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What 2014 portends for Afghanistan

Feb 7, 2014, 9:58 AM

The year 2014 means a lot to Afghanistan. It would be the year that Afgans will go to the polls to elect a new president. The final phase of foreign troops of withdrawal since the American-led intervention there in 2001 and transfer of security to the largely untested Afghan security forces is all billed to happen this year. Perhaps, more importantly for Afgans, the year will also be the year of reckoningon whether or not the Afgans Taliban’s, who have given hallucinating nightmare to the people of Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, would lay down their weapons and enter peace talks with the Afghan regime. Also, on the cards this year, it will be know whether or not outgoing president, Hamed Karzai, will, after dragging his feet for so long, sign a military pact with the United States which will see some amout of American troop’s station on Afghan soil.The would he, or won’t he quagmire, in sum, will also be put to bed this year.

What makes all this even more important is that Afghanistan should not be allowed to degenerate into the abyss as it is poised to make a transition from one elected government to another.When the Taliban’s were in charged they imposed draconian laws and use the country as a breeding ground for recruitment of future terrorist.The future of the country was doomed and gloomed.

But the Afghanistan of those years is quite different from today. Despite festering poverty, corruption amidst chaos, there is a resemblance of government. Don’t mind how dysfunctional it is in the face of lawlessness.

When George W Bush decided to send troops to Afghanistan his goal was to make in a shinning democracy in the Middle East with a functioning government, where women rights will be respected, competent judiciary and efficient and effective state institutions. These valuable traits of a western democracy, he and his war cabinet believed, are going to be achieved in Afghanistan with, first, pummeling the Taliban’s and, second, focusing efforts on state building.

The jury is now out that this a desert mirage and it is clear that they were thinking in a bubble completely out-of-touch with the realities in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a very complex and fissiparous country. The country is divided into ethnic groups with tribal leaders reigning supreme in their fiefdoms. They operate a parallel government with that of the central government and control swathes of territory. This enable them to take charge of the then burgeoning opium and poppy trade.

In Afghanistan the pasthun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and Baloch ethnic groups have historically pursuedconflicting political objectives based more in ethnic identity than in common recognition of Afghan citizenship.

To coerce these groups to come together under one government was always going to falter and fumble.

Notwithstanding, the current UN and Arab League envoy in Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, managed to unify them under one government during the famous loya Jirga, an Afghantraditional meeting, in Bonn, Germany.

The Loya Jirga members voted for Karzai to be the head of the transitional government replacing King Zahir Shah, whose government was all but name and left a lot to be desired for.

The Taliban’s, who were toppled in 2001, were lurking in the background hell-bent on destabilizing the government. The incessant bashing by coalition forces was not enough to break their resolve. But despite the dire straits, Hamed Karzai shouldered on and led a government which influence and authority does not stretch from the capital, Kabul. He was, in effect, given the derogatory name as “governor of Kabul”.

The United States worked hand in glove with Hamed Karzai to restore normalcy in Afghanistan. He was supported enormously in all aspects of state building. President George Bush was clear in his mind that “laying a big bang on the calcified political landscape in the Middle East” is going to start in Afghanistan and the successful model will be transferred to Iraq, which was on the hit list of the Bush Whitehouse.

The Afghan government was pampered and Karzai was seen as a man whom the United States can do business with. He was, to use the words of a senior bush administration official, shrewd political apparatchiks with verve and imagination to propelled Afghanistan to the Promised Land.

True, President Karzai is intimidating smart and a descent man who is a having a strongly believes his political ideas. He was a safe bet compared to other Afgans because he understands the dynamics of politics and rose through the ranks from Deputy Foreign Minister to interim President to elected president. He is not Ahmed Chalibi, the Iraq exile in the United State who fed, as it later turned out, Neanderthal and loads of baloney intelligence information to the CIA and state department in the buildup to the war against Sadamm Huseine Iraq. More on the Iraq debacle some other time. But what is for today is the challenges facing Afghanistan.

But today there is a big distrust between Hamed Karzai and the country that bankrolled his regime, and is continuing to: the United States of America. Such is the deep mistrust that Karzai is openly criticizing some of the policies that according to him were exhorted on him by the US. The drone attacks, he bemoaned, are doing more harm than good. Instead of degrading and neutralizing the Taliban’s, he argues, the drones are killing young, innocent civilians. He engaged in a rare stunning Public Relation (PR) to bolster his claim by parading a young Afghan who was bleeding profusely claimed to sustain a drone attack in the mountainous region of South Waziristan. The move is rare for a man like Karzai, who is unassuming. That why I have the proclivity that he is pandering to domestic politics and will patch relation with the West contrary to those who believe that he is strategically and tactically delusional in his twilight days in office.

Genesis of fraying of relation between Karzai and US

The strained of relations between Hamed Karzai and the United States dates back to the August 2009 disputed presidential election. That election, oh boy, oh boy, was a closely contested election. The election pitted Hamed Karzai and his former foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah for a straight fight for the highest crown in Afghanistan.

Abdullah Abdullah, an urbane political operator, gave Karzai a real run for his money. As a matter-of-factly, he won the first round of the polls with a slim margin but fell short to pass the 50per cent margin to avoid a run-off. The election entered a second round. But voter intimidation by the Taliban, who carried out strings of bombings in his stronghold to terrify his supporters from voting coupled with “overwhelming fraud in which the election was mired in”, forced him to pull out of the run- off. At the hortatory of his western backers, Hamed Karzai went ahead and contested won and defeated himself at the same time as he was competing with no opponent.

That year saw an interesting development in global politics. The same year Zimbabweans went to the polls to elect a president. Like Afghanistan, an opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the first round against incumbent Mugabe’s Zimbabwe Africa National Union for Patriotic Front (ZANU PF).

Like Abdullah Abdullah, Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round run-off citing threats to his life and intimidation of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters.

Both elections from different continents were tales of two sham elections. But Hamed Karzai was congratulated and his regime legitimize by his western bakers. But reputable election observer groups like the Carter Center and the EU observer groups all labeled both elections as “unfree” and “unfair.”Hamed Karzai was restored to power but with damage legitimacy no matter how his backers tried to conceal it. He himself knew this and became a bitter man. Perhaps, he thought that things could have been handle better.Oh dear, oh dear. The power to decide was not entirely in his hands, but in far-flung Washington. The US is also determined not to leave any vacuum that the Taliban’s could latch on.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Back to the analogy in Zimbabwe.President Mugabe, in the face of a barrage of criticism from the international community, also went ahead and won another term in office. The then Prime Minister of Britain, Gordon Brown, referred to the government in Harare as “a cabal” and rallied the international community to snub Uncle Bob, to give the name that the late British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook gave to Mugabe.

Crucial presidential election

The presidential election in Afghanistan, slated on 5 April 2014, will be important in every measure. Hamed Karzai, who is inured to the trails and tribulation that comes with being a president in Afghanistan, is stepping down and the gauntlet will be thrown on a new president.The front runners are Zalamai Rassol, who is Karzai handpicked candidate, Abdul Rasul Sayaff, a controversial warlord but very influential and a big power broker, and Abdullah Abdullah.I am not a prophet but I am inclined to believe that, if the election went free and fair peacefully, Abdullah Abdullah will scoop the polls hands down. Not even a second round. Forget that. He will be home and dry in the first round.

As he is bowing from the political scene, I will forever remember Karzai as a real fighter who is formidable in the face of despair. His father, Abdul Ahad Karzai and his brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, ex governor of Kandahar, were all killed by the Taliban’s.The day that the brother was killed he was having the former French President, Nicola Sarkorzy, as his official visitor in Kabul. Barely two hour after confirming the death of his brother, Karzai convened a joint press conference with Sarkorzy. Understandably, he was shell-shocked.He told the phalanx of journalist “this sorrow is in every Afghan home”. Then he turned to the then French president and said “we welcome Mr Sarkorzy and hope he forgives us for not speaking with smile today”. Go well Karzai you will be useful to the international community later.

Author: Amadou Camara, an intern at the American corner and final year political science student at theUniversity of theGambia