18.02.2014 Author: Vladimir Platov

Hamid Karzai and the U.S.A.

3335541The closer we come to the presidential elections in Afghanistan, scheduled for April 5 of this year, and the planned withdrawal of international forces from the country, the worse the U.S.-Afghan relations become. The situation is becoming more and more difficult. Washington is very interested in the signing of bilateral agreements on security, which will determine the timetable for withdrawal (long ago promised by Obama and approved by NATO), and the conditions for the preservation of nine military bases in Afghanistan, consisting of 10–15 thousand soldiers. It long ago became meaningless to have 90,000 foreign soldiers, of which more than 60,000 are Americans. Especially as this military armada cannot, and does not want to defeat the Taliban, and the continued occupation of Afghanistan keeps creating great hostility towards the international community in the local population. Washington hopes that by keeping the bases, it will be able to continue to have an impact not only on Afghanistan, but also on the entire surrounding region: Iran, Pakistan, Middle and Central Asia, as well as China.

However, who can interfere with the White House dominating this region, not only by maintaining a military presence in it, but also by dictating its policy? As we can recall, the Taliban were not able to evict the U.S. and NATO soldiers from Afghanistan. Will President Hamid Karzai – Washington’s protégé, be able to do it?

As strange as it might seem, Karzai has insistently demonstrated his dissatisfaction with the actions of the United States, in the more than 12-year occupation of his country. He is methodically implementing the restructuring of its public image from an “American Puppet” to a “Sovereign Policy” with a claim to the role of being a national leader in the new post-American Afghanistan. Karzai refuses to sign a strategic partnership agreement with the U.S.A., one that would determine the status of American troops remaining in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the main contingent in 2014. He offers numerous interviews to regional and international mass media reporters, criticizing the White House’s policy. The Afghan president is urging Obama to apologize (in written form) for the “errors that had killed Afghan civilians”, to stop breaking into homes of local people, to release prisoners from Guantanamo, not to intervene in the upcoming presidential elections and to reach an agreement with the Taliban for peace in Afghanistan.

In response, Washington has presented an ultimatum to Kabul, threatening to withdraw all troops and leave Afghanistan without financial assistance. In reality, the U.S. is not going to let Afghanistan float freely, however, they cannot remain there forever either.

Realizing that after the end of his mandate, he may follow Najibullah’s fate, he does not believe the promises of subsequent personal security provided by U.S. special services. Thus, Karzai last year started actively looking for additional “insurance” options. That is why he turned his attention to the Taliban, who, after the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan, have very real chances of again coming to power. The last two years he was opposed to the British and Americans negotiating with the Taliban, yet now he keeps not only meeting with them informally but also has put forward a condition for the Americans to reach a peace agreement with the Taliban.

In addition, Hamid Karzai is aware that he would be able to expel U.S. troops from Afghanistan with the Taliban’s support, and recently such support has become his strategic goal. He was able to demonstrate to the Taliban, as well as to numerous conservative traditionalist associations in the country, about his willingness to create a political situation, which would force Western troops to leave Afghanistan, at considerable cost to Washington’s political image. To reach these aims, Karzai is negotiating with the Taliban 

not only domestically but also in Pakistan. He participated in the setting free of many influential Taliban leaders from Pakistani prisons. Here we can cite the influential field commander Mullah Yunus, the Taliban leader’s advisor Mullah Abdul Ahad Dzhahangirval, shadow governor of Helmand Province, Mullah Abdul Manan. Communicating with representatives of the movement of “violent mullahs”, the Afghan president is persistently trying to convince the Taliban to cease hostilities and to negotiate with all Afghan political groups, giving up its monopoly in defining the future of Afghanistan. In this case, it would be possible to create a unique situation – the elimination of formal prerequisites for the further stay of the U.S. and NATO military units, as an Afghan settlement would become an internal affair of the Afghans themselves. 

As for the USA, then, according to the newspaper The New York Times  the popularity of the war in Afghanistan sharply diminished in the U.S. Congress, and U.S. officials are skeptical about their ability to carry out even minimal security cooperation with Karzai’s government or his successor after the elections. Information that appeared in media about Karzai’s secret contacts with the Taliban behind the White House was met with indignation in Washington, and they initiated a series of additional consultations between President Obama and Defense Minister Chuck Hagel and other members of the military command. In addition, on February 4, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a meeting to discuss the situation.

In Washington, President Karzai was attributed some not flattering epithets “paranoid and irrational person”, in that typical American manner of disrespecting all representatives of foreign states. It seems that hardly any foreign leader would begin, after such words, a “strategic cooperation with Washington”. In these circumstances, Karzai decided to actively use the mass media opportunities (a tactic learned from the Americans) to further strengthen his own position in society and compromising “opposing forces”. As the saying goes – “a worthy disciple of his teachers!” For example, recently there was a “leak” of information in the Western media from one of the anonymous sources of the Afghan leadership that Hamid Karzai suspects “the American side in the organization of more than 10 terrorist attacks, including the attack on the Lebanese restaurant in Kabul”.

In a recent interview with BBC, Karzai said that: “Helmand Province would be safe if it were not visited by any British soldier”. NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the Britain took offence to this statement. London and Washington became more irritated after Karzai’s last sensational interview given to the British newspaper, The Sunday Times, entitled Hamid Karzai: America has left me with a mess 

He announced that the U.S. 12-year mission in Afghanistan had failed. “I only met murders on my way,” he quoted British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and to support these words, he pointed to constant attacks from the air with drones, bombing of the Taliban in the Pashtun tribal area in Pakistan, many refugees and victims. As the president of Afghanistan emphasized: “…All these actions of theirs led to the fact that today’s Afghanistan has become a zone of chaos … I wish the American troops had never come to Afghanistan.”

This harsh criticism by Karzai of the United States, and the presence of the U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, was positively perceived not only in the region but also in many countries abroad. Observers and foreign analysts devote numerous articles to analyze the “results” of this “anti-terrorist operation by Washington”. Many of them are wondering: Will the initiators of this “operation” report on their conduct to the UN Security Council, which has given the mandate and the means to implement it? 

Vladimir Platov, an expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine Novoye Vostochnoye Obozreniye (New Eastern Outlook).