Diplomatic Channels: Karzai is going nowhere fast, so Western powers ought to maintain good relations

 

Share

One evening last week, away from the crowds, the vibrancy and violence of the election campaign, Hamid Karzai hosted a dinner for two of the candidates. One was Zalmai Rassoul, a long-term ally, the other Abdullah Abdullah, a long-term adversary.

The talk, according to those present, was about the governance of the country after the polls: with none of the leading contenders likely to secure enough backing to claim outright victory in the first round, the outcome is likely to be decided by the swing of the majority Pashtun vote. The state apparatus, controlled by Mr Karzai, will play a part in delivering it; he has, for instance, already personally chosen the senior officials who will adjudicate over disputed results.

To the exasperation of the West, the Afghan president is not disappearing to count his millions in Dubai. He is staying on, reinventing himself as a power-broker, a man who wants to have a significant say in the future of his country. Dr Rassoul and Ashraf Ghani, the third major contender, have already stated that they want Mr Karzai to play a “guiding” role in their administrations if they win.

The President has been portrayed by Western officials as sunk in bitterness and inaction; refusing to sign the bilateral agreement which will allow a limited Western military force to stay on and enable international aid to continue coming in.

Instead, he had spent his time lashing out at the West, accusing it of collusion with the Taliban, trying his best to antagonise; one of his last official pronouncements was to support the Russian annexation of Crimea.

When it came to Afghan politics, however, Mr Karzai has been remarkably active: there is a pattern to his realpolitik, making and breaking alliances, ensuring that those jockeying for positions in the future will be grateful for his support.

The Americans will not be happy by the presence of Banquo's ghost at the Afghan table in the future; but whose fault is it that relations between them and their one time protégé had ended in such mutual loathing? When we met Hamid Karzai in 2001 in Kabul, as he waited to become the leader of a deeply fractured country, people were taking bets on just how soon he would be killed. I asked Tommy Franks, the then commander of US and British forces in Afghanistan, about Mr Karzai's chances of survival. It depended, the General was clear, on whether the international community lived up to its commitment to provide help on security and development on an urgent and sustained basis.

A few months later, President Karzai was at a press conference with Colin Powell where the US Secretary of State was asked what had happened to the 'Marshal Plan'? We pointed out that Marjan - an ailing lion at Kabul zoo and the subject of a media appeal - had received more international donations than the Afghan people despite all the promises by international donors. Aid was slow in coming and, two years later, the money and troops which should have been devoted to Afghanistan was poured into the black hole of Iraq. President Karzai and the Afghan government - with a minuscule international force - could do little as the Taliban took advantage of the security vacuum to pour back across the Pakistani border.

In 2006, the West finally re-engaged in Afghanistan. But the sheer lack of knowledge about what lay ahead came in the hope of then defence secretary, John Reid, that the British mission to Helmand would end “without a shot being fired in anger”. There were mistakes made in the early military campaigns while, at the same time, the influx of international money introduced corruption on a heroic scale.

Those close to Mr Karzai were among the accused. The President's half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, it was claimed, was a narcotics dealer and gangster.

“Where is the evidence? That is what we want to know,” AWK, as he was known, stressed to me over lunch at his fortified compound in Kandahar.

The President, Ahmad Wali confided, had a copy of a letter from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) exonerating him of any criminal offences; he would show me a copy when we next met. I had promised to bring him a shirt signed by John Terry - his hero as a Chelsea fan. But by the time I got back, the strongman of Kandahar had already been shot dead.

That President Karzai ran a corrupt administration “while our boys die” became a common refrain in the West, whose visiting politicians felt free to lecture him, often in highly offensive fashion. The President, in turn, accused the Americans of interfering in domestic politics and undermining him: he went on to accuse them of collusion with the Taliban.

This may seem preposterous, but the argument is this - the Afghans believe that sections of the Pakistani military and the secret police, ISI, are backing the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. This is also a common belief among Western military, diplomats and international journalists, with ample evidence. Why then, Mr Karzai asks, do the Americans keep giving millions to the Pakistani security establishment, knowing that some of this will be used to carry out bombings across the border? The President's pronouncement on Crimea came after reports that the Americans, while refusing to give Afghan forces heavy weaponry, were going to donate military stock to the Pakistanis as they withdrew from Afghanistan.

With this level of antipathy it is highly unlikely that full trust can ever be reestablished between the outgoing President and his former sponsors. But he is not going to cut and run: one suspects the West will have to learn to work again with Hamid Karzai.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Industrial Gas Burner Engineer

£26000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Industrial Gas Burner Engine...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Inside Sales Manager - Accountancy Software - £80,000 OTE

£50000 - £60000 per annum + £80,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Reading , Sou...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - BIM Software - £55,000 OTE

£40000 per annum + OTE £55,000 +Pension : h2 Recruit Ltd: An excellent opportu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
More vegetarian and vegan options are now available for consumers  

The stereotypes around vegetarians and vegans must stop: I've never worn tie-dye, I'm not weak, and I can't stand Morrissey

Liz Cookman
 

You wouldn't give your child untested medicine, so why would you give them an untested education?

Oliver Wright
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital