Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a man in a hurry. He knows his time is running out and with it his chances of survival. He is desperate to make a deal with the Taliban but they are unwilling because they see him as an American puppet.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s erratic behaviour must be driving the Americans nuts. They cannot figure out who is more difficult to deal with: Karzai or the Taliban. The erratic — and some would say eccentric — Afghan president is unable to make up his mind about what he wants. On September 17 he dropped another bombshell at a youth conference in Kabul when he announced he was in no hurry to sign a security pact that would allow US troops to remain in Afghanistan after all US-NATO troops are theoretically out of the country by the end of 2014.
Karzai said a deal could be signed by his successor after next April’s presidential election. Clearly, his message was not intended for the youth; he wanted the Americans to hear it. He implied that unless the Americans acceded to his erratic demands, there would be no deal. The Americans are anxious to get a deal signed — it was signed in principle in May 2012 when US President Barack Obama stealthily dropped into Kabul but the finer details have yet to be worked out. They do not want a repeat of the Iraq fiasco when in October 2011, the Iraqis told the Americans there would be no deal for their troops to stay beyond the December 2011 deadline.
Karzai’s bombshell was dropped a day after Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Dobbins, said Washington was optimistic a deal could be signed in October. So what was on Karzai’s mind? Even he is not sure, or is deliberately making contradictory statements in order to confuse the Americans because he wants to squeeze something more out of the Americans. But the question is: what?
There are some clues. Karzai does not want the Americans to deal with the Taliban behind his back. That is why he threw such a tantrum when the Taliban opened an office in Doha, Qatar in June where they put a plaque that read, “Office of The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Karzai was not amused even though the Taliban office was opened with his full knowledge. He said he did not recognize the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Ultimately, the office was closed (most likely temporarily to smooth Karzai’s ruffled feathers) but the Taliban representatives stayed on in Doha. The food must be good.
Karzai insists he wants to deal with the Taliban directly but there is a problem. The resistance movement has rejected Karzai’s approaches dismissing him as an American puppet, hence their insistence that there can be talks but only between the Taliban and the US, whom they regard as the real power and authority in Afghanistan. The Taliban’s Qatar office was part of this plan but it had to be shelved temporarily because Karzai threw his spanner in the works.
He has adopted another approach as well. He believes any peace deal between him and the Taliban hinges on Pakistan releasing a number of Taliban leaders. Islamabad has already done so, the latest being Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar who was released on September 21. He is the former Taliban second-in-command and his release was sought by Karzai as part of his effort to coax the Taliban leadership to talk to him. Observers are not sure whether Mullah Baradar, out of circulation since February 2010 when he was arrested by Pakistani security forces from Karachi, can actually deliver. True, Baradar was second in command to Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar but the ground realities have changed considerably in three years’ time. Besides, even before Baradar’s capture, Mullah Omar had removed him as head of military operations to a less significant post within the Taliban political office.
There are other hiccups as well in the so-called peace process. Karzai — and the Americans — want the Taliban to give up their weapons and accept the Afghan constitution. Both want the Taliban to be integrated into Afghan society. The Taliban consider these demands as ludicrous. They say they are already fully integrated into Afghan society; it is Karzai who is out of touch. Besides, the Americans have no business telling the Afghans who should be integrated.
The Taliban also fully understand that it is their weapons that brought them to the stage where the Americans are chasing them for a deal. They are not likely to drop their weapons at this stage when the Americans are heading out seeking a safe exit. It is not only out of character for the Taliban but also uncharacteristic of the Afghans in general to demand they give up their weapons. Every Afghan is born with a gun in hand.
The Afghan constitution is unacceptable to the Taliban because they say it has been imposed, like Karzai, by foreign invaders. They want all foreigners out of the country and the constitution abolished. This will ultimately boil down to who can outlast the other. The Taliban have said the Americans may have all the watches, but they have all the time. Thus, they want the Americans to go home because the Taliban are already home.
Karzai realizes that as time passes, he will become less relevant. His term as president ends in April. He is trying to position his favorite candidate for the presidency. On September 1, he appointed Omar Daudzai, serving until then as Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, as acting Interior Minister pending parliamentary approval. A month before his new appointment, Daudzai, a former chief of staff to Karzai, had already set up an office in Kabul and announced he would be a “probable” candidate in the elections due on April 5, 2014. Since Karzai is barred from standing for a third term, he is positioning Daudzai into the important interior ministry post that will oversee elections. He is seen as one of Karzai’s closest associates and loyalists.
The 55-year-old Daudzai is from Afghanistan’s biggest ethnic group the Pashtuns. He was a member of the Hizb-e-Islami faction during the Soviet occupation and later went on to work for the United Nations. His appointment as interior minister was announced after Mujtaba Patang was ousted by parliament in August amid accusations that he had failed to thwart the threat from the Taliban. The resistance group has launched a string of attacks across Afghanistan in recent days, with scores killed in suicide bombings, ambushes and rocket attacks, and also executed five aid workers who were kidnapped in Herat.
Daudzai has also been accused of accepting suitcases full of dollars. The inference is that he was involved in corruption when he was running Karzai’s presidential office. Karzai dismissed the allegations saying these were transparent payments to run his office. He may have a point. If the money had been deposited in the Bank of Kabul, it may have ended up in Dubai or any other country as happened two years ago. Nearly a billion dollars disappeared from the bank.
Interestingly, Karzai named a number of individuals as possible candidates for the presidency in August: former mujahideen commander Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, former foreign minister and runner-up in the 2009 presidential race, Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani. Two other names have also been mentioned: Karzai’s brother, Qayum, and former interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali. Karzai also said he prefers a US-style presidential race in which there are only two candidates. He is clearly ill-informed. There are always more than two candidates but the American corporate establishment controls all information so tightly that only two candidates are known to the overwhelming majority.
Perhaps, Karzai wants to control the election in Afghanistan in similar fashion. It is not difficult to guess who his two favorite candidates might be: Qayum Karzai and Omar Daudzai! This would reflect the American system: both candidates, whether Republican or Democrat, are beholden to the corporate elite. Regardless of who wins, the establishment gets its own candidate in the White House.
Might that explain why Zafar Hilaly, a retired Pakistani diplomat, used uncharacteristically undiplomatic language about Karzai in his column titled, “Nothing good about Karzai” (The News, August 25, 2013)? Hilaly wrote, “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. [Bush] 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.”