Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Karzai's desperate moves

It should come as no surprise that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been engaged in supposedly "secret" talks with the Taliban, as reported in today's New York Times.

A survivor, Karzai is desperately trying to save himself, his friends, and his family. And, I doubt that US intelligence was not aware of Karzai's actions. What's fascinating, however, is that Karzai's actions are newsworthy.

As the article points out, these behind-the-scenes talks have produced nothing. One of the reasons that they've been fruitless is that Karzai and the US have had no luck in finding anyone of any substance who truly represents the Taliban's seemingly untouchable leader, Mullah Omar.

But that too, should not come as a surprise. As I wrote in Above the Din of War, one of the Taliban's best games has been to pose impostors as their inside men, people who supposedly have direct access to Mullah Omar.

The funniest one was when US and British intelligence services sent a mission into Pakistan to pick up a man who was said to be a Taliban insider. The man was handed a bag of $100s and whisked into a series of high level meetings with US and Afghan officials.

Though this man did little more than grunt and nod, he was touted as a breakthrough. In the end, however, it was revealed that this man was little more than a Pakistani shopkeeper. His story is the Pakistani version of Pee Wee Herman's Big Adventure.

The Taliban is still laughing over that one. But there's more. Take, for instance, the death of the former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the man who Karzai appointed to head up his Peace Council.

After a couple of years of trying, the Taliban sent an envoy to meet with Rabbani, who was kind enough to let the man stay at his home while he was away from Kabul. When Rabbani returned and met with the man, the envoy detonated a bomb hidden in his turban, killing himself and Rabbani.

Hmmm. Could there be a message here?

Then there was the time when Karzai killed talks that the US State Department had arranged with the Taliban in Qatar. In one of the few instances where I have agreed with him, Karzai said no because the Taliban had essentially set up what amounted to an embassy-in-exile in Qatar. The Taliban wanted to conduct talks posing as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Karzai refused.

So, why would Karzai continue to reach out to the Taliban after all of this?

As I've written in earlier posts, Karzai has lost touch with reality. He lives exclusively inside the confines of his fortified palace, yet is able to see the writing on the wall. The Taliban's grip is growing stronger each and every day. It is only a matter of time before their strangle hold on Afghanistan is once again complete.

Karzai knows that when the Taliban takes over again, his life and that of his extended family and associates is over. What can be confiscated of his will be taken by the Taliban. If he escapes alive, he'll be lucky. In an effort to forestall this inevitability, Karzai has reached out to the Taliban.

As the Times points out, this may help explain why Karzai has refused to sign the agreement that would put the US forces inside Afghanistan for another decade. It would also explain why he has so steadfastly insisted on releasing dozens of Taliban prisoners the US has kept locked up in Baghram.

By delaying the signing and ranting against the US, Karzai has foolishly tried to curry favor with the Taliban. Sorry. It won't work.