The Evasive Solution
President Karzai has been making desperate efforts to get the attention of Western powers but it all seems to be working in the opposite direction. Is there another solution to the serious problem that is Afghanistan?
While the international community has tried to improve the situation in Afghanistan over the past two years, President Karzai has stepped up efforts to appease the insurgent groups, ostensibly to persuade them to end the insurgency but in fact to keep the international community away from interfering in his corrupt government.
This has resulted in a disturbing conflict of interests between Karzai and the international coalition as to how to form a future full of hope for this war-ravaged country. The international community is frustrated with Karzai’s inability to rein in his family members and government officials
who are deeply and widely involved in corruption and the illegal drug business. Understandably, Karzai is fed up with the meddling of the Western allies in his ‘internal business.’
Several of Karzai’s moves that he made during the last one year show how badly he wants to let the international community know of his intentions. As his first move, he forced two top officials – Hanif Atmar, the Minister of Interior, and Amrullah Saleh, the Intelligence Chief – to resign. Karzai thought they were too much under the influence of the United States. And now the news is that he is removing two more important ministers, Abdul Rahim Wardak and Omar Zakhilwal. He has also received huge amounts of cash from Iran. These and some other moves seem to be aimed at distancing himself from his Western allies.
Among the moves that Karzai has made to appease the Taliban and other insurgent groups, he formed a Peace Council of Jihadi commanders and fired the deputy governor of Helmand province just because he had invited a female singer to the Afghan New Year Eve concert.
The latest of these moves resulted in huge international trouble. A moronic pastor in Florida burned a copy of the holy Quran after a mock trial in his small church in mid-March. The event was largely ignored by mainstream media and very few people came to know of it. But at the end of the month, Karzai, possibly thinking that he would make the extremists happy, issued a statement in which he condemned the pastor and burning of the holy Quran
This statement provoked violent demonstrations throughout Afghanistan. Reportedly, Karzai had asked his governors and other officials to spread the statement and invite people to demonstrate. According to some reports, the governor of Balkh province, also a former Jihadi commander, told his provincial council to arrange for demonstrations. The imams all over Afghanistan quoted the statement and ignited fury.
As a result, on the first Friday of April, thousands of people marched from the Blue Mosque in Mazar-eSharif, a northern city known to be relatively peaceful and stable, to demonstrate against the Quran burning and attacked the UN compound. The violent demonstrators first killed five Nepalese guards at the compound and then three Western officers, two of whom were beheaded.
In Kandahar, the next day, more violent protests resulted in the killing of about 15 people while nearly a hundred more were wounded. The demonstrators also attacked schools and other public property.
Surely President Karzai and his officials did not expect things would turn so serious. But that does not matter as disturbed and confused leaders never know what to do and what to expect. Similarly, the Afghan President does not know what he will achieve by appeasement of the insurgent groups and his new found relationship with Iran. And he does not care what will happen to Afghanistan if the international community fails in its mission of the global fight against terrorism and the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
As before him, Taliban sacrificed Afghanistan and the entire Afghan nation to save Osama bin Laden. Now President Karzai is trying to sacrifice Afghanistan again, this time to save his corrupt relatives and officials.
This irresponsible attitude on Karzai’s own part and that of his officials and relatives is a big hurdle in the way of nation-building and the improvement of democratic system in Afghanistan. After President Obama announced increase in military presence in Afghanistan in 2009, the international community also shifted its focus to train the Afghan army and Afghan police. This was very important as it was the only way to improve the security situation and reconnect the rural population with the government in Kabul.
Just a few months ago, the security of some relatively secure cities was transferred to the Afghan security forces from international troops. Moving responsibility to the Afghan forces on such a level enables them to practice their professional skills in an independent manner. And this is significant for regaining the trust that people had lost because of several grave mistakes made by the Western forces and the Afghan government, the most serious of which were civilian casualties and widespread corruption.
However, improvement in the situation on a significant level is unlikely if there is no coordination of efforts and no trust between the Afghan government and its international supporters. A serious conflict of interests and priorities is likely to set them going in two separate directions. That will not only give the Taliban and other insurgent groups an opportunity to regain their strength on the ground and trust among the people, but they will also try to reverse all the efforts made during last 10 years and the consequences will be a failure of the international involvement as well as an end to the entire government infrastructure. The writer is a Kabul-based research analyst. He writes in English and local languages for different national media outlets.
The recent protests and killings over the Florida Quran burning incident is not good
news for a peaceful Afghan transition.