Canada has suffered collateral damage from the leak of U.S. diplomatic cables that threatens relations with the Afghan government and has led the influential Canadian ambassador to Kabul, William Crosbie, to offer his resignation.
Mr. Crosbie has warned Ottawa that a U.S. document to be published on the website WikiLeaks will include criticisms he made about Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his powerful family at a meeting with other diplomats, and that this could require him to be replaced. And he noted fears that the WikiLeaks saga could push the Afghan President to break with Western allies.
“My words about Karzai and the influence of his family may attract attention, and they will be damaging for our relations with him and his government if they do so,” Mr. Crosbie wrote in a diplomatic note to Ottawa, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail and at least one other news organization.
He added: “Much depends on how Karzai reacts to the WikiLeaks. Will they cause him to take steps that will be unacceptable for our ongoing support? There are several critical decision points in the coming weeks.”
The memo is the first indication that leaks of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables could harm Canada’s interests abroad more than its relationship with the United States.
In four cables released on Wednesday, U.S. diplomats in Ottawa said Canada has an “inferiority complex,” and feels it has declined from middle-power status to an observer on the world stage, and criticized the CBC for anti-American stereotypes on shows like The Border and Little Mosque on the Prairie.
But the minor embarrassments of those cables – which expressed something close to sympathy for a country obsessed about relations with its “900-pound gorilla” neighbour – are unlikely to damage Canadian international relations in the way that Mr. Crosbie fears the Karzai remarks will.
In his note to Ottawa on Wednesday, Mr. Crosbie said U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry briefed diplomats in Kabul on the “potentially cataclysmic fallout” from the WikiLeaks revelation. Mr. Eikenberry expressed fears that the leaks will drive Mr. Karzai into a confrontation with the West.
They could also harm bilateral relations with Canada. Mr. Crosbie reported he was shown a copy of a cable that recorded a meeting of diplomats in Kabul on Feb. 20, just after Mr. Karzai sought to rewrite Afghanistan’s election laws to give himself more powers.
Mr. Crosbie, the only foreign diplomat named in the U.S. cable, is recorded as criticizing Mr. Karzai and his family, including his half-brother and Kandahar power-broker Ahmed Wali Karzai.
“The message is a report of a lengthy meeting on Feb. 20, 2010, in which I speak in very critical terms about the misuse of power by Karzai and his family (AWK is named) and urge the international community to oppose Karzai’s attempts to take control of the electoral law in advance of the [parliamentary] elections,” Mr. Crosbie wrote.
Mr. Crosbie offered to resign if the cable is released. “If my own comments become the focus of attention (and I only had a few minutes to review them) then consideration should be given to replacing me so that the bilateral relationship is not unduly affected.”
That would likely be a setback for Canada. Mr. Crosbie is rated by many as a blunt but effective ambassador – one former diplomat there said he is one of the three most influential Western ambassadors in Kabul.
Mr. Crosbie, a cousin of John Crosbie, the Newfoundland Lieutenant-Governor and Mulroney-era cabinet minister, has been in Afghanistan since July, 2009.
His concerns about Karzai family power, according to officials and diplomats, are widely shared in the Canadian government – but are not usually aired in public.
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, Melissa Lantsman, said she would not comment on leaked documents.
Other Western allies also fear the WikiLeaks revelations could lead to a crisis with the Afghan government.
Mr. Crosbie reported that Mr. Eikenberry “believes these will feed Karzai’s paranoia and mistrust of the U.S. [and its allies]; will put pressure on the reformers within the [government] to leave and will drive Karzai evermore into a confrontational role with the U.S. and NATO.”
Reformist ministers in Mr. Karzai’s cabinet, already under pressure, could find their close ties to the United States scrutinized, Mr. Crosbie wrote, and Washington fears that Afghans it works with will be “exposed to pressure and possibly worse.”