To some it may seem as if President Hamid Karzai has a death wish. The Afghan leader has lately begun sticking it to the U.S. and its Western allies — the only force protecting him from a surging Taliban, which hanged the last foreign-backed President when it reached Kabul in 1996. Having infuriated the Obama Administration by continuing to drag his feet on corruption — and then cozying up to Iran and China when Washington turned up the heat — Karzai ratcheted up the rhetoric last week. He accused the U.S. of trying to dominate his country, blamed the West for last year’s electoral fraud (which his campaign was accused of masterminding) and made comments that verged on sanctifying the Taliban insurgency as a “national resistance” against foreign invaders. The New York Times reported on Sunday that Karzai even threatened, during a meeting with Afghan parliamentarians, to join the Taliban himself if the West continued to pressure him.
But bizarre as his behavior may seem, there may be a method in Karzai’s madness. For one thing, he has begun denouncing the Western powers in his country because he knows he can — Karzai would have been cut adrift some time ago if there were any other viable alternative on whom the U.S. could pin its strategy. The wily President knows that the presence of foreign forces in his country is deeply unpopular, particularly when civilians are killed in the course of NATO military operations. Karzai, moreover, is humiliated and shown to be powerless when his protestations over such operations are ignored by his Western patrons. So while he may have been installed by a U.S.-led invasion, if Karzai is to survive the departure of Western forces, he will have to reinvent himself as a national leader with an independent power base. He’s obviously determined not to go the way of Mohammad Najibullah, the former Soviet-backed leader who was executed by the Taliban seven years after the Red Army withdrew. So from Karzai’s point of view, he’s pushing back against the U.S. not only because he can, but also because he must if he is to survive politically.
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