Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Afghan Meltdown

Of late there's been a lot of heat in Afghanistan, and it's hardly unexpected considering how ineptly the Obama Administration is handling it.

There's been an apparent Karzai 'meltdown' with Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai making it quite plain - and in public - that he's not at all happy with how Obama is running things, is tired of having his arm twisted and if reports are to be believed, even talked about changing sides:

"He said that 'if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban'," said Farooq Marenai, who represents the eastern province of Nangarhar.

"He said rebelling would change to resistance," Marenai said — apparently suggesting that the militant movement would then be redefined as one of resistance against a foreign occupation rather than a rebellion against an elected government.

Marenai said Karzai appeared nervous and repeatedly demanded to know why parliament last week had rejected legal reforms that would have strengthened the president's authority over the country's electoral institutions.

Two other lawmakers said Karzai twice raised the threat to join the insurgency.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the reports were troubling. "On behalf of the American people, we're frustrated with the remarks," Gibbs told reporters.

Is anyone who's been paying attention truly surprised at this?

The Obama Administration has never liked Hamid Karzai, whom they perceived as Bush's man in Kabul. And from the beginning, Obama has always by treated Karzai in a disrespectful and dismissive fashion.

It started with highly public rebukes delivered mostly through special envoy Richard Holbrooke on alleged corruption and government policies the US disproved of( an anathema in Afghan culture) and peaked with pressure by the Administration on Karzai to hold a runoff on the disputed Afghan election.

The Obama Administration was undoubtedly hoping Karzai would be ousted in the election, and were angered that he may have resorted to cooking the results in his favor. That probably strikes Karzai as rank hypocrisy, since he's not exactly ignorant of American politics (Karzai used to be an Exxon executive)and knows all about Obama, ACORN and Chicago.

Senator John Kerry managed to muscle Afghan President Hamid Karzai into a runoff, but that's a good example of how wrongheaded our strategy is there. Karzai's opponent, Abdullah Abdullah is half Tajik and was unlikely to be supported by the Pashtuns, the dominant group in Afghanistan even in the event he won.

Even more farcical, Abdullah Abdullah realized he had no chance to win, withdrew from the runoff and Karzai became the president anyway. Karzai has never forgotten these slights to his personal honor, a major offense according to Pashtunwalli, the Pashtun tribal cultural code that predates Islam and in some respects is an even more powerful influence. We now have a 'partner' in Afghanistan who is livid at the Obama Administration on a personal level for besmirching him and undermining his authority in a place where authority means everything.

And Obama, believe it or not, has actually gone out of his way to make matters worse. President Bush remained in close contact with Karzai, usually through videoconferences and occasionally by having Dick Cheney fly in. Obama, on th eother hand, has treated Karzai like a pariah, making his very first visit to Kabul as president just last week for a few hours in the middle of the night to lecture Karzai on corruption.

Add the personal insults to the fact that Barack Obama has a definite pull out date for our troops and is it any wonder that Karzai is hedging his bets and making nice to the Taliban or that Iran's Ahmadinejad got such a cordial reception from the Afghan president when Ahmadinejad recently visited Kabul?

The worst of this is that our troops are caught in the middle of this fracas between Karzai and the Administration. One would hope their nominal commander-in-chief would exercise better judgment, for their sake if nothing else.

Like most thing in Afghanistan, in the end this comes down to tribalism.The Pashtuns are the dominant tribe in Afghanistan, and if we're going to insist on nation building and on trying to put a strong central government in place in a country that's never had one, the leader of Afghanistan has to be a Pashtun and Karzai is the only Pashtun leader capable of governing right now.

Of course, a more intelligent way of handling this would be to mostly bypass the Afghan government altogether and deal directly with the warlords and tribal leaders and the opium trade.

But since the Obama Administration continues to insist on our current nation building strategy, we're going to have to deal with Karzai, and we need an entirely different approach than the one the amateurs in the White House have come up with so far to be successful in doing so.


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