- By Asma Nemati
Though U.S. President Barack Obama expressed continued confidence in Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s ability to be a "strong partner" in helping allied forces "dismantle Al Qaeda and its affiliate networks," tensions between Karzai and the U.S. government remain high.
The Afghan president has made a series of combative remarks about the U.S. role in Afghanistan and even went as far as to say he would turn the Taliban resistance into a national one if the United States continued to meddle into Afghan politics. In response, the White House announced that it was considering canceling Karzai’s scheduled May 12 visit "if he continues to make anti-Western public statements." It is this response that has left many Afghans concerned over the future of Afghanistan.
But this latest kerfuffle is hardly the beginning of fraying ties, the roots of which go back to last year’s Afghan presidential election. Many who watched the elections closely, including Afghans and those from the international community, saw Karzai’s reelection as the result of a botched process, a continuation of the same corrupt government. And while many in Afghanistan are concerned and unsure about this row between U.S. and Afghan officials, some see this as a sign that Karzai is finally beginning to "wake up."
Supporters of Karzai’s recent retaliation feel that he is right to have accused the international community, particularly the United States, for interfering too much into Afghan politics. In a televised speech that aired on April 1st, Karzai admitted that Afghanistan is occupied by the international forces and that he has no control of any of the ministries; he has simply become the international countries’ puppet for their own political agendas in Afghanistan. Rumors are that the government appointed Independent Elections Commission’s Chairman Azizullah Ludin — who recently resigned from his post — was supposedly pressured by a U.S. representative to announce Abdullah Abdullah as the winner of the run-off elections. Buzz also has it that members of the IEC were threatened by the same U.S. official to "dig their own graves" if Karzai was to be reelected in the runoffs.
While some in Afghanistan are seeing a new and improved Karzai, others see cause for growing concern, accusing the president of being "ignorant" or "crazy." Others fear that Karzai’s remarks are just the latest in a string of policy missteps — (i.e. Mullah Biradar’s arrest by the United States and Pakistan/ISI while Karzai was in the midst of talks with him) — that will only further isolate Afghanistan from the international community.
Afghans here do say that Karzai acknowledges the mishaps that have occurred within the Afghan government and that he accepts responsibility; however, the blame for corruption does not wholly only rest on the Afghan government. The international community’s role in this is a large one, says Karzai, a statement that so many Afghans agree with. Moreover, on April 5 some members of Parliament said President Karzai over that weekend even went on to threaten that if the United States doesn’t differentiate between helping and occupying Afghanistan, that the Taliban resistance will become national.
From the Pashtun ethnic group, the overall mood towards Karzai here is of sympathy — even those that were dissatisfied with the result of last year’s presidential elections. Rumor has it that Karzai sent one of his brother and Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta to Moscow in the hope of negotiating some sort of an alliance with the country. Same goes for Karzai’s recent delegation to Iran.
As things start to heat up at a rapid speed, people are concerned that the result of this brawl might be the end of Karzai. People are worried that because of his outcry, Karzai has become a barrier in the international community’s long-term strategy and that they won’t be surprised to see him assassinated. Other Afghans, including majority of the Tajiks, say that Karzai is only deepening his reputation of a corrupted leader and that he is "losing it" in terms of controling the country and working together with the international community. As far as what the actual outcome will be — many people simply hope that the brawl will be quelled and that the efforts for peace process will continue.
Asma Nemati, a researcher from Kabul, is an instructor at the American University of Afghanistan.