Over the last few days Afghan President Hamid Karzai has found it increasingly difficult to stop saying in public all the things that he has been saying in private for months: Who do these foreigners think they are, what are they playing at, and do they really think they can push me and my people around forever? Observers have sought to understand what this means in terms of his partnership with the international actors, his state of mind and his outlook for the future.
The assumption in some of the commentaries seems to be that Karzai is speaking for the Afghan people when he slams the international presence and that his remarks on joining the Taliban, if things go on like this much longer, could signal an actual shift in the government’s politics. Neither seems to be the case. But it is becoming increasingly difficult for western audiences to separate the government, the Taliban and the people. And the question that is repeatedly raised in all its variations is: If the President wants to join the Taliban and if the people don’t want us there, why are we still in Afghanistan?
So for the record: Karzai is not about to join the Taliban. He is an angry and frustrated politician and he is sending signals. To the Parliament that he is seriously upset and that they need to mend their ways; to the international actors, that he really minds that they keep meddling in his affairs; to the population that he is their president and that he has a mind of his own; and to the insurgency that he is closer to them than they think.
The American reaction was measured, but the displeasure was unmistakable. The Taliban spokesperson responded that they would probably want to bring Karzai to court before accepting him in their ranks. And the Afghans, many of whom have issues of their own with the international presence (not in the first place that it is there, but rather its role in the failure to establish a stable society and a credible government), did not embrace the speeches of their president — to the contrary. Most reactions to the past days’ events have been a combination of amusement, embarrassment and concern over what this means for the country’s international relations and future stability.
Karzai struggles with the multiple roles he is expected to play — commander in chief, credible partner of the "international community," president in control, provider for his people — and now more so than ever, as the ground he is standing on is shifting. He is increasingly trying to play all sides and to be a president not just for his government, but also for the people and the insurgents. But so far, to their ears, his words have sounded all wrong, as he is too openly implicated in whatever he is blaming the foreigners of.
Martine van Bijlert is the co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, where this was originally published.
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.| Interview |
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |