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?

Sometimes madness is just madness

Syed Yahya HussainySomething is very wrong with the state of US-Pakistani relations at this critical time in the war against extremism and fanaticism. In the midst of this defining moment in the war effort in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, the US has turned its guns not on its enemies but on its friends. After the clumsy spectacle of the Untied States publicly insulting and degrading Afghan President Hamid Karzai almost derailed the NATO offensive, it seems the Obama Administration is stumbling into an even greater political blunder in Pakistan. It may be unintended but it is nevertheless unprofessional. The amateurish undermining of Pakistan’s democratically elected civilian government by “unnamed administration officials” who claim they are preparing for a replacement of the current government over the next months, may be antagonistic to a friend and ally at its best, or a tragic self-fulfilling prophesy at its worst.

The United States has run roughshod over the people and politics of Pakistan for large chunks of Pakistani history. The US on-again-off- again commitment to democracy and human rights in Pakistan was turned off like a spigot to prop up a brutal dictator like General Zia ul Haq in the eighties, and then again the Musharraf dictatorship in the first decade of the new century. If the American people ever want to know why only eleven percent of the people of Pakistan view the US as a friend, they don’t have to beyond the US presidential dances with Pakistani dictators while the country’s economic and social infrastructure collapse. The reason the people of Pakistan think the US has exploited and manipulated their country is because it has. And it looks like it is planning to do it once again.

It is said that Pakistan is ruled by the three great “A’s” — Allah, the Army and America. We assume Allah is politically neutral. The army has episodically intervened to take over power whenever they thought they could get away with it. And getting away with it always centered on whether the third “A’ — America, was signaling green light, yellow light or red light. Administration sources telling the NY Times and Washington Post that they expected a change in leadership in Pakistan had to be viewed as a bright green signal to an Islamabad and Rawlpindi that lives off rumor and gossip.

Why would the US turn against its only reliable political ally in Pakistan? Asif Ali Zardari, the President of the country and the leader of PPP the ruling party, may not be Pakistani right wing’s political cup of tea, nor Pakistan’s left wing intellectual cup of tea, but he is the best thing America has going for it in Pakistan, and there’s nothing and no one even close. He has been consistently underestimated over the last twenty years, and he has survived and thrived, defying the pundits and the odds. I expect he’ll defy the latest assaults as well. If Washington is betting against Zardari, who exactly is it betting for? Another military dictatorship? A conservative opposition that is viscerally anti-American and has been historically bonded at the hip to the jihadists? What does the US accomplish in undermining Zardari other than undermining itself?

Zardari declares war on the terrorists and orders the army into Swat and South Waziristan. Zardari publicly defends the United States despite the enormous political price he pays for his friendship. Zardari pushes for educational reform and closing of political madrassas. Zardari asks for “trade not aid.” Zardari commits Pakistan to a green, renewal energy future. Zardari’s government mobilizes the nation and evacuates twenty percent of the country before marauding flood waters can kill millions of Pakistanis. Zardari then orders a millionaires tax on the wealthiest people in Pakistan to pay for flood relief, infuriating the Punjabi urban super-rich business barons of the PML(N) opposition, and the Karachi and Hyderabad anarchistic upper classes of the MQM. These ideologically diametrical right and left poles of Pakistani politics are held together only one common trait: their common elitist nihilism. The filthy rich conveniently and sanctimoniously use alleged corruption of the Pakistani government as an excuse not to pay taxes but also don’t contribute a nickel to Pakistan’s poor underclass and flood refugees.

What more would a progressive White House want from an ally in Pakistan other than strong anti-terrorism and a liberal, secular domestic agenda. Does Obama think he’d get that kind from a new military dictator or a Jihadist supported Nawaz?

Is there method to the White House’s madness? I think not. Sometimes madness is just madness.

This article was originally published at HuffingtonPost.com