Tag Archives: karzai

Why Karzai Won’t Do as He’s Told


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. But Karzai is doing it not just because he can get away with it, knowing he’s the only game in town for Washington, but also because he must if he’s to survive in the Afghan political environment once the U.S. leaves. Continue reading

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Why an Election Couldn’t Fix Afghanistan

Published on TIME.com:

Little over a week ago, Senator John Kerry was hailed for his diplomatic success in Kabul, where he cajoled President Hamid Karzai into accepting a runoff in the disputed Afghan election. But Sunday’s withdrawal from the race by Karzai’s challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, rendered Kerry’s achievement moot. Moreover, it was an outcome the U.S. had come around to rooting for.

The fact that U.S. officials in Kabul had pivoted within a matter of days from insisting that a runoff be held to pressing for it to be canceled highlighted the problem with the U.S.’s obsession on staging elections in conflict zones. Such elections, though often held up (with the U.S. domestic political audience in mind) as examples of democracy’s triumph, can actually undermine U.S. goals in those situations. Contrary to the Obama Administration’s spin, resolving the dispute over the fraudulent ballots in Afghanistan’s August election was never the key to determining whether to send more U.S. troops into the country. In fact, the runoff election was never going to strengthen the legitimacy of the resulting government; it was always more likely to further weaken it.
(See pictures of the presidential election in Afghanistan.)

Elections typically only resolve a conflict when the major parties to that conflict have accepted the balloting and its ground rules as the basis for a solution. And that was no more the case in Afghanistan today than it was in the U.S. in 1864, when a presidential election was held during the Civil War. Nobody imagined that the electoral contest between President Abraham Lincoln and General George B. McClellan was the country’s primary political battle; nor was the contest between Karzai and Abdullah the key conflict in Afghanistan. Instead, Afghanistan is in the grip of a civil war that pits a U.S.-backed political establishment, which includes both Karzai and Abdullah, against the Taliban.

In that light, the main legitimacy problem with the August vote was not the 1 million–plus fake votes that were cast mostly for Karzai but the 12 million–plus votes claimed by the Taliban. No one actually voted for the Taliban, of course, and its call for a boycott of the poll was enforced by threat of death. But whether out of fear, political choice or sheer indifference, 12 million voters — representing 70% of the electorate, compared with just 30% in 2004 — stayed away from the ballot stations. A runoff election was expected to see an even smaller turnout. Continue reading

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Obama’s Afghanistan Vaudeville


John Kerry was the toast of the spoon-fed media last week for his ostensible “achievement” in cajoling Hamid Karzai into accepting a runoff election in Afghanistan. Where was Richard Holbrooke, the sophisticates who indulge in Beltway kremlinology asked, as if his absence from this supposed “breakthrough” moment was telling. The reality, of course, is that Kerry’s insistence on standing behind Karzai, as if twisting the visibly uncomfortable U.S.-installed president’s arm as he announced a humiliating retraction of his insistence that he’d won the election on its first round, simply confirmed that the failed U.S. presidential candidate from Massachusetts is a political dolt. But the announcement — a delicious propaganda moment for the Taliban, who insist that Karzai is an obedient servant of the U.S. — was not half as damaging as the political gambit it showcased: Forcing Karzai to accept a runoff election which even the U.S. knows is a farce — so much so, that Washington is now hard at work trying to press Karzai into a power sharing deal so as to avoid the very runoff they had insisted was a precondition for sending more troops. Continue reading

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Karzai as Diem in Obama’s Vietnam

The suggestion that doubts over the clearly crooked election process in Afghanistan somehow undermine the U.S. strategy there are missing the point: As I wrote last week, an inconclusive poll that fails to clearly legitimize the next government may not be a setback for the Obama Administration’s Afghanistan strategy. On the contrary, it could offer an important opportunity to remake a system of government so dysfunctional that it has enabled a massive Taliban resurgence. Continue reading

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