Afghanistan: another post-mortem analysis

The row between President Karzai and the US which accompanied the much-delayed opening of a ‘political office’ by the Taliban in Doha a few days ago, the continued attacks on Afghan and international security forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s immediate focus on an exchange of prisoners as talks between the US and the Taliban seem to be getting underway (five Taliban leaders held in Guantanamo Bay in exchange for one US ‘prisoner of war’ held who knows where) all show that the Taliban have no intention of yielding any concessions: not to the US, and surely not to the current Afghan regime.

That is not much of a concern for the current US administration as Barack Obama had made it clear, even before his first term as US President, that he just wanted the US to cut the losses – in lives and in treasure – and disengage as soon as the Taliban could offer reasonable assurances that they would not abet international terrorism. Hence, as soon as they’ll do that (and, of course, we’ll trust their word – even if there’s no ground whatsoever for doing so), the US will be happy to cut a deal.

As for national terrorism, well… Who cares? It is obvious for all those who want to see (but then many do not) that since the worldwide War on Terrorism started, US interventionism – or international interventionism in general – has not much to show for in this regard. Libya, Egypt and Tunisia are hardly stable, with hard-line Islamic groups threatening whatever improvement was made in terms of political and civil rights as the Arab Spring fanned out. As for Syria, well… As much as I deplore the bloodshed there (the conflict in Afghanistan looks pretty insignificant in comparison), Barack Obama is right in not committing to a military intervention. [If the EU thinks it can help by arming the rebels, let them do so – even if it is not a wise move in my view.] The fight in Syria is a full-blown Islamic war between Sunni and Shia Muslims – and Syria’s minorities, Christian or other, are being crushed in the event. Nevertheless, Barack Obama’s gut feeling about the conflict is correct: stay out! If the West would truly care about human rights and democracy, it should intervene in Saudi Arabia.

That being said, the Taliban’s ambivalence about negotiations – or its outright inflexibility I should say – should obviously worry Karzai, as well as his family and friends and supporters. Let me be straight: I have some sympathy for him. In fact, I admire him – but to some extent only. We should all admire him, if only because Afghan kings and presidents usually end up murdered. More importantly, Hamid Karzai’s personal history is full of bravery and sacrifices – although I do agree that does not justify his erratic behavior.

So what is my prognosis as to Afghanistan’s future? I doubt Afghanistan will hold presidential elections next year. I think President Karzai – who cannot be elected for yet another term according to Afghanistan’s Constitution – will just say it’s too costly and too dangerous for people to vote, and so he will just call it a Loya Jirga – as he did before – and ask the carefully selected ‘elders’ to confirm he can continue without going through the trouble of national elections. And then he’ll preside over another phase of gradual disintegration – one of the many which have marked Afghanistan’s history. Or he might be murdered. Or, else, perhaps I am wrong and there will actually be some kind of elections through which Afghanistan would get another leader – an outcome which the US would surely like to see. Would it make any difference? I don’t think so. Under Afghanistan’s constitutional system, the President is both Head of State as well as Head of Government – which is just one of the many flaws in the current set-up which ensures its non-sustainability – and so that’s a sure recipe for disaster in my view.

The truth is that the Bonn settlement did not integrate the losers of the US-led War in Afghanistan – and now that this War is obviously over (the US got tired of fighting it) – these losers are back with a vengeance. So we’re in for another decade of trouble there. But, again, I think it’s clear to all now that Washington does not look at that as much of a concern anymore: it’s of concern to the Afghans only.

So what went wrong? Well… Washington finally got it: Afghanistan requires a political solution. The problem is: Washington’s decision-makers understood this way too late and so, yes, Washington’s negotiators are basically negotiating the terms of retreat now – if not surrender – and there’s nothing honorable about it.

As I spent more than four years in that country, I pity my Afghan friends. They do have the right to feel betrayed. I also pity those families who have lost relatives there, and those who lost limbs or got permanent trauma – physical or psychological. We all fought an impossible battle there (I myself spent more than four years there)… And that’s the only thing we can be proud of. It’s not a lot, but it’s something.

As for Karzai, perhaps he can find himself some safe place to go to. His family got rich enough and so money is not an issue. But perhaps he’ll prefer harakiri. Or perhaps he’ll get murdered. Or perhaps he’ll clear the way for a successor. All of that would be honorable – or, at the very least, more honorable than what the West is currently trying to do – and that is to just get out – regardless of the loss of face and lack of morality it implies. […] But then honor is not something that matters in the post-modern world we’re living in, is it?

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