Saturday, March 16, 2013

Karzai's delusion

Several years ago I wrote a post summarizing a piece by B. Rubin and A. Rashid which argued that only a regional agreement -- i.e. one involving India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the U.S. and its allies, and the Taliban and other 'non-state' forces -- could hope to bring at least a semi-satisfactory conclusion to the Afghanistan conflict.

Of course there has been no regional agreement -- indeed no agreement of any kind -- and now it's 2013, there has been the flow and ebb of the 'surge' of U.S. forces that Pres. Obama ordered at the end of 2009, and the overall situation, notwithstanding that there have no doubt been some success stories in some provinces, remains, in two words, not great. Or at any rate that is the only conclusion a viewer could have drawn from this piece that aired on the NewsHour last Monday.

In the discussion that immediately followed, James Dobbins said:
...we [i.e. the U.S. and its allies] are hopeful that there can be a negotiated peace with the Taliban. We see the importance of that being led by the Afghans. And Karzai is very frustrated, because, while the Taliban are willing to talk to us, they're not willing to talk to him or his government. And that's a source of deep frustration, that the future of Afghanistan might be hammered out between parties that don't include the government in Kabul. Now, I don't think the U.S. administration intends to do that. But the Taliban would like to -- would like to exacerbate tensions between us and Karzai and feed his suspicions that there are secret deals being done that he's not party to.
Forgive a stupid question, but don't the Taliban understand that the U.S. is joined at the hip with Karzai and that there is zero chance that the U.S. would strike a deal with the Taliban behind Karzai's back, no matter what sorts of statements he makes? Indeed, why doesn't Karzai himself understand this? Have Mullah Omar (or whoever is making the Afghan Taliban's decisions) and Karzai watched The Godfather too many times? Do they think that NATO and ISAF have spent more than a decade in Afghanistan for the purpose of creating conditions in which secret deals can be struck and the military-diplomatic equivalent of severed horses' heads can be left in people's beds? I realize Afghan domestic politics might have a substantial element of this (and perhaps always has), but that's less than a good excuse for harboring and/or acting on such delusions.

Update: V. Yadav has a somewhat different view


T. Greer said...

I have some sympathy for Karzai's position. We (meaning the United States and allied NATO forces) have a long history of telling him one thing and then doing another or otherwise working against his administration's policies and openly declared positions. I can't fault him for not taking our word for it, believing that we don't have his best interests at heart, or feeling a need to take private disputes public.

LFC said...

We (meaning the United States and allied NATO forces) have a long history of telling him one thing and then doing another...

I'm sure that's true, at least to some extent, and it's good to be reminded of it.

It's also true that there are real tensions between Karzai and ISAF/NATO over specific issues like night patrols/raids, authority to deal with Taliban prisoners, control of Bagram prison, etc. (Vikash Yadav pointed out some of this at the Duck of Minerva post I linked in the update.) Karzai also has domestic political considerations to factor in, as Dobbins pointed out in part of the NewsHour segment I didn't quote.

Still, I can understand why people in the U.S. have found some of his recent statements rather infuriating. And I do think there is no possibility of the U.S. striking a deal with the Taliban behind his back, though I'm certainly willing to concede that he may have at least some reason to think it is a possibility. So "delusion" was perhaps not the best word to use here.

LFC said...

P.s. See also this. (H/t FP's AfPak Daily Brief)

T. Greer said...

"Still, I can understand why people in the U.S. have found some of his recent statements rather infuriating."

Agreed. I also do not think Karzai has much to gain from these kind of statements at this point. It is too far along in the game for that. On the international scene, at least. As you (rightly) suggest, his domestic stage is a different matter.