As Afghanistan's President rants on about being invaded by Western troops and toys with the potential of defecting to the Taliban, NATO governments' worries grow about the stability of this dubious 'ally'
It looks as if Hamid Karzai has been raiding his brother’s stash.
What other possible explanation could there be for bizarre statements about blaming the West for the fraud in Afghanistan’s last election, and his alleged emotional tirade about quitting his post and joining the Taliban?
In coverage of politics “tired and emotional” always has a certain meaning, and it is not exactly tired and emotional…it’s a little more to do with being under the influence of certain substances at inappropriate moments in the life of a professional politician.
It is unpalatable enough that young men and women from around the world are dying in Afghanistan to protect Karzai’s administration, which was the beneficiary of fraud. But to blame the fraud on the very people overseeing the election so as to avoid fraud is pushing it. To then rant on and threaten to join the enemy because he can’t get his own way on controlling the country’s electoral institutions, rightfully raises questions about the mental stability of this dubious ally.
The former UN envoy to Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith, who was fired after going public about cover-ups in the fraud department, was all over the political cable talk shows in North America this week, offering some very interesting insights into what may be going on.
Remember there is no love lost between Galbraith and Karzai.
Perhaps Galbraith’s most salacious bit of gossip was a reference to palace insiders who say the President has a “certain fondness for some of Afghanistan’s most profitable exports”. That he’s talking opium there can be no doubt… just a little indelicate to be too blatant.
Galbraith says Karzai’s mental stability is in doubt – “off balance” to be precise - which is highly likely to just further annoy Karzai. More than that however is the effect this has on the thinking of governments like the US, Britain and Canada, who have large casualty lists to show for their years of involvement in the now eight years of bloody war.
Of particular insult was Karzai’s timing. Just days before Obama had made a secret visit to Afghanistan to confirm American commitment to destroying al-Qaeda and the Taliban. No sooner had Air Force One zipped back Stateside than Karzai entertained Iran’s Ahmadinejad which, as the New York Times put it, stuck a thumb in the eye of the Obama administration. It was a fit of pique because Karzai’s own invite to Washington had been rescinded over the electoral fraud which had kept him in office.
On top of that Karzai was freely dispensing his own theories about foreigners being in Afghanistan because they wanted to take it over.
Has he had a look around his backyard? Of course not, because he rearely leaves his palace, but to put it politely, Karzai’s is not a rational theory.
Last year a leaked memo from the US ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, warned that Karzai was not “an adequate strategic partner”. Mr Eikenberry, as befitting his position, was being diplomatic. His was, as it turns out, the understatement of the century (so far).
Canada’s Prime Minister has slammed as completely unacceptable the Karzai comments, yet curiously this week his government has announced a further ninety troops to go in and train Afghanistan police and soldiers.
Every deployment faces danger, evidenced by the flow of body bags on the watch of NATO member governments. Time and time again it has been asked what soldiers are dying for, and without trawling over the history of this eight year war, the goal has changed. In truth, troops are nation building, something the trigger-happy disaster architect George W. Bush, always refused to see as a role for 'his' soldiers.
But now those questions are rightfully being asked with a new edge.
Why are foreign troops in a country when the President of that country is referring to them as little short of invaders?
The answer has to be because it is too dangerous to get rid of that President. That’s the simple, ugly truth.
NATO allies are propping up a corrupt regime which has little interest – or perhaps no ability – to take responsibility itself. The President’s arrogance is no secret, his brother’s involvement in the illicit drugs trade is openly discussed to the point that he’s a contender for a place on the US most wanted list. Karzai reigns over the very sort of corruption that put him in the palace and now knows he can do whatever he likes.
He is toying with the goodwill of the international community. He knows that community is in so deep in Afghanistan it can not pull out. He knows there is little worse for NATO governments than to admit years of bloodshed and billions of dollars have been in vain. He knows Obama does not want that on his watch.
And so he does indeed stick his well manicured fingers in the US eye, and makes his unbalanced threats as the NATO allies grapple with how to save Afghanistan from its own president.
The next test for Karzai will be his appointments to the country’s Electoral Complaints Commission after two members, seen as having sanctioned widespread fraud, were finally sacked this week. Pressure from Western donor nations? Yes. Principle? Not so much. Replacing them with Karzai loyalists, however, will add a slap in the face to that international eye gouging. Perhaps Mr Karzai should, as the saying goes, put that in his pipe and smoke it.