The Day Af­ter

Southasia - - FRONT PAGE - By Ma­lik Muham­mad Ashraf

Af­ter the fail­ure of its mil­i­tary mis­ad­ven­ture in Afghanistan, that cost well over $350 bil­lion and the lives of 1400 U.S. and 400 Bri­tish sol­diers, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion seems to be in a hurry to exit Afghanistan, leav­ing be­hind a legacy of an­ar­chy and threat of a po­ten­tial re­lapse to the in­ternecine war­fare wit­nessed in late 1990s. Hamid Karzai, who was cat­a­pulted as a leader of Afghanistan and was of­ten called ‘the man of the hour’ af­ter the de­feat of the Tal­iban in the wake of U.S. bl­itzkrieg, would also leave his po­si­tion af­ter 13 years. When he steps down, many in the west would be re­lieved to see him clear­ing the deck.

An ed­u­cated per­son and head of a strong Pash­tun tribe, Hamid Karzai was sur­rounded by pro-west fol­low­ers. In western cap­i­tals, he was seen as the new Afghan hero. His anti-Tal­iban cre­den­tials be­fore 9/11 and lob­by­ing for in­ter­na­tional as­sis­tance to dis­lodge them en­deared him to world lead­ers. But as time passed and the events turned out quite dif­fer­ently from what the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion had ex­pected, the mar­riage between Karzai and his western bene­fac­tors was jeop­ar­dized and ul­ti­mately ended with a painful di­vorce. Per­haps a re­cap of the events that led to this trans­for­ma­tion would not be out of place to un­der­stand the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan and what the future holds for it.

Karzai was in­stalled as pres­i­dent of Afghanistan in De­cem­ber 2001 af­ter the de­feat of the Tal­iban. His po­si­tion was the re­sult of both the U.S.’ ap­proval and con­sul­ta­tions among rep­re­sen­ta­tives of ma­jor Afghan tribes. The Afghan Loya Jirga en­dorsed his ap­point­ment as pres­i­dent of the Afghan Tran­si­tional Ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2002 and he be­came the full-fledged pres­i­dent of Afghanistan in 2004 af­ter the elec­tions. Ini­tially, in­ter­na­tional lead­ers were im­pressed with him and felt that he was ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing. How­ever, their per­cep­tion waned by the next elec­tions in 2009. The U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion wanted him out and even tried to ma­nip­u­late the re­sults, but couldn’t achieve its ob­jec­tive.

The nose­dive in the re­la­tions between Karzai and western lead­ers, es­pe­cially U.S. lead­ers, is at­trib­ut­able to the fail­ure of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to honor its com­mit­ments in Afghanistan. The re­la­tions between the U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion and Karzai were much more con­vo­luted than

they seemed. How­ever, de­spite the ever widen­ing gulf between the two sides on the pur­poses and modal­i­ties of achiev­ing the am­bi­tious ob­jec­tive of re­build­ing and re­con­struct­ing Afghanistan, they con­tin­ued to work to­gether. In the early years of Karzai’s pres­i­dency, mil­lions of refugees re­turned to their na­tive land, the econ­omy showed signs of re­cov­ery, schools re­opened and a num­ber of NGOs par­tic­i­pated in the so­cioe­co­nomic devel­op­ment of Afghanistan. A sem­blance of peace also re­turned to the coun­try.

The re­la­tions between Karzai and the west started to strain when the Tal­iban staged a come­back due to weak ad­min­is­tra­tion in Kabul and in­abil­ity of the coali­tion forces to main­tain peace. By 2006, mil­i­tants had re­claimed ter­ri­to­ries in south­ern, east­ern and cen­tral Afghanistan. Karzai, who had turned into a mav­er­ick from be­ing an er­rand boy of the west, was in­volved in a row with the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment over its po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary strat­egy to con­tain the Tal­iban on­slaught. He be­came in­creas­ingly crit­i­cal of the un­ful­filled prom­ises of the world com­mu­nity. Karzai also raised an ac­cus­ing fin­ger at Pak­istan, blam­ing it for the re-emer­gence of the Tal­iban. He was bit­ter about the U.S.’ in­abil­ity to stop Pak­istan from al­legedly sup­port­ing the Tal­iban – a charge which Pak­istan ve­he­mently de­nied. Karzai sur­vived four as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempts on his life between Septem­ber 2002 and April 2008.

To push back the Tal­iban, the U.S. and NATO forces made ex­ces­sive use of air power. That caused enor­mous civil­ian ca­su­al­ties, which irked Karzai very much. Dur­ing the air raids in 2007, 1500 peo­ple were killed whereas in 2008 more than 2000 peo­ple lost their lives. Karzai threat­ened to ground the U.S.-NATO war planes and he­li­copters that were be­ing used to mas­sacre civil­ians. An­other el­e­ment which con­trib­uted to the strain­ing of re­la­tions between Kabul and the west was the sys­tem of gov­ern­ment cho­sen by Karzai.

In­stead of re­ly­ing on build­ing in­sti­tu­tions, he put his faith in in­flu­en­tial in­di­vid­u­als and power brokers. That was quite con­trary to what the west had wanted him to do. Karzai also had re­peated rows with Wash­ing­ton about aid to Kabul, sub­si­dies for the se­cu­rity forces and the num­ber of U.S. sol­diers and bases in Afghanistan af­ter the with­drawal of the U.S.-NATO forces; a ma­jor rea­son for his re­fusal to sign the BSA. The U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion also ac­cused Karzai’s younger brother of in­volve­ment in drug deals.

The dilemma of western lead­ers was that they had no al­ter­na­tive to Karzai. Ap­par­ently, Karzai’s change of mind and his re­fusal to play the game ac­cord­ing to the rules drawn up by his western men­tors stemmed from his de­sire to change the per­cep­tion of his be­ing a U.S. puppet and his con­scious ef­fort to re­main rel­e­vant to the future po­lit­i­cal sce­nario in Afghanistan.

To get even with Pak­istan, his gov­ern­ment – that en­joyed the sup­port of In­dian in­tel­li­gence agen­cies – pro­vided sanc­tu­ar­ies to the TTP lead­er­ship in Afghanistan and en­cour­aged it to launch at­tacks on tar­gets within Pak­istan, notwith­stand­ing the in­valu­able role of Pak­istan in bol­ster­ing in­tra-Afghan di­a­logue by re­leas­ing a num­ber of im­por­tant Tal­iban lead­ers. Dur­ing the 8th Tri­lat­eral Sum­mit in Ankara, Karzai had him­self ac­knowl­edged the pos­i­tive role played by Pak­istan and promised to make sure that Afghan soil would not be used for launch­ing ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Pak­istan. Con­se­quently, there was a lit­tle lull in his anti-Pak­istan rhetoric.

How­ever, ear­lier this year, dur­ing his visit to In­dia to par­tic­i­pate in the oath-tak­ing cer­e­mony of the In­dian prime min­is­ter, he again ac­cused Pak­istan of be­ing in­volved in an at­tack on the In­dian con­sulate in Afghanistan. Pak­istan, on the other hand, ful­filled its com­mit­ment to re­main neu­tral dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions and also sealed the Pak-Afghan bor­der.

Al­though Hamid Karzai will no more be at the helm of af­fairs once the new Afghan gov­ern­ment takes charge, there is no deny­ing the fact that he has been able to re­fur­bish his im­age to a great ex­tent. He has emerged as an in­flu­en­tial player on the po­lit­i­cal chess­board of Afghanistan. With a strong tribal back­ing and sup­port of power­bro­kers, all of which seems to have worked in fa­vor of Ashraf Ghani in the run-off stage, Karzai would still be in a po­si­tion to ex­er­cise his in­flu­ence in the future scheme of things, pro­vided the wran­gling over the rig­ging is­sue in the run-off stage is am­i­ca­bly re­solved be­fore the sched­uled trans­fer of power this month, fail­ing which the coun­try is likely to plunge into yet an­other un­end­ing con­flict between dif­fer­ent fac­tions, with the Tal­iban al­ready having upped the ante.

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