Why we shouldn’t bet on Karzai

Hamid Karzai and Manmohan Singh

Afghan president Hamid Karzai said that, in a Pak-US war, Afghanistan would side with Pakistan. His statement has found a predictable home among the other hollow rhetoric of media headlines, but we would be wise not to bet too much on our Western neighbors.

In September, the Indian media reported that Karzai briefed Manmohan Singh on “the role of ISI in fomenting terror”, and it was soon after that Karzai signed a strategic pact with India. Actually, it was only two weeks ago that Karzai was blasting Pakistan for playing a “double game” against militants and accused the government of not co-operating for peace and security.

Even The Nation, about as far from a pro-American voice in the media as you can get, cast doubt on Karzai’s pledge.

Notwithstanding all his goodwill gestures, Pakistan may be forgiven for wondering how long the Afghan President will continue to hold such kindly sentiments for Pakistan. During the very same interview, he seemed to be toeing the American line about the location of terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. He said that the so-called Taliban Shura was headquartered at Quetta and the Haqqani network and other terrorist groups were based in Pakistan.

We should also ask whether Karzai’s pledge to support Pakistan in a war reflects the popular feeling among the Afghan people. Unfortunately, public reactions to Karzai’s statement provide reason to worry.

His comments ignited a wave of angry calls to radio talk shows in Kabul on Sunday. Many Afghans, particularly in the north, consider Pakistan the source of much of its current troubles. One caller said, “When the president calls them brother and the nation calls them enemies, then there will be a conflict between the president and the nation.”

There was also political backlash from officials. “We must never involve ourselves in any war, particularly backing Pakistan, which is the cause of all our problems,” warned Arif Rahmani, a Parliament member from the southeastern province of Ghazni, one of the more violent and unstable regions of Afghanistan.

Mohammad Saleh Saljoqi, a Parliament member from the western province of Herat, seemed as baffled as anyone. “One day we say that Pakistan is a safe haven for the terrorists, that the Haqqani network is based there and that it is the source of a lot of our problems,” he said. “And the next day we say Pakistan is our brother country.”

President Karzai may pledge to support Pakistan, but will the Afghan people back Karzai? It doesn’t look likely.

Of course, this also raises the question of what exactly that would mean, anyway. The Afghan military is trained, equipped, and funded by the Americans. Even if they decided to turn on their benefactors, would they really provide an ancillary force capable of making up the difference with American military power?

The idea that an Afghan-Pakistan alliance is enough to take on the unrivaled might of the American military is not simply a delusion, it is a dangerous delusion. If we want to see an end to drone strikes, militant strikes, and war spilling over our borders, the only realistic path is to help provide a way for the Americans to leave Afghanistan with peace of mind that they will not be threatened with another 9/11 and with some amount of dignity after 10 long and bruising years.

Media fantasies notwithstanding, the threat of an Afghan-Pakistan alliance are not likely to startle the American generals with countless cruise missiles and the world’s most powerful military force. Neither is ambiguity in our attitude towards militants likely to drive the Afghans into our arms. Continuing with these delusional fantasies are most likely to result in an Afghan-Indian-American alliance. Do I have to tell you whose interest that is NOT in?

One thought on “Why we shouldn’t bet on Karzai

  1. First time a Tajik took control was in 1924 named Habibullah bache sakao, got hanged by ZahirShah’s father.
    Second time Burahanuudin Rabbani tried to take complete power he helped give birth to Taliban.Now Tajiks cannot sit quitely unless the stir enough trouble to oust Karzai.
    Most Pakhtuns will abstain since they have been dragged left and right by US/NATO, NA and Karzai.It now all depends on how Mullah Umar, Haqqani and AfPak war ambassador learn to eat from same plate.

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