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July 1, 2006

Karzai: Revealed, Reviled, Orphaned, and at Bay


by Bahlol Lohdi

Recently, the international media has begun to report opinions about Karzai that are at odds with past flattering articles published in Western media. It appears that Karzai has lost the beauteous Teflon coating that was applied to him by his foreign backers, when he was plucked from obscurity, groomed as the future savior of the Afghan people, and dubbed the "George Washington of Afghanistan." Given recent revelations about Karzai and his views, the George Washington simile must seem equal in absurdity to the description of the Nicaraguan Contras as "the moral equivalent of [U.S.] Founding Fathers."

This media-manipulated transformation of Karzai into someone of consequence struck the people who actually knew him as ridiculous: a State Department official tartly remarked that "to us he will always be just Hamid." At the time, even Professor Fred Starr of Johns Hopkins University opined on CNN that "Karzai not only lacks support amongst the Afghan population but is also not supported by his fellow Pashtuns."

Nevertheless, Karzai's foreign handlers prevailed in portraying the sow's ear as a silk purse, with the enthusiastic cooperation of the corporate media. Consequently, a media circus descended on Kabul to enthuse about bringing 'democracy' to the Afghan people, courtesy of daisy cutters, thermobaric bombs, and a couple of former Unocal-employed "advisers" – Karzai and Khalilzad, one self-transformed into a Hollywood caricature of an Eastern-dressed potentate, the other looking and acting like a Mafia don straight out of central casting, tinted shades and all.

These two characters were supported by a cast of sundry cutthroats calling themselves mujahedin, and opportunistic minor expatriate figures, who returned and were suddenly elevated from some of the lowest ranks of Western society to some of the highest offices of the new Afghan state – for example, a worthy fellow who was a petrol-pump attendant in New Jersey was appointed governor of an Afghan province.

Meanwhile, the best and the brightest of the Afghan expatriates wisely refused to join in the construction of the new Afghan paradigm; paraphrasing Groucho Marx, they decided that any club that had Hamid Karzai as its member, let alone leader, was not worth joining, no matter what the material inducements and privileges.

In the past, when marveling at the possibility of upward mobility, it used to be said: "Only in America…." The new aphorism should be "Only in Afghanistan…." However, whereas in America a rise in station has usually been associated with the laudable attributes of character and ability, in Afghanistan it appears to be the reverse, and success has in recent years depended only on an enthusiasm for recruitment by, and subservience to, the alphabet soup of international intelligence services.

Over a period of four years, a series of "traditional" Afghan meetings were held and manipulated to produce bogus agreements on a constitution, a system of government, and elections to bring about that system. Needless to say, each step toward the allegedly free and fair elections of a president and a parliament were just as flawed as the "traditional Afghan meetings" that preceded them.

But who cared? Certainly not the self-pampering UN bureaucrats who, in the words of David Rieff, "lack the capacity for self-interrogation," or, as he could have added, lack any principle other than that of self-interest. And certainly not the governments with thinly disguised, self-serving interests in Afghanistan, all of whom proudly proclaimed that they were involved in the altruistic grand project of "nation-building" for the benefit of the Afghan people – as recent reports reveal, this turned out to be a cruel practical joke at the expense of the hapless Afghan masses, particularly the three and a half million refugees who believed these statements and left the relative miseries of camps in Pakistan, only to find themselves suffering the absolute miseries of life in camps surrounding Karzai's Kabul. These were the people the UN and others trumpeted proudly as "voting with their feet" in favor of Karzai's promised land. However, the fact that most of them are now starving and want to leave but are unable to do so remains unmentioned, except in a few press reports.

The reassessment of Karzai began last year when The Economist magazine, in an article in its Sept. 15 issue, wondered how a low-ranking member of one of the minor "Peshawar Seven" resistance parties, formed under Pakistani auspices to lead the fight against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, was chosen to lead the country once the Taliban regime was brought down by the might of American air power. The Economist was making an obvious point, for even the Afghan "leaders," assembled in Peshawar by the late unlamented Zia-ul-Haq, were not known for their probity or intellectual prowess – a CIA station chief who dealt with them described them as "jackasses who couldn't find their own arses using both hands, and totally corrupt." Therefore, what hope was there that Karzai, the gofer for one of the minor leaders, all habituated to trading in Afghan lives for personal gain, would have the intellectual and moral ability to lead a country notoriously difficult to tame and rule?

Since The Economist article, there has been a steady and increasing series of critical articles about Karzai in the Western press, cataloguing his bizarre behavior and nonsensical outbursts. Even Ahmed Rashid, an ardent supporter of Karzai and the Northern Alliance, has been forced to admit that he's baffled by Karzai's strange pronouncements and actions since he was (s)elected president in 2004, courtesy of Presidents Bush and Musharraf.

In a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Kim Barker reports that domestic critics believe Karzai "behaves at times like a weather vane, a leader who tilts toward the last opinion he hears, incapable of making a decision and sticking to it. Some Afghans call him 'the Actor,' for his ability to play to different crowds." Earlier in the article, Barker quotes an analyst with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission as saying, "Hamid Karzai's future is not hopeful, because he has lost the trust people had. The reason he is still in power is [because] there is no other choice" – or so Karzai and his supporters fervently hope, and his detractors unhappily think.

Even the fledgling independent Afghan press, the only useful byproduct of the Potemkin democracy set up in Kabul at great expense by "Allied Forces," has also been steadily more scathing about Karzai and his foreign supporters. Payame Mujahid last week ran a piece questioning Karzai's mental health, and cataloguing his strange hand gestures, inappropriate facial expressions, and sometimes endless repetition of meaningless phrases. Other articles point to the dire state of security in Afghanistan, and the "inappropriate and brutal" behavior of "Allied Forces" toward the Afghan civilian population.

Karzai's response to such critical articles was to have a list of "recommendations" issued to all publishers and broadcasters, banning criticism of himself, his government, and the "Allied Forces." This moved Alastair Leithead of the BBC to remark that the "list could have been taken straight from a Soviet handbook of press manipulation." But the "recommendations" should not have surprised Leithead, since the government, for which Karzai is only a convenient front, is populated in the main by the same gallimaufry of incompetents and cutthroats that even invading Soviet forces were unable to keep in power, and who were subsequently almost expunged from Afghan political scene. But U.S. air power in 2001, and a "neat idea," enabled them to come back for a reprise of their past performance on the Afghan stage – erstwhile Soviet generals and strategists must be quietly chuckling in Moscow at this ironic turn of events.

And, just as these people were quite content for the Soviet Union to pay in blood and treasure for their continued hold on power under the banner of socialism, they now expect the United States to make similar sacrifices to continue imposing them on the Afghan nation, this time under the convenient banners of capitalism and liberal democracy, so they can continue plundering the coffers of foreign aid and pouring drug-generated funds into their bank accounts in the Gulf Emirates.

Meanwhile, hundreds of mothers in the U.S., and countless thousands of mothers in Afghanistan, will mourn the early passing of souls they brought into this world, and wonder why.

The process whereby Karzai's domestic position was undermined began with the appointment of "King Zal" Khalilzad as U.S. ambassador to Kabul. For, Khalilzad's aggressive and crude manipulation of Afghan affairs reinforced the people's existing perception that Karzai was no more than an American puppet. Moreover, Khalilzad, whose intellect is greatly overrated, added to his own and Karzai's problems with his inept efforts to intimidate opponents of his political maneuvers by threatening to leave his post in Kabul, saying "if I leave, then American financial and military support leave with me." Consequently, when it was announced that Khalilzad was to be replaced as the U.S. ambassador, Karzai's power inevitably began to decline, and people started to position themselves for the day when American bayonets would no longer be there to keep Karzai in power.

The first overt sign of the changed circumstances in Afghanistan became apparent when Cheney visited Kabul to participate in the inauguration of Afghanistan's "first freely elected parliament." As Cheney's motorcade approached the parliament compound, the guards allowed his car to pass but firmly closed the gates in the face of the rest of his entourage. All of Cheney's staff members, men and women, were forced to disembark, made to face the wall, and enthusiastically body-searched. The situation turned more tense and ugly when the guards insisted on rummaging through the military aide's brief case, which contained the codes for unleashing a nuclear war. Fortunately, after a brief tussle, the Afghan security detail relented and Cheney's staff was allowed to enter the bastion of Afghan democracy. Surprisingly, the American media ignored this unprecedented and grossly insulting behavior toward the vice president of the United States.

A further sign that something was seriously amiss in the relationship between Karzai and Washington was provided by Karzai himself during a press conference after his last, ill-fated visit to Pakistan earlier this year. In a rambling and highly emotional outburst, he warned the "United States, Pakistan, and others" that he "would not become a refugee again," and that he would remain in the country come what may. This astounding pronouncement elicited no comment from official circles in Washington, or the American press, although the clear implication was that Karzai was accusing Washington and Pakistan of plots to remove him from office.

For many years, Sir Hamid Karzai and the Northern Alliance's unwavering supporters have been the British. However, absent American commitment to, and support for, Britain's neo-imperial pretensions, the British lion, even fitted with NATO dentures, will be unable to chew and swallow the Pashtun resistance against foreign occupation; Karzai and his erstwhile Northern Alliance supporters know this. Consequently, Karzai's recent forlorn hope is to win support among Pashtuns – hence his recent statements about the unacceptability of allied bombing campaigns, and the assertion that "the Taliban are sons of this land too." The Northern Alliance, for their part, have been reorienting themselves again toward Moscow, as the barely veiled anti-American statements of their leader Mullah Rabbani, made during his recent visit to Tajikistan, clearly show.

Roy Jenkins, the Labor Party's elder statesman and Tony Blair's erstwhile mentor, was quoted in a Sunday Times article as saying that Tony Blair is "a first-class politician, with a second-rate mind, and moderately corrupt." Using the same format, Afghan history will judge Hamid Karzai to have been an incompetent foreign puppet of no intellect, and totally corrupt.

 

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Bahlol Lohdi is an Afghan writer.

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