Karzai sees chance of survival slip as pledged aid dries up

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The Independent Online

Three years ago, with the defeated Taliban and their al-Qa'ida allies driven from power, Hamid Karzai could do no wrong. He was feted by George Bush and Tony Blair.

Three years ago, with the defeated Taliban and their al-Qa'ida allies driven from power, Hamid Karzai could do no wrong. He was feted by George Bush and Tony Blair.

Elected the leader of his country unopposed by the national council, the loya jirga , and promised billions of dollars in aid by the international community, the world's media flocked to interview him, and Gucci declared his traditional chapan coat and karakul hat the new face of Eastern radical chic.

Washington's first choice to lead post-war Afghanistan was Abdul Haq, but he was captured when he slipped into the country still under the control of Mullah Omar's regime and hanged.

Mr Karzai, whose father, Abdul Ahmad, the chief of the Pashtun Popolzai tribe, had been assassinated by Taliban agents in the Pakistani city of Quetta in 1999, was also discovered when he slipped into Afghanistan.

But he and his 100-strong group escaped after a six-hour battle. Later, the Americans bombed him and his men, mistaking them for al-Qai'da. When he was being treated for cuts to his head, Mr Karzai was told he had been elected interim leader by the Bonn Conference of anti-Taliban groups.

The problems came quickly. The International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) was supposed to consolidate the capital then spread. But it soon became apparent they were going to be confined to the capital.

And aid, promised so readily by the West when encouraging the Afghan opposition to fight the Taliban, seemed to just trickle through. Mr Karzai did not have the money to pay civil servants, and security forces were unpaid for months. During a visit to Kabul, three months after its fall, the US Secretary of State Colin Powell had to admit to journalists that while spending billions of dollars on the war, Washington had then given just $500,000 in aid.

In this vacuum, the warlords of Afghanistan, Ismail Khan at Herat in the west, Abdul Rashid Dostum at Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, and Shirzai Khan, at Kandahar in the south, re-established themselves. The Taliban and their Islamist allies regrouped across in Pakistan with, at times, the connivance of the Pakistani secret police, InterServicesIntelligence and infiltrated back.

Today President Karzai remains in power. But his writ is effective just in Kabul, and only with the protection of the international force. Attempts have been made to curb the powers of the warlords by offering them positions in the interim government, and the threat of American air power.

But the elections Mr Karzai promised have been put back because of unravelling security. The aid he has secured so far is just a fraction of the $27.5bn he had requested over the next seven years to start rebuilding the country's shattered infrastructure.

At the latest loya jirga , last December, Mr Karzai was openly accused by delegates of trying to impose a dictatorship. He knows that the longer the delay in imposing law across the country, and the injection of large-scale economic aid, the slimmer the chance of his survival.