By now it clear that the Afghan President Hamid Karzai has kept his word that there will surely be a political transition in Afghanistan following the elections slated for April 5.
The innuendos by American commentators and media reports, amply supplemented with conspiracy theories by Karzai’s Afghan adversaries, had put a question mark on the sincerity of Karzai’s pledge and had prophesied that he intended to hold on to power for as long as he could. Today, that malicious propaganda stands exposed as canard. The six-week long campaign work for the election by the eleven candidates in the field formally began last weekend.
Meanwhile, the US has decided not to hold any more opinion polls in Afghanistan, ostensibly to give an impression of strict neutrality. But in reality, the US manipulation is shifting into high gear. The launch of former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah’s election campaign in a blaze of publicity with a high-voltage interview with Christiane Amanpour of the CNN speaks for itself.
The American opinion-makers are creating an impression that Abdullah is the ‘frontrunner’. He is of course media savvy, is close to American think tanks and has a pro-western outlook. From the US viewpoint, Abdullah robustly backs the US-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement.
However, there are some boulders impeding his victorious march. Abdullah lacks a Pashtun identity and remains unacceptable to the Taliban while his links with hardline elements in India are viewed with suspicion in Pakistan. Equally, there is not only an ethnic polarization in Afghanistan, but also overlapping regional tensions, which makes it difficult for Abdullah to forge a pan-Afghan identity. The recent abortive attempt to assassinate the charismatic leader of western Afghanistan Ismail Khan and the murder of two of Abdullah’s election agents soon after in Herat underscores intra-Tajik tensions. (Ismail Khan is opposing Abdullah in the April election.) Again, the ‘Panjshiri’ camp to which Abdullah belongs is also faction-ridden today.
Having said that, Abdullah makes no bones about sharing the US’ visceral antipathy toward Karzai, and when he runs into the formidable coalition that Karzai has assembled over time, sparks are bound to fly in the coming weeks. This is where the need arises for Washington to cut down Karzai to size.
Washington will pull all stops to scatter Karzai’s coalition. Already, a campaign has begun that Karzai has been diabolic in his dealings with the NA. His detractors cite as evidence that the memoirs of former US defence secretary Robert Gates contains reference to a private conversation with Karzai who made an odd remark blaming the ant-Taliban forces in Afghanistan as equally responsible for perpetrating violence in the country. The campaign aims at creating discord within Karzai’s coalition (which includes some powerful personalities who belonged to the NA).
While the controversy is still simmering, Karzai has been dealt a blow by Washington from yet another angle – this time around, undercutting his nascent contacts with the Taliban.
Now, it’s an open secret that Karzai has striven in the recent years to keep a line of communication open to the Taliban despite the absence of any formal peace talks. Karzai’s policy of reconciling the Taliban has not been a spectacular success, but in his reckoning, without accommodating the Taliban in some form of settlement, enduring peace will elude his country and the senseless bloodshed and destruction cannot be ended.
While the Americans have tried to portray Karzai as a maverick personality opposing the signing of the BSA, the Afghan leader has been nurturing his own alternate road map for post-2014 Afghanistan. This road map envisages getting rid of US occupation of his country and transforming the political calculus into an exclusively intra-Afghan affair without Uncle Sam’s involvement.
Karzai envisages a constructive engagement with the Taliban through the traditional Afghan methods of consensus making, leading eventually to the return of the Taliban as a participant in national life. Indeed, there is no surety that he would succeed, given the Taliban’s intransigence, but his policy is the only show in town in the absence of any peace talks taking place – the CIA’s clandestine dealings with the Taliban notwithstanding.
Unsurprisingly, there is a tug of war going on between Karzai and the Americans. The heart of the matter is that despite paying lip service to an «Afghan-led», «Afghan-controlled» peace process and so on, Washington will not relinquish its stranglehold over Afghan politics. Washington’s excessive interference ensures that any settlement would serve the US regional strategies.Thus, the US intelligence has been keeping an eagle’s eye on Karzai’s dealings with the Taliban.
This is where the April election in Afghanistan becomes a ‘flashpoint’. The Obama administration has concluded that despite all the tricks in the trade – threats, cajoling, arm-twisting, ‘psywar’ – Karzai refuses to blink apropos the BSA, which means that the April election in Afghanistan has assumed an extraordinary significance for the US’ future regional strategies. Indeed, any kind of understanding, howsoever nebulous or tacit, that Karzai may reach with the Taliban would impact profoundly on the April election.
Therefore, a sensational report that appeared on Wednesday in the New York Times, based on briefings by the US officials and laying bare the secret contacts between the Taliban and Karzai becomes highly topical. According to the report, the representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban met in Dubai recently.
Whereas, the US should have been pleased that Karzai is making headway with the Taliban, the Obama administration actually seems to be annoyed. And it has proceeded to undermine Karzai’s «Afghan-led» and «Afghan-controlled» track with the Taliban.
The New York Times article says nothing new in content. Karzai’s contact with the Taliban is as ancient as the hills and his aides even acknowledge it. Its main purpose appears to be to give an impression that Karzai is a sly person. And that effort seems to have succeeded with wire services the world over lapping up the report. On the one hand, by tarnishing Karzai as being hand in glove with the Taliban, seeds of doubt are being sown in the minds of his Northern Alliance partners as regards his intentions.
On the other hand, Washington has effectively torpedoed the nascent intra-Afghan contact by embarrassing the Taliban (whose posturing has been that they won’t deal with Karzai) and thereby preventing them from entering into any more direct talks with Karzai before the April election.
To be sure, Washington doesn’t want any substantive «Afghan-led», «Afghan-controlled» peace talks except under its auspices. Most important, it does not want any serious dealings with the Taliban to take place before Karzai retired and a proxy has been put in power in Kabul who would duly put his signature on the dotted line on the US-Afghan Bilateral Security Agreement, formalizing the establishment of the US-NATO military bases in Afghanistan…