As I said in my last articles Karzai has chosen this time to launch attacks on the two partners whose cooperation was essential for promoting reconciliation. Karzai’s accusations against the Americans came as a shock to the Western alliance and the Western media, which gave it a unprecedented measure of coverage. The New York Times in its editorial of 15thMarch perhaps best summarised what Karzai had done. It said «Mr. Karzai showed a truly sinister side in accusing the United States of colluding with the Taliban on suicide attacks to keep Afghanistan unstable and to give forces an excuse to stay beyond the troop withdrawal deadline, at the end of 2014. Then on Tuesday he suggested his government might unilaterally act to take control of Bagram Prison if the United States delayed handing it over. This came after weeks of tension over his other anti-American statements, and acts like banning Special Operations forces from Wardak Province».
His statement accusing the USA of colluding with the Taliban prompted the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Dunford, to issue orders to the troops under his command to intensify security measures because of the apprehension that Karzai’s inflammatory statement would prompt Afghan attacks on foreign troops. This was not a fanciful apprehension. The NATO forces had in 2012 suffered 46 attacks by Afghan Security Force personnel resulting in the death of 62 NATO personnel of whom 35 were Americans. This, according to the recently released report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan, meant that 15% of all American casualties in 2012 were due to these «green on blue» attacks. There had been an improvement in 2013 since by March when Karzai made his statement there had been only 3 such attacks. More recently there have been attacks on the Italians in the West and on Americans in the South, which were carried out by persons in Afghan uniforms though it has not yet been established that they were in fact members of the Afghan Security Forces.
The irony is that only a couple of months later Karzai had to acknowledge that his office had been receiving funds from the CIA of which even his National security Adviser was unaware. He claimed that these funds were used to support the wounded personnel of the Intelligence service and were not very substantial but many Afghans were convinced that the sums he received ran into millions of dollars and that they were used to win political support from such warlords as Dostum. He went on to state that the CIA chief in Kabul had assured him that the flow of such funds would continue.
Even more ironically Karzai also disclosed much to the chagrin of his American interlocutors that the Americans had asked in the Bilateral Security Agreement for an American presence at 9 bases in Afghanistan after the completion of the 2014 withdrawal. He added that he was prepared to grant this American request provide they met certain conditions which he spelt out as being «the security of Afghanistan should be guaranteed, peace in Afghanistan should be guaranteed, a strengthening of the Afghan security forces should be guaranteed, as well the economy of Afghanistan should be guaranteed».
While a NATO commander has confirmed that the Americans have asked for facilities at 9 bases in the negotiations the bigger question of whether there will be support in America for such a continued presence remains open. The NYTimes editorial referred to above had concluded that Karzai’s appalling behaviour «will make it harder for Mr. Obama to argue compellingly to keep a smaller counterterrorism and training force in Afghanistan into 2015 and beyond».
Obama has yet to say what troop levels he intends maintaining assuming agreement on «immunity» from Afghan law for such troops is reached. The American military is clearly anxious to have this announcement and to try and get a higher number than the currently talked about 12000 NATO troops of which 8000 would be Americans. At the recent NATO meeting what seemed to emerge was that this figure would be determined only after the current fighting season ended i.e. by end 2013. In the meanwhile it has been agreed that Germany would remain responsible for the North where it has a presence and Italy would be responsible for the West (Herat) while Turkey may assume responsibility for Kabul. In NATO there has been no mention of this but in Afghanistan there is talk of the fact that Afghanistan will demand rent from the Americans for the use of the bases and that this could run into fairly substantial sums. I doubt however that the Americans will be prepared to consider any such demand seriously.
Why has Karzai assumed this particular stance? The answer seems to be that this is part of his preparation for the elections in 2014. Karzai has said repeatedly that he will not try to amend the constitution or use some other means to get himself a third term which is forbidden under the current constitution. If he does stand by this promise he will seek to ensure that his successor is the one he chooses and the one whose election depends on Karzai’s own standing. His brother Qayum Karzai has renounced his American nationality and it is generally assumed that he did so to be eligible to fight the Presidential election. His other brother Mahmud Karzai confirmed that Qayum would be a candidate and pledged his support.
In preparation for this election Karzai rejected the Independent Election Commission’s recommendation that the 2009 election national identity cards, which turned out to be fraudulent, should be cancelled and fresh cards issued. He has rejected the recommendation that the Election Complaints Commission should have foreign members to ensure impartiality in addressing complaints of irregularities. These measures apparently designed to ensure that the administrative machinery, which Karzai controls, could manipulate the elections are not however considered enough.
Karzai also wants to project himself as a «Nationalist» leader who will push aggressively such issues as are emotionally appealing. The issue that Karzai has found is the same issue that Afghan leaders in the past have sought to exploit and that is the so-called British imposition of the Durand Line as the border between Afghanistan and what was then British India.
In his latest outburst he accused Pakistan of building a border gate and border posts on Afghanistan’s side of the Durand Line. This was dismissed by Pakistan because according to Pakistan the gate was being installed for controlling cross border movement at a border post that had been in existence since 2003. This was also the time when the other posts to which Karzai had objected were erected. This was a matter that could be decided if the two sides sat together with authentic maps showing the location of the Durand Line.
The problem arises is that Karzai in his propaganda is using this issue to accuse Pakistan of building these posts to force Afghanistan to accept the validity of the Durand Line. As far as one can tell Pakistan did not make any such demand. Pakistan knows full well as does Afghanistan that the international community accepts the Durand Line as the international frontier. This was reiterated recently when after the 2nd meeting of the US-Afghan Bilateral Commission in Kabul in May the leader of the US delegation stated that the US recognised the Durand Line as the international frontier.
The furore over this issue has brought Pakistan – Afghanistan relations to a new low. Whether this is helping him to establish his nationalist credentials is more problematic. Many in Kabul regard this as a diversionary ploy, which may provide some support for Karzai but which undermines prospects for Pakistan’s cooperation in reaching out to the Taliban for reconciliation.
A second reason may well be that from Karzai’s perspective it is important to safeguard his place in history. He has often been compared, particularly by the Taliban, to Shah Shuja, the Afghan ruler imposed on Afghanistan by the British after their invasion in 1839 (later known as the First Afghan War). Shah Shuja had been sent into exile some thirty years earlier when he was overthrown by Dost Mohammad and could claim that he was returning to what was rightfully his. But such was the sentiment against the British invasion that his claim of legitimacy got no resonance. Instead the British were forced into a humiliating withdrawal with all their troops save one man being slaughtered and Dost Mohammad returning to claim the throne. Shah Shuja became known not for the courage he exhibited but for being the «puppet» of a foreign power. Karzai wants to be remembered as the Dost Mohammad of Afghanistan or at least not as the second «Shuja Shah». For that he has to find fault with those who installed him in Kabul and on whose largesse he is entirely dependent.
The hopeful sign in Pak-Afghan relations is that President Karzai has now invited the newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, to visit Kabul. This invitation has been accepted and there are rumours that the new Prime Minister will try to go to Kabul as quickly as possible.
Nawaz Sharif has shown in his statements that he is acutely aware of the effect Afghan instability has on the prevailing indigenous insurgency in Pakistan’s tribal areas. He is committed to asking the United States to stop its drone attacks on targets in Pakistan but he knows full well that the United States will not do so as long as there is an international terrorist presence in the area and as long as insurgents use this area to launch attacks on Americans in Afghanistan. Sharif has indicated a willingness to negotiate peace with the Pakistani Taliban but the publicly adopted stance of the Pakistan Taliban suggests that they want to do away with the present Pakistani constitution and the democratic structure that is currently in being.
The only solution is that peace be restored in Afghanistan by reconciliation between the Taliban and the other political forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has made it clear that it does not want Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Instead it would like the Taliban to become a political force that would share power with the other forces in Afghanistan and work with them to introduce such changes in the system as are acceptable to the Afghan people.
One can only hope that Karzai will be convinced of the sincerity of Pakistan’s efforts to promote an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led reconciliation process and will with Nawaz Sharif agree upon the steps to be taken in this direction.
On another but related plane, Secretary Kerry on 3rd June had according to Karzai’s office a long conversation with the President about the peace process. As was expected the press release from Karzai’s office said that he had told Kerry that «some countries are trying to control the peace talks to achieve their selfish goals» but essentially Kerry was obviously pushing for Karzai to make a greater effort to initiate the peace process. Since then Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of the High Peace Council has announced «consultations are going on with the political parties, civil societies and women to chalk out a strategy for the talks».
While there is no official word on this yet it is possible that Kerry in talking to Karzai indicated that the Obama administration would seek Congressional approval for releasing five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo and to secure in return the release of the one American prisoner the Taliban are holding. Kerry may have suggested, I believe, that if this comes about the Taliban may agree to publicly renounce ties with international terrorist groups and even to initiate discussions with the Karzai administration.
There are hardliners among the Taliban who are oppose to any talks and believe that once the NATO withdrawal is complete victory would be within their grasp. The attacks on the offices of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Kabul and more importantly on the ICRC office in Jalalabad were in all probability the handiwork of such hardliners. The Taliban spokesman who in the past has praised the work of the ICRC denied that the Taliban were responsible for the attack. But it is clear that there is a division within the ranks of the Taliban and the moderates need to have some substantial benefit to point to before they can overcome the resistance to working towards reconciliation.
An optimistic but perhaps plausible scenario is that once there has been an exchange of prisoners – a sine qua non for building Taliban confidence in the efficacy of negotiations – Pakistan can play the role assigned to it in the Roadmap proposed by the Afghan High peace Council and help bring about a reconciliation which remains at this time the best hope for bringing a modicum of peace to Afghanistan. This will require Karzai to abandon his current anti-Pakistan stance and revert to thinking of Pakistan and Afghanistan as «conjoined twins» whose fates are intertwined.