Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Foreign Policy - The Misunderstanding of Hamid Karzai --- Afghanistan's president of 13 years exits the stage, and leaves behind him a slew of missed opportunities. --- Karzai wasn't always a pleasure to deal with. He called the Americans "demons" after U.S. soldiers burned the Quran in 2012, sparking riots and attacks in Kabul. And he stubbornly refused to sign the strategic partnership agreement about the future of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Karzai infuriated his partners by referring to the Taliban as his "brothers." -- Yes, Karzai has been an infuriating partner. But he has also been deeply misunderstood -- and mishandled. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Karzai -- as an ambitious former diplomat -- had the potential to build a political structure for the country. He was a shrewd political operator and the ideal choice for a post-Taliban leader. At that time, he had a plan that could have fundamentally changed the course of Afghanistan's war and avoided the long-running U.S. military campaign: striking a peace deal with the Taliban. It was rejected. -- The Taliban were our Afghan friends, Karzai told me several times in interviews. It was Karzai who made a clear distinction between "the Arabs" -- foreign jihadists using Afghanistan as a base -- and the Taliban. The Arabs had to be fought in Afghanistan, and yes, the Taliban must be punished for sheltering Osama bin Laden. But after their regime was toppled, Karzai believed it was time to stop fighting the Afghan group. --- While most people have focused on his failures and inadequacies over the past 13 years, a little-reported trip in the earliest days of his coming to power in Afghanistan sheds light on what sort of leader he might have been -- if only the United States would have let him. --- A few days after the United States and Britain launched their attack on Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, Karzai organized his mission to enter the country to place himself as the alternative for the Taliban. He set up the trip with the backing of other tribesmen inside Afghanistan, a good friend in the CIA, and his contacts in the Taliban. Karzai was continuing his habit of simultaneously playing every side of the political puzzle. --- "Times will change," Karzai told every Afghan he came across on his clandestine trip. "The Taliban will go and the Americans will support us." Not everyone was on board. After arriving in Urozgan, Karzai encountered a group of men who didn't believe that he came in peace. A group of Taliban attacked Karzai, and he had to be rescued by the CIA and was flown to Pakistan. That wasn't enough to deter him from his mission to make peace, though. Two weeks later Karzai continued his trip, now with the assistance of U.S. Special Forces and the CIA. --- Even more so when Karzai's name was mentioned in relation to the future presidency of Afghanistan, he became the person to go to for the Taliban. Though Karzai might have offered amnesty for opportunistic reasons, hoping to gain more power among his Pashtun community, eyewitnesses describe the Taliban's positive response to these initiatives. --- While Karzai was hammering out a future for southern Afghanistan as the new interim president, the Americans intervened and tried to stop him. Even when high-level Taliban members, such as the minister of defense and top commanders, surrendered to Karzai in the first week of December, Karzai was forced to stop accepting the surrendered Taliban by the Americans. --- If only the Americans had listened to Karzai in 2001, the situation in Afghanistan could have turned out differently. Though Karzai was Washington's preferred candidate, the Bush administration's lack of knowledge about Karzai's political deal-making in the complex Afghan political and tribal dynamics prevented it from appreciating his early efforts to win the war by negotiation. Soon, it would be too late. By the time Karzai became the official president in 2004, the Taliban had regrouped, having realized that under U.S.-controlled Afghanistan they would find no place back into the political process. Their insurgency continues to this day. --- Would Karzai have been a different leader if he had brought the Taliban on board in 2001? It's hard to know. But with the Taliban as part of the peace process in the early years of the war, the Americans might have achieved a more diplomatic solution to Afghanistan's crisis, creating an inclusive government, heading off the insurgency, and thus avoiding the full-scale involvement that followed -- which has caused the deaths of more than 2,300 Americans. -- As a consequence of this bitter start, Afghanistan has become a familiar story of political corruption and dysfunction: The power brokers once supported by U.S. Special Forces and billions of dollars became the enemy of the United States and the Afghan people -- acting like the mafia, pursuing their own interests over the country's, and ruining Afghan's faith in post-Taliban governance. -- With the support of the United States, many in Karzai's government marginalized opposing groups and rival tribes, often convincing their ignorant U.S. counterparts their enemies were Taliban in order to discredit them. The war began as a fight between the extremist Taliban and the people who opposed their radical worldview -- both Americans and their Afghan allies. But those lines dissolved as Karzai's government made more enemies from within what had previously been its camp. Political rivals -- some Taliban, some not -- were allowed to live in peace in Kabul; others were forced out, only to join the insurgency. -- Thirteen years after 9/11, power in Afghanistan has little to do with democracy. The bitter political wrangling between the new president, Ashraf Ghani, and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, has demonstrated that, even as the world witnesses a peaceful transfer of power. But peace talks with the Taliban are off at the moment, and many fear the insurgency will bloom as soon as the Americans leave. Can Ghani win the peace now? Perhaps. But also, too, could have Karzai 13 years ago -- if only the Americans had given him a chance? -- Read More, Bette Dam, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/10/03/hamid_karzais_missed_opportunities_afghanistan_taliban


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