Tag Archives: Hamid Karzai

Hekmatyar the Compromise?

A couple days back, Pajhwok broke news of Hizb-e-Islami and Taliban battling each other in Maidan Wardak. The news, despite being very curious, went almost unnoticed. Even the usually attentive Af-Pak Channel at Foreign Policy had only line on it in their daily brief. But if some sources are to be believed, the news could give us a clue about Hekmatyar’s future. First, here is the Pajhwok piece:

The death toll from an ongoing clash between Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) in central Maidan Wardak province increased to seven on Sunday when four more people were killed, a district chief said on Sunday.The clash that erupted between armed men loyal to two rival commanders, Mullah Zakhil of the Taliban and Azizullah of the HIA in Sadmardi area of Nirkh district on Saturday night was still ongoing, Mohammad Hanif Hanifi said. He added they had received reports of seven people killed and scores wounded in the firefight.Residents said the Taliban commander Zakhil was injured and some of his supporters were killed. More gunmen were joining opposition ranks and residents staying indoors, they said. There was no word from the anti-government groups about the clash.

On the one had, its natural to interpret this us as a clash of only local proportions where personal animosities between commander might be the cause and nothing ideological. However, if one Washington insider is to be believed, the news is a reflection of how Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Hizb e Islami leader, has broken away from the Taliban and might be reconciling with the government soon.

The news comes a day after the Pakistani Prime Minister visited Kabul to announce a joint Peace Commission between the two countries. The visit had particular importance because the Pakistani Army Chief of Staff General Kayani and the ISI Chief General Pasha both accompanied him on the trip. Moreover, the announcement of the joint commission was made by Gilani and Karzai only echoed it. Pakistan showed an enthusiasm for reconciliation that was unseen to date. In fact, this was their first resounding statement after a long period of hesitance.

Hekmatyar has always been a darling of Pakistan. One of the reasons why the civil war dragged so long during the 1990s was that Pakistan wanted to see Hekmatyar take the highest office in Afghanistan, which never materialized. If there is any connection between these two dots– the battle in Maidan and the visit by Pakistani delegation– then its a fair assumption that Hekmatyar might be the compromise that Pakistan has achieved. Pakistan has convinced the United States to bring Hekmatyar on board and he will be the safeguard to their interests in the future of the Afghanistan.

What throws off this assumption, though, is that Hekmatyar has never seemed to be a priority of Karzai’s government. In fact, his name barely comes up in the talks on reconciliation with the insurgency: southern Taliban have always the focus of his reconciliation efforts.  This lack of attention to Hekmatyar could be that Karzai does not believe he makes up that big a part in the insurgency. Or, another possibility, is that behind the silence there has always been talks with Hekmatyar through Pakistan that might be coming to fruition now. The number two in the Peace Council, Attaullah Ludin, is a Hizb e Islami. They have had talks with Hekmatyar’s representatives recently. And what was the location of their couple meetings with Hizb e Islami representatives? Surprise surprise: Islamabad.

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Peace with the Taliban

What is at stake in the Afghan government’s efforts to make peace with the Taliban?

Amrullah Saleh, a former intelligence chief under Karzai and current opponent of the president’s policy, agrees. He told prominent Kabul-based television channel Tolo News: “They are the same Taliban who used scorched-earth tactics against not only humans but also trees and animals. Nothing has changed about their cruelty.”

Saleh and his former government colleague Hanif Atmar have been vocal in their opposition to government attempts to forge a deal, with Atmar, the interior minister until he resigned in the autumn, calling the talks “political insanity”.

The two men, well respected as effective administrators during their years in Karzai’s national security team, are leading a vociferous opposition. Their insight into the Taliban, appeal to young people and undeniable eloquence has put the government’s political agenda in an awkward position.

A recent piece at Al Jazeera English: Rebranding the Taliban


The Constitutional Struggle Over Election Results

Tensions are high over the results of parliamentary elections in Afghansitan (Photo: ToloNews)

On October 6, I went against the current and showed optimism in the parliamentary elections. I thought that in the given context, the voting process had not been as bad as certain news outlets made it to be. But I highlighted that the main challenge lay in how claims of fraud are dealt with. I wrote:

The next stage, of how the fraud is dealt with, is incredibly critical.

For a second time in a year, ordinary afghans have braved the threats to cast their votes. They have played their part in this flirt with democracy, but if serious action is not taken to ensure them that their voices matter, they will lose hope.  The future of the democratic system in Afghanistan will be in peril.

It is crucial that this time around the Afghan leadership really crack down on those who were involved in the fraud. For the sake of saving any hopes of democracy, the government and the leaders need to forget about their pride. They need to man up and accept that there were enormous shortcomings. Rather than questioning its extent and blaming others, they need to take action: punish those who committed systematic fraud, ban them from participating in politics, and perhaps even redo the voting process in certain districts with tighter security and anti-corruption measures. The people need to know that democracy is not corrupt and rotten, but individuals are. If this message is not clearly given to the Afghan people, any hopes of a democracy in the future will be childish.

Well, it turns out that I was overly optimistic. The post-voting process has been a complete shit-show. It is developing into a constitutional crisis.

The problem began with the province of Ghazni, where contenders from the ethnic minority Hazara won all the seats. The Pashtoon candidates claimed this was unfair for the fact that in most districts polling stations remained close due to Taliban threat. They claimed that a minority group could not represent the entire Province of Ghazni. President Karzai publicly sympathized with them, asking the Election Commission to find a legal solution that ensures “national unity.” Over this and many other, a massive heated and public argument has erupted between the Attorney General’s Office, the Election Commission and and the Electoral Complaints Commission .

The Attorney General’s office released arrest warrants for several members of these commissions and asked the Supreme Court to declare the election results as void. The Election Commission, in return, has questioned the legality of the Attorney General’s involvement in this matter. They claim that no authority can overrule their final announcement of the results.

Initially, the Election Commission remained calm and calculated in its response to the Attorney General’s calls. More recently, however, they have responded in very bold words. Fazel Ahmad Manawi, head of the commission, in his recent press conference accused the Attorney General’s office of “bullying that can lead to instability in the country.” He scorned the charge sheet sent to the supreme court which recommends the highest form of punishment [execution] for the 14 members accused.

Where will the legal argument lead? Does the Attorney General’s Office have the authority to question the results of the elections? Many believe  it does. The AG has presented criminal cases of fraud against top election officials as well as winning candidates. This seems within their bounds of authority. But Mr. Manawi, himself a former Supreme Court Justice, has challenged their authority on the grounds that the election law only gives the Election Complaints Commission the authority to call the results void.  Him being a prominent legal scholar and a former justice, one is tempted to believe that he,too, has strong reasons for his position. How will this public argument end? Hard to predict, but expect it to get eve more messier.

During all this, President Karzai has remained very quiet. Yes, he did sympathize with the losing Ghazni candidates, but since then he has said nothing bold. Waheed Omer, his spokesman, has insisted that the President will take no measures against the constitution. Yesterday, he declared more precisely that the President does not have the authority to call the results void. But is the Attorney General’s office doing his work for him? It seems so. The Attorney General has almost always acted in line with the President’s wishes. In this case, too, the President seems like he is raising his concern through the AG while maintaining an uninvolved public image.


Absurdities revealed in WikiLeaks

 

I will be updating this post with some of the absurd things from the Wikileaks, relating to Afghanistan.

Here is US embassy in Kabul’s analysis of a minister proposed to the Parliament by President Karzai. What a Genius!

--Commerce - Ghulam Mohammad Elaqi (Hazara). 
He was the Central Bank Chairman in 
the 1990s, and former Chamber of Commerce President until 2008. 
He was allegedly accused of corruption in 2001. His nomination 
was supported by Mohaqqeq,although he also has a relationship with 
competing Hazara powerbroker Khalili. 
Khalili appointed him as a secondary representative at the 2001 
Bonn conference. He reportedly owns a factory in Tashkent used to
 export special bags made from sheep stomach that are used frequently
 by heroine smugglers to prevent detection. Also, reportedly he took 
about $1.5 million from small businessmen in Afghanistan in 1995 to 
open a trading company, but instead absconded with the funds.

Ambassador Stubborn Holbrooke

Karzai's rocky relationship with the west: Richard Holbrooke the cause? Mark Wilson/Getty Images/zimbio

Kai Eide, the former UN special representative to Afghanistan, has been very vocal in his criticism of the Obam Administration’s approach to the Karzai government. He has blamed Obama’s civil and military leaders for the continuous strain in the relationship with Kabul.

In a recent interview published by BBC Pashto, Mr. Eide was was especially critical of Obama’s envoy to South Asia, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.  Mr. Eide claimed that Holbrooke was stubborn and unaware of Afghan sensitivities.

“I think Holbrooke’s approach, especially at the beginnings of Obama administration,  was very harmful. He is a person who got very involved in the Presidential elections. I agree that a lot of wrongdoings happened in the elections. But foreigners like Holbrooke, too, got very involved. This became the source of the tensions that we have today.”

Some other key points from the interview:

–Mr. Eide disagreed with the decision for announcing withdrawal date, saying it has caused panic among European members of NATO. They, too, are looking for a way out now, which has strained the Afghan government’s trust in its international partners.

— On Karzai’s relationship to the West: “I agree that President Karzai’s approach has been lacking. But I also see that the international community’s approach towards him, especially the United States’,  has played a major role in straining the relationship between Karzai and the West. And they do not realize that they have let down and distanced not only Karzai but also other leaders in that country, which can affect the larger population too. You can’t go into the country and say: I am your guest, but I will be dictating terms here based on my own ideas. These things won’t work in Afghanistan. I have said this at the Security Council also, and the US Ambassador in Kabul, Eikenberry, agrees with me. But no one listens to him either.”

— “Its imperative that leaders, especially those in Washington, learn the art of learning and listening.  When the Obama administration took over, they distinguished themselves from the previous administration in the fact that they will listen to others. Unfortunately, that’s not what I see. And this factor has played a major role in why we are in a mess today”


Karzai’s Vission

Aljazeera recently aired an absolutely impressive program from Kabul. David Frost conducted a pair of interviews with General Petraeus and President Karzai that were absolutely fantastic, both for the standard of journalism and the skills of interviewing, but also for the warmth and humanity of the conversations. He gave the individuals tremendous room to breath, something that is lacking in today’s media.

Two important points raised by the General: A good majority of the Taliban they are fighting are “ten dollar a day Taliban.” Also, he emphasized that “what we do know is that very few of the Taliban leaders actually sit foot in the country.”


Frost raises an interesting question: Karzai’s father was murdered by the Taliban. How does that affect the negotiations when he sits down face to face with them? a wonderful answer by the president: “my father was only one of the thousands.” It really exemplifies the man’s optimism and his desire to see Afghanistan towards stability.
The president also emphasizes that he has no hopes for another term in office whatsoever.
Most interviews with Karzai are clouded with a tension of presumptions. Whether you agree with an individual or not, it’s nice to give him the space to explain himself.


The Tears of a President

As the New York Times reported, Afghan President Hamid Karzai once again broke down in tears during a televised speech. Addressing a crowd of educators in Kabul, the President sobbed as he lamented the lack of progress in the country and the uncertainty of the future.

Just like last time, when he got emotional listening to the stories of victims three years ago, Mr. Karzai will surely receive criticism for this outbreak of emotions. A president, especially one who is at war, is supposed to be strong, bold, and stern they say. He is not to cry, but to act. The realities of Afghanistan, however, are different. And so is its president.

At the moment, Mr. Karzai is overtaken with frustration and hopelessness. A dignified and charismatic man of good intentions has struggled to change the living conditions of his people. We only need to dial the clock back a few years to understand how this happened, and why Mr. Karzai is more a victim than an instigator, as Josh Foust put it on his FP blog.

A lot seems to have gone wrong for the man who came into this job on the merits of his dignity, and on the basis of his clean image. He was not a warlord, he did not have a militia, and he did not have blood on his hands.  And contrary to the popular belief, he was not parachuted from the west. He was a rare breed: homegrown, well-educated, moderate, and relatively clean off the mess the was the Afghan civil war. Above all, he had a history of activism for the sake of reaching an end to the war in Afghanistan.

His task at the time? One of the most difficult in world politics. He was mandated to hold together a country of only 30 million people, but as many warring factions. All armed to teeth. He was not only to hold them back from fighting each other, what they had done for the previous two decades, but also to establish a democracy in the country and to rid it from Al Qaeda and extremism.

Today, what frustrates Mr. Karzai to the verge of tears is that the enormity and the difficulty of the task is overshadowed by the talk of his incompetence and corruption. In the popular opinion in the west, Hamid Karzai has turned into the image of corrupt governance and insecurity. A good indication of this is when you search his name in Google: the first two associations are “corruption” and “brother.”

Perhaps, in the wake of recent events, the brother should be plural: brothers.

Much of Mr. Karazai’s frustrations lie in the fact that those close to him have betrayed him tremendously, only caring for their own pockets and power and not for the progress of the country. Internationally, his image is hurting bad from the spiraling ill-reputation of his brothers. His last name is becoming a liability. Locally, his young government is struggling to reform. The only answer that he can find to the problem of corruption, which is derailing his legitimacy, is setting up commission after commission. Security has not improved remarkably, and the war does not seem to be reaching an end any time soon.

But what pains the President most is that all these factors have led to his people losing faith in him immensely. To his defense, Afghans have been a little thankless at times, mostly forgetting the harshness of the reality and the lack of infrastructure that Mr. Karzai began with. That is not to say that their demand for more is illegitimate. It is just that the demands have not happened with an eye on the dark recent past that country is trying to emerge out of.

And lastly, Mr. Karzai is extremely worried about his political legacy. This is his last term as President and he has given a lot to this process of national revival. Yet, things are certainly not where he would want them to be. Because of the factors mentioned above, he has struggled to turn his hopes and dreams for the country into reality. Mr. Karzai knows that Afghan politics are cruel—that he will not be remembered for his intentions and his dreams, but his actions which have been impeded by the difficulty of the situation. This, above all, frustrates the President.

For the moment, however, spare a thought for the man. His job is one of the world’s most difficult and his struggle must go on.

Was it a question of character or circumstance?