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Friday, 23 January 2009

Obama ready to cut Karzai adrift

As support for Afghan leader wanes, rivals go to Washington for meeting with new President

Barack Obama's arrival in the White House and the wind of change sweeping through Washington could lead to the ousting from power of Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, The Independent has learnt.

International support for Mr Karzai, who was once the darling of the West, has waned spectacularly, amid worsening violence, endemic corruption and weak leadership. But until very recently, diplomats insisted there were no viable alternatives even as fighting has intensified and the Taliban insurgency in the south has grown. But four key figures believed to be challenging Mr Karzai have arrived in Washington for meetings with Obama administration officials this week. There is now talk of a "dream ticket" that would see the main challengers run together to unite the country's various ethnic groups and wrest control away from Mr Karzai.

"The Americans aren't going to determine the outcome of the election, but they could suggest to people they put their differences aside and form a dream ticket," said a senior US analyst in Kabul.

Mr Obama has already started getting to grips with the challenge of Afghanistan; he received a briefing on the coming American troop "surge" from General David Petraeus on Wednesday, his first full day in the Oval Office. Last night, Mr Obama appointed the veteran US diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, as his new special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. More