Patrick Cockburn: He may be weak, but President Karzai knows the US has no alternative

The main American complaint against President Hamid Karzai over the past year has been that he and his government are so weak that the US has no effective local partner in Afghanistan.

But Mr Karzai is able to play it both ways. He knows that the US has found no credible alternative to him and was forced to swallow his fraudulent re-election last year. He can therefore afford to make criticism, which he knows will go down well with the majority of Afghans, without the US being able to do much about it.

Mr Karzai can see that the US "surge" in troop numbers, supposedly deploying a new more sophisticated strategy, has not so far led to the defeat of the Taliban in the south. But if not now, when? US reinforcements are in place and half of the American forces are now in Helmand and Kandahar.

The US military claim that the night raids are working and that many local Taliban commanders are being killed. This may be so but the US plays a heavy political price through alienating Afghans, as Mr Karzai's intervention underlines, by operating what are essentially death squads.