WASHINGTON - The former top U.S. commander in Europe predicted Wednesday that Afghan President Hamid Karzai will win re-election easily in August but warned that Afghans will quickly lose faith in him, and his U.S. backers, if he does not provide better leadership.
Afghans have deep problems with Karzai's government, and rightly so, said Gen. John Craddock.
Craddock, who left his job this month and will retire in August, said corruption is rampant in Afghanistan, and Karzai also must demonstrate he is able to deliver basic services.
"I think the six months after the election will be critical for him, critical for that nation, in terms of what the people see him bringing to them," said Craddock, who oversaw the NATO operation in Afghanistan.
Without better delivery of social services and infrastructure, for starters, Karzai's U.S. backers will be tarnished along with him, Craddock said. He spoke at the Nixon Center, a Washington foreign policy study centre.
"My fear, quite frankly, is that they will walk away from government at all levels," Craddock said of Afghans. "And we will be viewed as the problem," because of continued U.S. support, he said.
The United States has supported Karzai militarily and financially, but enthusiasm for the talkative, sometimes combative leader has waned. The Obama administration has distanced itself from Karzai, and worked around him when possible.
The buildup of U.S. forces in Afghanistan this spring is intended in part to help provide security for the August presidential election, with an eye to turning the tide of public support away from the Taliban-led insurgency and blunting the spread of insurgent forces in Afghanistan's south and east.
Craddock predicted Karzai will win on the first ballot, with no need for a runoff.