Should Pakistan Trust Karzai?

Brig Asif Haroon Raja

Hamid Karzai in Pakistan with Yousaf Raza

Hamid Karzai is walking on a tight rope. Ever grateful to Washington for getting the prized post of president of Afghanistan, he has been pursuing American dictates faithfully. He agreed to give all the major portfolios to non-Pashtun Northern Alliance members in his government and to sideline his own Pashtun community enjoying distinct majority. He allowed Indian influence to expand in his country on American insistence and let Afghan soil to be used for subversive activities against Pakistan. Mossad was also allowed a firm toehold in Afghanistan. On the prompting of his mentors he has all along maintained a hostile stance towards Pakistan. By following pro-American policies he became highly unpopular in his country.

To make himself useful, he fed an idea to Washington that given the resources and backing, he would be able to win over majority of Taliban leaders through bribes and incentives and would affect an in-house coup within Taliban ranks after isolating Mullah Omar led hardliners. Once he was given a green signal in 2007, he began to establish contacts with former and current members of Taliban Shura and other resistance groups. By 2009 he was able to make good gains among former Taliban ministers, Hizb-e-Islami and others. Among present Shura, Mullah Ghani Baradar was his big catch. He had made secret contacts with him through his half brother Ahmad Wali Karzai but didn’t disclose this breakthrough to USA. His efforts got stalled because of unexpected successes achieved by Taliban against coalition forces in southern and eastern Afghanistan from June to September 2009 putting ISAF on the back foot.

The US leaders began to have second thoughts about Karzai when situation in Afghanistan began to slip out of their hands. He failed to muster requisite votes in August 2009 presidential election. Although he was helped to get re-elected in November through rigging then the same people made his credibility highly doubtful by feeding the information of the elctions being rigged. He however felt convinced that it was America’s doing to weaken his political standing. He was warned by Obama to improve governance, get rid of corruption in various departments and to improve his standing among Pashtuns in particular and Afghans in general so as to become a bridge between Americans and Pashtuns. These unfriendly acts gave second thoughts to Karzai about US sincerity as well.

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Once Obama announced withdrawal timeline of July 2011 and stuck to it despite strong opposition from Karzai, India and Israel, he realized that the US would again leave Afghanistan in a lurch and his fate will not be different to Babrak Karmal or Dr Najibullah. He also assessed that US-NATO had lost the will and was not in a position to defeat Taliban movement.  It was in the backdrop of these lurking fears that he hurtled some anti-US and pro-Taliban statements to win the confidence of latter. He also tried hard to allay the heart burnings of Pakistan by making series of friendly statements. While throwing feelers of goodwill towards Taliban and Pakistan, he is still not ready to lose the goodwill of USA and India since the situation at the moment is highly fluid. While he has smelt that USA has lost the war, coming six months are crucial. In this period, it will be decided which side the balance tilts.

Arrest of Baradar, deputy of Mullah Omar, by Pak security forces in January at the pointing of CIA was a setback for him since Baradar’s participation in loya jirga scheduled at Kabul in April would have made a huge difference. When he failed to get him released, he went ahead with the jirga on 2 June which was attended by 1600 people from almost all strands of Afghan society. His plan of re-integration of Taliban through negotiations was endorsed by all. His plan is however not entirely in line with US plan which hinges on first defeating the Taliban on battlefield and then negotiating with them from a position of strength. Americans are sticking to this plan since they want to leave behind a regime of their choice which could safeguard their future interests and also agree to a sizeable military presence in Baghram and Kandahar air bases.

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Rocket attacks on the jirga were certainly the handiwork of anti-Karzai and anti-Taliban forces. The chief suspect is Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh who was very peeved over Karzai’s change of stance towards Pakistan. He is completely influenced by RAW and Mossad and is a vehement enemy of Pakistan, particularly ISI. He has contributed a lot towards coloring perceptions of US officials based in Afghanistan against Pakistan and in assisting RAW in recruiting agents and launching them into Balochistan and FATA. Interior Minister Hanif Atmar is another anti-Pakistan Afghan official. Both are US men and have been taking commands from Washington and New Delhi. Their sacking by Karzai is a big loss for USA and India especially because of highly turbulent security situation and the US having no clear cut strategy for exit.

In the wake of Marjah operation and much hyped operation Kandahar planned in September, the Taliban instead of going on the defensive have become more assertive. Rate of attacks have accelerated and so is the casualty rate of occupation forces. June is proving to be the most deadly month since 2001. In case Kandahar operation turns into another fiasco, it will have grave ramifications for USA. It will lose whatever leverage it still has on certain groups and spaces it controls. The situation has become dicey because of ouster of Gen McChrystal who had conceived the offensive plan and was making hectic preparations. Morale of occupation troops is already very low. Many feel that their civil leaders and war merchants have turned them into sacrificial lambs to upkeep their mercantile interests. Disgraceful dismissal of their commander may be resented by them and further erode their resolve to fight a losing battle.

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In 1989, the US abandoned Afghanistan in haste since it was a victor and had fulfilled all its objectives. The situation now is altogether different. It has not achieved even a single objective and is bound to lose the war. Under such adverse circumstances, it may not be possible for coalition troops to pullout easily and safely. It will be highly costly withdrawal. Afghans revenge against defeated foe is horrifying since they believe in total massacre and that too in most brutal ways.

In case Karzai is not playing a double game and is sincere in his overtures towards Pakistan, it is to the advantage of Pakistan in post American exit era. The only worrying thing for Pakistan is whether Karzai at his own will be able to steer the ship or will seek Indian assistance? Another upsetting matter is that the US is a very bad loser. When it finds that there is no way out left to save its ship in Afghanistan from sinking, it may opt for another misadventure either against Pakistan or Iran, or else handover security of Afghanistan to India.

The writer is a retired Brig, security and defence analyst and author of several books.