As an honoured guest at President Bush's 2002 State of the Union address to Congress, President Hamid Karzai beamed proudly from a centre stage balcony seat in the hallowed chambers of America's hall of democracy. "Afghanistan is an enduring partner in the war against terrorism," the US president thundered, turning to his privileged guest in a show of support that received a standing ovation from the assembled lawmakers. Continuing on the same theme President Bush reiterated reassuringly: "We will support President Hamid Karzai in the task ahead for as long as our help is needed." But that was then.
A year later, President Karzai sat alone at a plain wooden table before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, US lawmakers openly hostile to his pleas for more financial assistance in the rebuilding of his war ravaged country. Caught between trying to reassure the senators that Afghanistan is really on the mend--following the injection of millions of dollars of American taxpayers money, and the glaring reality that the country remains a lawless, dangerous territory controlled by competing war lords, Hamid Karzai could only confirm that millions of Afghani children had returned to school and that his government had replaced the nation's currency. Neither provided much consolation to American lawmakers struggling with mounting deficits, or to the Afghani president whose control of the country hardly extends beyond the gates of his rather shabby presidential palace in Kabul. Even more galling to President Karzai was that the same US Senators that had feted him a year ago now openly chastised him for stressing the positive, claiming that such an attitude could hurt his credibility with them in the future.
"If the senators were comparing my remarks to, say, life in ... Honolulu or somewhere else, of course my picture was not very rosy," he complained after the grilling. "I was talking about Afghanistan in comparison to a year ago."
President Karzai is learning what other American allies have also learned to their painful cost. The United States has a short concentration span. If Mr Karzai has any doubts that President Bush will lose even more interest in Afghanistan's troubles once the Iraqi war is underway he need only to look at the Kurds in northern Iraq and their betrayal following the Gulf War. Urged on by the CIA they rose up against Saddam Hussein and his brutal Republican Guard only to be massacred once Bush senior decided that placing...