Leading article: Karzai is burying our hopes of ever leaving Afghanistan

Failure to hold run-off poll weakens president's claim to legitimacy

Share
Related Topics

The decision by Abdullah Abdullah to pull out of the run-off in the presidential election in Afghanistan should come as cold comfort to the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, whose claim to legitimacy as head of state, never wholly accepted abroad or at home, looks weaker than ever. As for Western strategists, particularly those in the US and Britain – the two countries that supply most foreign troops to Afghanistan – this is the nightmare scenario.

Barack Obama now faces an appalling dilemma as he considers the request of his commander on the ground, General Stanley McChrystal, for another 40,000 troops to prop up the Kabul government's fight against the Taliban. Having insisted that Washington would only continue to support a government whose democratic mandate was beyond reasonable question, the US President is hostage to that pledge, damned if he sends more troops and damned if he doesn't.

Parallels between the South Vietnam and Afghan governments, and between the Taliban and Vietcong, once derided as far-fetched, now look closer. Mr Obama must surely be haunted by the ghost of Lyndon B Johnson – another reforming Democrat president whose dreams of transforming American society fell victim to its creeping involvement in an unpopular, unwinnable war, the goals of which were never really established.

The irony of the latest developments is that the Western allies of the Afghan government did not particularly object to Dr Abdullah's withdrawal from this weekend's planned presidential run-off. Of course, the politicians said no such thing in public, honouring the fiction that Dr Abdullah and Mr Karzai needed to submit their claims to the electorate once again in an election that was less obviously fraudulent than the first round.

But the worry was always there that the Taliban would use another round of voting to unleash a spectacular orgy of violence in order to demonstrate their growing strength in the country. At the very least, the fear was that they would intimidate so many people into not voting as to render the re-run a farce.

The discreetly maintained hope in Washington and London was that a last-minute power-sharing agreement, saving everyone's faces, would render a run-off unnecessary. This might have involved Mr Karzai remaining president, Dr Abdullah being drawn into the fold in a significant position and a more broadly based government uniting to prosecute the war against Islamist extremists more efficiently than before, and with the support of an expanded US military presence.

Now all bets are off and the possibility arises of Western troops having to shoulder more and more of the burden of the conflict – a development that would only reinforce the Taliban's claim to be a nationalist resistance movement fighting foreign occupation.

It is possible that Dr Abdullah set the price of his involvement in a unity government too high and demanded too many concessions. Nevertheless, one can only wonder at the infinitely greater folly of Mr Karzai in spurning this opportunity to put his government on a more solid footing. Myopic to the end, he seems intent on burying his government's only long-term hope of political survival, not to mention our own hopes of eventually leaving his troubled country to a more secure future.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This exciting startup disruptin...

Guru Careers: Carpenter / Maintenance Operator

£25k plus Benefits: Guru Careers: A Carpenter and Maintenance Operator is need...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Magazine Designer

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This London based publishing co...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Negotiator - OTE £30,000+

£13500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Previous experience is benefici...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A young person in the UK is now twice as likely to be poor as a pensioner  

Britain is no country for the young – in jobs, income or housing

Ben Chu
LaGuardia Airport: a relic from a different, gentler age  

New York's LaGuardia Airport to be rebuilt: It could become the best gateway to America

Simon Calder
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash