.S. leadership in Unesco has made it a better organization.”
Mrs. Clinton has asked the American special envoy to the Middle East, David Hale, to negotiate with the Palestinians and Arab countries to break the impasse. The State Department has said it hoped to press the Palestinians to withdraw their request.
There have been discussions about inviting the Palestinians, longtime non-state observers at Unesco, to sign three major conventions, including the World Heritage Convention, which could list key sites currently under Israeli control as Palestinian, as a non-state signatory, the way the European Union has done. Such a move would give the Palestinians some of the advantages they seek in joining Unesco without full membership.
Repeated requests to interview the Palestinian ambassador to Unesco or his deputy were declined. Palestinian officials have previously said they see membership as part of the recognition they seek as a state, which the Palestinian envoy to Unesco, Elias Wadih Sanbar, referred to as “a new era in which Palestine is recognized.”
An Arab ambassador, asking anonymity, said there was also discussion of voting full membership for Palestine but delaying it for six months, although that would not prevent a cutoff of American funds. There is also talk that other Arab states could make up the shortfall in the Unesco budget, some $70 million annually.
But Arab representatives say that it will be very difficult for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to compromise. Any “package deal” short of membership, one of them said, “would look like bribery.”
Unesco has a two-year budget of $643 million for 2010-11 and a projected budget of $653 million for 2012-2013. Since the United States normally pays its 22 percent share toward the end of the year, a cut off could mean no payment for 2011, another $70 million blow to the budget. The result would be immediate cuts in programs and personnel.
Ms. Bokova is hopeful for a resolution, but said that on a recent visit to Washington, she found “skepticism and lack of knowledge” about today’s Unesco.
Likewise, American officials doubt Congress will alter the legislation. Many Republicans, who control the House, are hostile to both the United Nations and the Palestinian statehood bid.
“We have a very strong case to make,” Ms. Bokova said. The organization celebrated World Press Freedom Day in Washington last May “Unesco is very different from 25 years ago.”