Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Is Karzai crazy?

In the Monday, January 27 issue of the Washington Post, reporter Kevin Seiff reported from Kabul that Afghan President Hamid Karzai believes that the U.S. is secretly helping the Taliban and is behind many of the deadly attacks there in recent years.

This includes the recent suicide bombing and gun attack on La Taverna, the Lebanese restaurant in Kabul, where 21 people, including three Americans, were killed.

The rational response, of course, is that this is ridiculous. Why would the United States fight a war in Afghanistan against the Taliban for 13 years, and all the while secretly help the Taliban? Of course it's absurd.

But as I researched and wrote Above the Din of War, it's an attitude and belief in Afghanistan that is shared by many people.

The thinking is this: Why has the world's most powerful army, which has the world's most sophisticated weaponry, best intelligence services, and employs the best trained soldiers not been able to defeat the Taliban? After all, the Taliban are essentially untrained and miserably equipped. They use antiquated weapons, only AK-47s and RPGs, communicate largely by cell phones, and run around the countryside wearing blankets and broken down shoes.

Good question. Many Afghans answer by saying that the U.S. simply does NOT want to defeat the Taliban. They believe the U.S. is keeping the Taliban alive by equipping it and aiding it.

Karzai has picked up on this thinking and is now, according to Seiff, trying to develop a dossier of photos and information that would prove this assertion. Unfortunately, the evidence that Karzai has been gathering is bogus, as was pointed out in a recent article by the New York Times.

In that Times piece, angry survivors of a northern village that had been attacked by an airstrike showed a photo of dead and mutilated bodies that was from an attack that had occurred elsewhere in 2009.

What's going on here? As I have said before, it is time to stop taking Karzai seriously, which is what the Obama administration continues to do, and is why Seiff and the Washington Post tried to make sense of Karzai's comments and thought process.

I can only agree with U.S. Ambassador James B. Cunningham's assessment of Karzai's comments: "It's a deeply conspiratorial view that's divorced from reality," the Post quoted him as saying. "It flies in the face of logic and morality to think that we would aid the enemy we're trying to defeat."

The key words here are "divorced from reality."

One of the few times I saw Karzai in person was during a 2004 press conference with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. At the time, Karzai was friendly and talked about the great cooperation between the two countries in fighting a common enemy.

But what struck me, however, was that Karzai was essentially a prisoner of his own device inside the highly fortified presidential palace. As far as I knew, he never left. It was too dangerous. The only people Karzai sees are the ones who come to him, passing through an incredible gauntlet of security -- paid for by the U.S.

No wonder he sounds wacky. He has spent the last 10 years knocking around a fortified palace watching as the war has dragged on for more than a dozen years with no clear resolution in sight. Meanwhile, the Taliban grows stronger and stronger as the U.S. and NATO steadily ratchet down their forces.

After more than a decade as Afghanistan's nominal leader, Karzai sees his country ebbing into the chaos, civil war, and the hands of the Taliban. There's nothing Karzai can do to stop it. He has been and is completely at the mercy of the U.S., which after the coming April 5 presidential election -- if it actually occurs -- will happily toss him out on the street.

(Karzai will probably turn up in Dubai the day after the election, if not earlier.)

What few shreds of dignity that Karzai may have left can only be salvaged by his increasingly strident and self-destructive anti-American ravings. These are, after all, nothing more than his sad and futile attempt to align himself with the 30 million Afghans who abandoned him long ago.

It's pathetic, of course, but no more pathetic than the U.S. government officials, policy makers, and perhaps even some journalists who still take him seriously.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Abandoning Afghanistan

An article in today's New York Times raises a lot of issues surrounding the so-called "zero option," which would be a total pull-out of Afghanistan by the end of this year.


While the headline suggests that the drone program would be put in jeopardy, a lot more is at stake. Not only would total withdrawal simply turn over large portions of the country to the Taliban and the fundamentalist elements in Pakistan, it would pave the way to a return to civil war. That alone is enough to reject the zero option. 

As the article mentions, a major reason for our presence in Afghanistan is to keep an eye on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. While it is well known that Pakistan and India have arsenals aimed at each other  -- a sad homage to the paranoia that grips the region -- it's much more serious because Pakistan is apparently developing highly mobile "tactical" nukes. 

Given the inherent instability of Pakistan, its illusory control of the northwest provinces, and its widely accepted ties with and support of the Taliban, possession of tactical nuclear weapons poses a big problem.

It requires no stretch of the imagination to suspect that these exceedingly destructive weapons could fall into the hands of elements of the Taliban and/or the fractured and diverse incarnations of al-Qaeda.

The threat of this to both Afghanistan and Pakistan is obvious. But it doesn't stop there. The region is at stake as well.

Perhaps the best example is al-Qaeda's recent takeover of Fallujah, the bloody and bitterly contested city in Iraq. This is a clear and dangerous consequence of the US total pull-out of Iraq. 

Now Al-Qaeda militias control parts of Syria. They're scattered across northern Africa in countries such as northern Nigeria, Algeria, Libya, and Mali.

This makes a domestic threat to the US all the more real. 

Yes, this theme has been explored extensively already by thriller writers and Hollywood productions. At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, this is a real situation that is evolving slowly but surely.

Because of this, it is all the more important that the US abandon the zero option in Afghanistan. The threat posed by the region, if left to its own devices, is frighteningly real. 

There is historical precedent. The attacks of 9/11 were hatched by bin Laden while he was in Afghanistan. And where did he go to hide for more than a decade? Pakistan.

What is still more disconcerting is that the US policy makers are presenting Afghan President Hamid Karzai as an obstacle because he won't sign the agreement that would give us a long-term presence in Afghanistan.

This is absurd. Karzai is in office and is only alive, in fact, because the US put him there and keeps him there. Not only is the stability of the region dependent on US and NATO presence, so is US long-term security.

All of this is at risk because Karzai is throwing yet another irrational and self-destructive temper tantrum in a fake show that he cares about the Afghan people? No one in Afghanistan takes Karzai seriously, so why should the US?

It is apparent that by giving Karzai the credence that he does not deserve, the Obama administration is giving itself political cover for a possible total withdrawal.  

The US cannot abandon Afghanistan. There is far too much at stake, in the country, in the region, and at home for the US to pull out. It would be a huge mistake.