Karzai flip-flops

Posted by Admin On Sunday, 1 September 2013 0 comments

Nothing good has ever come out of Afghanistan and that's not about to change with the arrival of Hamid Karzai on an official visit to Pakistan next week. Much can be said about Karzai but very little that is good. And if some feel that’s being unfair to Karzai, they are right. He’s worse than what he’s been made out to be.

We know all about Karzai’s corruption, his links with war lords and opium dealers; his late brother’s mafia-like set up in Kandahar which not merely served as an alternate to government but was the government and that the dangers against which he offered the locals protection was mostly from his own men.

So what sort of a man will Nawaz Sharif be meeting next week?

On a personal level Karzai has mastered the art of ambiguity, evasion and duplicity, as those who have negotiated with him can readily vouch. On the one hand, he can be a cold-blooded souls-engineer, a push-button politician who manipulates people’s emotions, beliefs and hopes to further his schemes. On the other hand, he can come across as caring and sincere. It’s not surprising therefore that Bush took to him personally whereas Musharraf found him insufferable.

Karzai cultivates the illusion in others (and in himself) that he’s special and due special consideration. In fact, he’s really quite ordinary. Had George W more sense he would have picked the exiled king rather than his subject to rule an occupied Afghanistan. Instead Karzai became America’s viceroy in Kabul and proved a disastrous choice, as much for America as for Afghanistan.

Hamid Karzai is a man of contrasting moods and utterances. Grovelling at America’s feet one day and going for Washington’s jugular the next; cooing at Pakistan and snarling in the same breadth; hating the Taliban and then declaring he wished to join them; a democrat and also an autocrat; secular when it suits him and theologically doctrinaire when he senses the need; a feminist in New York and a misogynist in Riyadh. It all depends who he is talking to and what works best at the time.

Of course, Karzai remains untroubled by such discrepancies but others are clearly not; which perhaps explains why the former US Ambassador in Kabul, General Eikenberry, in a leaked memo (WikiLeaks), felt Karzai suffered from a ‘bipolar’ condition. His actions, wrote Eikenberry, depended on whether he was ‘on or off’ the medicines his doctors had prescribed.

Consider the cloak Karzai sports. Has anyone ever seen a prominent Afghan leader in similar apparel? It’s as affected as Tahirul Qadri’s getup and as contrived as Karzai’s belief of himself as a genuine and popular Afghan leader. No quisling like Karzai, not even the original Norwegian one, was brazen enough to pass himself off as a ‘popular’ national leader even as his country is under foreign occupation and those on whose bayonets he was raised to office loll around calling the shots.

I met Karzai on a few occasions in the early nineties when he was the deputy foreign minister in the Burhanuddin Rabbani regime and I was handling foreign affairs in the PM’s Secretariat. I met him again in 2001/2 in Rome to deliver a letter from Musharraf, and for the last time in Islamabad, with Benazir Bhutto, on the morning of the fateful day she was murdered.

On each of those occasions I recall leaving his presence feeling I had met a consummate impersonator. He was not a statesman but he did convey a skilful impersonation of one. But Karzai isn’t an impersonator but an imposter acting as a spokesman for a class of people and a kind of life he, no doubt, has observed closely but which, like the privileged anywhere, has not been his and for which, even if he had developed a feel, he never really cared.

Why else plunder the coffers of an already impoverished and deeply troubled nation? Why else stymie peace talks on the basis of flimsy objections to flags and placards on display. Our part of the world is rife with politicians who are flamboyant interpreters of heroic roles in the style of the grand tragedians of yore.

Karzai’s performance as president has been scandalous. Bush tried to reform him and Obama initially, at least, to be rid of him. Both failed. But it is not the Americans but Afghans who have been Karzai’s chief victims. Already there are tomes written about what went wrong. It suffices to know that after spending nearly a trillion dollars over the past ten years the Americans are leaving an Afghanistan more divided politically, far less safe and as desperately poor as it was before the invasion.

Karzai’s solitary success has been the strategic alliance he has forged with India. But not really, because the opening he has provided India to outflank Pakistan via Afghanistan ensures that relations between Islamabad and Kabul will remain vexed, indeed, that India’s borders with Pakistan will remain troubled as Pakistan responds to India’s interference. If the Line of Control today is out of control, Karzai’s policies have a lot to do with it.

Actually, what the Karzai-Obama duo has achieved is the destabilisation of Pakistan. They have succeeded in lighting a fire in the Subcontinent that threatens to consume vast areas before it runs out of bush that will burn. They have also succeeded in pushing Pakistan further into the Chinese orbit. Although, I suspect, for Obama that was a cost he was prepared to pay to have India firmly clasped to his waist.

It’s surprising the Nawaz Sharif government is making such a song and dance over Karzai’s visit. Quite apart from his ill-concealed hostility to Pakistan, he is barely relevant to the Afghan peace process. He has no popular base, no funds and an army that has the highest desertion rate in the world. Once he vacates the presidency, as he must by April 2014, he will not have even a vestige of authority.

Moreover, the Taliban consider him an anathema and have refused to negotiate with him. And, even if some Afghans receive him with smiles and garlands, at the moment, that’s only because he is the president. Why then engage overly with the soon to be history Karzai, let alone expend our diminishing credit with the Taliban to prod them to talk to him?

Perhaps it’s because we want to please the Americans. Buried in debt and desperate for an IMF bailout we can’t afford to cock a snook at Washington. Anyway, we are easily bullied. That said, any undue concessions, implicit in the statement by one official – ‘we have promised him he will not return empty handed’ – may impact adversely on our nexus with the Afghan Taliban who have a far more decisive a role in a future Afghanistan than Karzai.

Only months away from the American withdrawal there continues to be a lack of political vision and a clear road map with regard to a political solution. The present conditions are a precursor to civil war in Afghanistan rather than to peace. One of the main obstacles to peace is Karzai.

If we can persuade him during the forthcoming visit to stop making a fuss about inconsequential matters, which led to the first round of peace talks being aborted, we would have achieved something much, but not really. A Karzai flip-flop may soon follow.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: charles123it@hotmail.com



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