Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hamid Karzai: Afghanistan’s bridge-building president or just a corrupt pol? - Peter Bergen

When Hamid Karzai took power in Afghanistan soon after 9/11, aided by U.S. diplomats and Special Forces, he was celebrated in the West as a new kind of Afghan leader: He wasn’t a warlord with thousands of fighters at his beck and call but a cosmopolitan diplomat who was fluent in English and several other languages. He was the scion of an illustrious tribe that had long ruled Afghanistan, and he rose above the country’s often fractious ethnic politics. American menswear designer Tom Ford even called Karzai “the chicest man on the planet” because of his habitual, distinctive ensemble of colorful cape and astrakhan fur hat.

When Karzai left office in 2014, he was widely derided as the “mayor of Kabul,” and he had exhausted the patience of key U.S. officials with his continual, public criticism of Americans, whom he described as “demons” when he met with ordinary Afghans. Karzai also presided over one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and members of his family had vastly enriched themselves during his tenure.

Was Karzai a bridge-building president, as he was first portrayed, or was he a wily pol adept at playing the great game of Afghan politics but inattentive to his chance to become his nation’s George Washington? Or was he always a bit of both? And what of his brothers, such as Ahmed Wali Karzai, the de facto ruler of southern Afghanistan: Was he a drug-dealing plutocrat, as was rumored? Or was he the glue that kept the south together, as many CIA and U.S. military officials believed? And was his other brother, the blustery businessman Mahmood Karzai — “Afghanistan’s version of Donald Trump” — a big-time crook or a bona fide entrepreneur just trying to make something of his country? 

For many American generals and diplomats, Karzai was a maddeningly mercurial leader and at times infuriating. Yet he had to navigate the constantly shifting vagaries of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Partlow points out that by the time the Afghan president left office, he “had been lectured on military operations by twelve ISAF commanders from seven different countries. He’d received the American president’s messages from five U.S. ambassadors.” Add to that the fact that almost all U.S. soldiers and diplomats serving in Afghanistan were on one-year tours, and it’s not surprising that the mordant cliche about the Afghan war was so accurate: “It wasn’t a 10-year war, but a one-year war fought 10 times.” - Read More

Hamid Karzai: Afghanistan's bridge-building president or just a corrupt pol?


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