By Mike Mount
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not in an enviable position.
The man who has led the country for nearly 10 years is a difficult politician to deal with for the most part.
Beyond his seemingly outrageous comments toward the United States, he has also been called corrupt and often impossible to predict.
In his latest eyebrow-raiser following a bomb blast in Kabul that killed at least nine people, Karzai said on Sunday there are "ongoing daily talks between Taliban, American and foreigners in Europe and in the Gulf states."
The comment effectively claimed the United States was trying to foment continued violence inside Afghanistan.
The top commander of U.S. and allied forces, Gen. Joseph Dunford, quickly denounced the remark.
"We have fought too hard over the past 12 years. We have shed too much blood over the past 12 years. We have done too much to help the Afghan Security Forces grow over the last 12 years to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage," he said.
It cannot be denied Karzai has timing. He made the comment as the new U.S. defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, made his first visit to Afghanistan.
Hagel met with Karzai and assured him the United States was not engaged in a deal with the Taliban to continue violence inside Afghanistan.
In fact, Hagel seemed to understand why Karzai made the statement.
"I know these are difficult issues for President Karzai and the Afghan people," Hagel said after a meeting with him.
"I was once a politician, so I can understand the kind of pressures that especially leaders of countries are always under. I would hope, again, that we can move forward and I have confidence that we can and will deal with these issues," Hagel said.
He may not have been far off base.
"A lot of times, he has to say these things because he is playing to his domestic base, especially the Pashtuns in the East and the South who are his constituency and who are concerned that he is only acting at the request of the international community," says Javid Ahmad, program coordinator at the Washington-based policy analysis group German Marshall Fund.
"He (Karzai) has to give that internal audience the message that he's still president and still in charge, especially now that he has to ensure his legacy," Ahmad said.
But amid the continued drumbeat against the United States and NATO allies, Karzai's comments continue to chip away at allied support.
"It is unfortunate that President Karzai chose to make remarks that are so unfounded," says Kimberly Kagan, who leads the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.
"It is possible for American's to overreact to those comments, which President Karzai aims at an international audience, at our senior leaders as well as a huge domestic audience, when he is engaged in negotiation with us over really important issues," Kagan said.
The Karzai government is in the middle of discussions to gain full access to the main detention facility at Bagram Air Base as well as a bi-lateral agreement on keeping a security agreement with Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal of U.S. forces.
In another recent decree, Karzai prevented Afghan troops from calling in NATO air support under "any circumstances" which reflects his bigger problem, according to Mark Jacobson, a former NATO adviser in Afghanistan.
"Karzai, rather than seeking a "mature" discussion of the issues, acted reflexively and issued a decree barring Afghan forces from asking "for the foreigners" planes for carrying out operations on our homes and villages," Jacobson wrote in an opinion piece for CNN.com.
"His unfair and irresponsible characterization that "foreigners" are the threat to the Afghan population, and that it is "foreigners" who wage war on Afghan homes, threatens to weaken the coalition that has helped build Afghanistan's capacity to secure its future," according to Jacobson.
And to muddy the waters a bit more, it is not entirely clear where Karzai's comments come from.
"He has opted to act this way, to take the NATO allies to task, because he believes western officials and Americans don't take him seriously and they fail to listen to him during private meetings," Ahmad said.
But Ahmad says the Karzai aides that he has spoken with say the Afghan leader will often say publicly exactly what his advisers tell him without thinking it through.
"Strategic communication is very important. But when he surrounds himself with such an unholy alliance of people, it's really hard to gauge where his comments are really coming from," Ahmad said.
Regardless of what Karzai thinks and says, the United States cannot ignore him.
"It is vital to continue having a relationship with Afghanistan precisely because it is vital to ensure there is no return of al Qaeda, there is a stable government and that the region of Afghanistan and Pakistan and Central Asia does not become a bout of civil war or instability," says Kagan.
"The relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan is essential, but we have to recognize the uncertainty," Kagan said.