Karzai made the bed we’re in: A response to his defenders

by sayke on 9/29/2010 · 19 comments

In responding to Josh’s very articulate defense of Hamid Karzai in Foreign Policy, let us first review the criticisms of Karzai, as mentioned by his defenders: He has received treatment for manic depression (but doesn’t take his meds), treats Ahmadinejad better then Western leaders, blames “foreigners” for the fraud that won him the election, threatened to join the Taliban, and is generally foul-tempered, undiplomatic, and frequently downright irrational. These things are bad enough – collectively, given the incredibly important circumstances, they’re absolutely damning.

However, his defenders do not usually mention that Karzai manages and runs the opium trade, systematically steals elections (plural), fires (or failing that, assassinates) promising political competition, simultaneously extorts the international community and uses it as his enforcer, and generally acts like the wannabe dictator of the country. Taken together, “damning” doesn’t do them justice. This is our guy in Afghanistan? This is the best we can do? There aren’t any other options? Really…!?

Some of us do remember the nice happy days before Karzai realized he could corner the opium trade and get away with murder – when he seemed charming, back before his ability to BS the international community was widely recognized. I certainly remember those days. If ignorance is bliss, wipe the smile off my face. Surely even his defenders would acknowledge that, in a number of very important ways, we’ve been had for years. But what are we going to do about it?

Given that Karzai was not democratically elected due to massive fraud, let us at least stop pretending (at least with ourselves) that elections have bestowed any legitimacy on him whatsoever. Seth Jones’ support for Karzai reduces to: “The international community should support Karzai as the non-democratically non-elected president of Afghanistan, so stop undermining him, and help him show progress.” Perhaps we should indeed stop undermining him, and try to help him show progress. We’ve tried that for years now and it hasn’t worked, but regardless, let’s go into the stated reasons for why we should do that:

  • Karzai is a Pashtun. Great. Given that only-a-Christian-can-be-president consociationalism works so great in Lebanon, why not sacrifice democracy in favor of a similar unspoken tradition that only a Pashtun can be president of Afghanistan…!? Oh wait, that’s been an absolute disaster in Lebanon – so much so that avoiding the emergence of similar institutionalized hackjobs should have been and still be at the top of our list of state-building priorities. But regardless, Hanif Atmar is a Pashtun too… Not like it should matter.
  • Speaking of which, there are alternatives to Karzai, as we would have seen if we’d actually insist on counting the votes. Besides Abdullah Abdullah (who is fine and actually won the election), we have Hanif Atmar (the very competent and formidable former Minister of Education/Interior/etc before Karzai fired him for being too popular),Asraf Ghani (brilliant honest technocrat), Mohammad Mohaqeq (what, he can’t be president because he’s Hazara!? Do you want institutionalized racism, or competence!?), and Amrullah Saleh (former head of the NDS before Karzai also fired him for being too popular) – hell, let’s put Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar on there too… And these are just off the top of my head. But you know what? Let’s just count the votes. A tradition of democratic and peaceful transitions of power is worth a hell of a lot – certainly a hell of a lot more then whatever Karzai is giving us currently.
  • Karzai may retain some multi-ethnic support, but how much of that support would be redirected to his successor – especially if his successor was minimally activist and competent? How much of Karzai’s current support is bought and paid for, and therefore unreliably shallow? And how much of that support is actually support for the larger project of a developing, freer, and more democratic Afghanistan? And anyway, how much of that still exists today?
  • Replacing Karzai might be difficult. Waaaahhh OMG difficulty!! God forbid we be faced with… Difficulty!! Let us cower in fear of the Karzai defensive crouch!! But actually, no, it need not be difficult. All that’s necessary is to count the freakin’ votes. That’s all you need to justify it. Where we find fraud, let’s disqualify those who orchestrated it. From there, blow it open – let’s get our truth-and-reconciliation on. If Karzai complains, then he is welcome to show what would be his true colors, and follow through on his threat to join the Taliban. Shall we let our erstwhile ally extort us? Did we forget how to play hardball? Au contaire – this is a war. We should send him to whatever god he’d wish.
  • Some say that replacing Karzai would weaken an already-weak state, but keeping him in does the same thing. We must build a state of strong laws, not just strong men. The state is weak because its incredibly centralized structure is built around a corrupt and rotting center of government, and the law is used by strongmen for their personal ends, pervasively and with impunity. You cannot build a strong state under those conditions. It is impossible. The Taliban, who know well what rule of law looks like, will eat it alive.

Those are apparently the reasons why we should support Karzai: He’s Pashtun (shouldn’t matter, but there are others), there aren’t alternatives (yes there are!), he has some support still (maybe? rule of law has more), replacing him would be difficult (duh this is a war), and actually counting the votes might weaken the state (so does leaving him in). There may be more trenchant reasons for continuing to support him, but those seem to be the most popular ones. We can discuss more in the comments. However, there are a number of other good points in Josh’s article that bear responding to:

Karzai is indeed making nice with his neighbors in anticipation of international withdrawal. So be it. This is peripheral to the anti-Karzai argument. That he uses his relationship with his neighbors to extort the hand that feeds him (by cozying up to Ahmadinejad when we started to get serious about anti-corruption, for example) goes far beyond merely laying the groundwork for international withdrawal, and is a more serious argument for alternatives to Karzai. It also illustrates the complete lack of coherent political strategy with which the US has approached Karzai since the end of Zalmay Khalilzad’s active management of Karzai in 2005.

The larger point that the institution of the presidency is a serious problem, though, bears consideration. It is absolutely and dangerously over-centralized, but let us not forget that Karzai wanted it this way. Hell, Bush probably wanted it this way – is this not the fabled theory of the unitary executive writ large? Karzai will not allow locally-accountable, effective, decentralized governance in Afghanistan, because it would undercut his all-pervasive structure of patronage and clientelism. Decentralized governance and reform of the presidency as an institution is absolutely necessary – but that’s just another argument in favor of replacing Karzai.

That Afghanistan is bankrupt, and Karzai doesn’t have a lot to work with, is another serious point. However, this is the case because effectively routing aid through Karzai’s government is extremely difficult where not impossible. With notable exceptions (Atmar! Saleh!), the government is generally an obstacle to effective aid delivery. Police salaries are low in part because so much gets skimmed off that not much is left – donors know their money wouldn’t get through. Absolutely, though, more aid should be channeled through the Afghan government when and where effective – and where not effective, heads should roll. Accountability must accompany authority. The Taliban get that, and they’re whupping the Karzai government as a result.

The notion that Karzai has been asked to do the impossible, unfortunately, seems like a cop-out. It genuinely looks like he has failed to create effective institutions because he doesn’t want to, and probably wouldn’t know how if he did. This contrasts with Najibulluh, who created and ran a remarkably competent, effective, and non-corrupt police force. The success of Najibulluh after the Soviet withdrawal (in the face of dozens of truckloads/day of military supplies thrown against him) shows that Karzai’s task is not impossible. Let us examine the reasons for Najibulluh’s success in light of Karzai’s failure, and draw what conclusions we may.

It’s true there’s pressure from some Afghans to negotiate an end to the fighting (even as the Taliban see no reason to negotiate if they can just conquer the entire country, again), but is poor little Karzai really only equipped with some meager political influence and money? Does he really not have the tools to do his job? Doesn’t he wield the entire military and moral force of the international community? Why does he not guide their use for maximum effectiveness against the Taliban? With all the resources at his disposal, why hasn’t he raised a large and effective army of his own (like Najibulluh did, and the Taliban are doing) to secure his country?

It’s also true that the very real interplay of Afghanistan constituencies will constrain any President of Afghanistan… But given the absolutely (dangerously) immense power that the Office of the President wields in the country, is there really so little he can do? We can’t have it both ways: Either the Office of the President is incredibly powerful and stuff is Karzai’s fault, or not. This isn’t just about giving Ismail Khan a ministry. That can be fine if by giving you get, and if there’s ever-increasing accountability and rules that prevent the clients from getting out of hand – all to buy time and help create institutions that are bigger and longer-lasting then then the guy on top of them. Unfortunately, we see Karzai essentially giving away license to loot particular fiefdoms, with no requirement for actual governance whatsoever. As a result, the entire system is broken.

This ties into Josh’s larger question: To what extent did the president create this broken system? Is he a cause of it, or an effect? I generally hold that institutions shape culture – culture is not fixed, and is much more a product of institutional incentives and pressures then vice versa. Karzai was given a blank institutional slate in 2001, and on it he drew the massively over-centralized and corrupt unitary executive we all decry. It is no wonder that pervasively corrupt political culture was the result.

However, Najibulluh’s reign, and the reign of the Taliban, both show that corruption is not necessary to maintain power in Afghanistan. Can we not conclude that Karzai chose and chooses to govern through corruption – and it is not necessary, and it hasn’t worked? I agree with Sarah Chayes as paraphrased by Andrew Exum: Corruption is *the* problem in Afghanistan. Afghanistan does not have a weak government. To the contrary, it has a quite effective government: It is “effective” at essentially lining the pockets of the ruling class at the expense of the people themselves.

This, along with Pakistan’s extensive high-level support for the Taliban, is a core driver of the international community’s failure in Afghanistan. Any successful strategy must reckon with this, and develop effective alternatives to rule-through-corruption. This necessitates an end to the Karzai era. Good riddance.

PS: I don’t mean to excuse other actors and factors in contributing to the problems currently facing Afghanistan. There are many, but let’s make sure this one gets the credit it deserves.

PPS: All due respect to Josh – you rock, and I can’t wait to follow up on this discussion. I find myself disagreeing with both you and Mr. Exum on this issue, which is an uncomfortable position, and makes me suspect that there are significant factors in play which I am not considering. I look forward to considering them. Cheers!

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Caleb Kavon September 29, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Sayke..Have you ever talked to Karzai? I have. He is not the worst person in the world. I imagine you would not go into his office with this kind of sophmoric rant. You want bad go to some other countries, if you dare.

Do you know any of the Afghan leaders? I do. Believe me Karzai has his areas of support which were as Josh pointed out established via a patronage system.

Do many Afghans not like him. Yes. You are right. He needs to do better.

Do you really believe Abdullah won the election? I do not and I am a friend of Dr. Abdullah. Nor does he think he won. But, I do also criticize the fraud and so does he.

Can we get better leadership in Afghanistan. Yes, without a doubt. The point is we need to work with what we have. Not our country. Afghans need to do things their way, and work out their future.

As the post by Boris Sizemore yesterday indicates, you are totally right. Karzai has made some terrible decisions and perhaps unforgiveable decisions. He lacks leadership. The question is can he do better. If you knew him, you might say yes. If you are on the “blame Karzai club” the answer is no.

He is, however, the recognized internationally leader of Afghanistan. If you want to change this, join the ISI or the Taliban or start a write in campaign to every major leader in the world. Joshua Foust is just pointing out a fact. We need to work with him and he has a tough job to do. He can do better for sure.

He is the leader of the country, like Mubarak is in Egypt or King Abdullah. If you are in the “perfect world” club then move to another planet. So that line that he is not ideal just does not work with anyone. In strict moral terms good for you, but in real terms the argument does not wash.

Corruption is a problem. But is there more corruption in Afghanistan than in Pakistan or Egypt? No. Mr. Saleh was accused of getting a car as a bribe. Is this the big corruption you want to prosecute? Is Karzai the cause of the world’s corruption? No.

Give me a list, by crime of each leader, when and where. Don’t just go quoting generalities. State the crime, the criminal and show the evidence. Then present it to Karzai and let his government make a decision and then do the same for each country where there is corruption. You will never finish. My point prove your accusations or do not make them.

The last thing Afghanistan needs is holier than thou anti corruption crusaders.

The same goes for the drugs. Prove you case. State who, what, when and where. I have friends who are heads of the Anti Drug effort and they can tell me who what where and when. Can you?
Can Sarah Chayes? No. Quit working on rumours, prove your case.

I have a good friend who was Governor of Uruzgan. He was replaced over corruption accusations by Karzai. He denies the accusation, but do not say that Karzai is not doing anything.

I know many Afghans who do not like Karzai…many. But he is still the leader and we need him to perform. These constant attacks do nothing to solve our problems and the problems of the future.

I would move toward a unity government in the next several years. Even that depends on Hamid Karzai becoming a real leader. So that is Joshua Foust’s post is high relevant and logical.

sayke September 30, 2010 at 12:40 am

mr. cavon –

i have driven past miles and miles of poppy fields, in extremely insecure environments and with associated resulting loss of life and limb, till we got to the specific fields that we were authorized by karzai’s personal pen to eradicate. i know who owns the poppy fields that we drove past, and i know why karzai’s pen did not sign off on eradicating them. it’s ugly. making this case that is not my job, and i’m not sure it would be a good idea to make it my job. i’m willing to be convinced, though…

i mean, of course karzai seems great when you talk to him – but have you ever talked to any other really smooth criminals? how do you know you haven’t been had? it’s not just you. lots of us have. eikenberry, holbrooke, galbraith, and many others agree with your assessment that he can seem like a nice guy in a bad situation… unless you have actual evidence and leverage, in which case he’s not so nice any more.

you’re exactly right that his leadership is built on a giant patronage system – and that’s all he’s got! that’s part of my point: it’s not enough. his patronage-based support is shallow and fragile. the taliban are sweeping away his little web of bribes like it ain’t no thang. money is not that good of a motivator. it’s going to take more then that.

if you think orchestrating fraud disqualifies candidates, karzai would have been barred. now the precedent is in place, and actual democracy (which can be the basis for actual widespread legitimacy) is going to be extremely difficult to establish. if you don’t think that’s possible or necessary, that’s another discussion – so be it, but let’s be clear.

in the same way, if you think the costs of letting him be replaced will be much higher then the costs of leaving him in – again, so be it, but let’s be clear. there’s a serious discussion to be had there. i’d argue that the costs of leaving him in are actually much higher then otherwise – so high that they’re quite possibly fatal to our interests in the region.

saying that karzai is leader of the country, full stop, is like saying that the guy you just mugged has no wallet, full stop. karzai is leader of the country because we put him there and keep him there. the issue is whether that’s working – whether that’s a good idea. our blog posts do not affect that. i’d like him to perform too, but it’s not happening.

at what point do you decide that it’s not working? when the party line changes? when the “unity government” falls and civil war returns in force? when the taliban hang karzai from that lamppost outside compound B? what would it take?

Caleb Kavon September 30, 2010 at 2:07 am

Thanks Sayke for the response again. We do not agree on some things, but I have a different experience than you.

But you are right, I have friends who swear to God that Karzai is the worst thing that ever happened. I have seen some them walk on him in meetings late at night. When Afghans argue it can get heated.

For the fun in the poppy fields, I have seen what they do. But please do not assume that there are no patriotic honest Afghans. I know many. Never assume Afghans will not fight for their country against the Taliban. They will. The story is not over yet.

I personally agree that Massud, Haji Qaudeer or Abdul Haq would have been better choices. But that is not the case. So we have what we have. Things can change, but we need a new approach.

My experience has been different that is all. I do not see it all collapsing for at least 5 years. So I am not that in panic mode at all. The end game is coming but lets see how it plays out.

sayke October 1, 2010 at 3:16 am

mr kavon – i absolutely agree that there are plenty of patriotic, competent, honest afghans out there… and there would be even more if the wages of sin weren’t so absurdly high. absolutely – massud, haji qaudeer or abdul haq… but imho, so would abdulluh abdulluh. creating a tradition of peaceful, democratic power transitions matters enormously – and a housecleaning was more then in order. we lost a big opportunity when we let karzai jack that election…

i am fairly concerned about larger-scale dynamics going even further awry – things can get a lot worse, and imho those 5 years are a best-case. if pakistan restarts burning our trucks something hardcore, things are going to get dicey. regardless, i appreciate your perspective.

anan September 30, 2010 at 2:12 am

sayke, America is one country out of over 200. To my knowledge every national government on earth, the UN, and every multilateral institution recognizes Hamid Karzai as the sole fully legitimate legal leader of Afghanistan.

Iran, Russia, India, China, Turkey, Indonesia, all defended Karzai and blessed the 2009 presidential election as legitimate.

The UN Security Council unanimously passed resolutions declaring President Karzai fully legitimate and created UNAMA and ISAF. About 50 countries have combat troops in Afghanistan under ISAF and about 10 more through bilateral arrangements. More than 48 thousand non US troops in ISAF and more than 50 thousand including bilateral commitments that are outside of ISAF. President Karzai believes that he merely needs to ask and India, Russia, Iran will rush to help his ANSF out. Maybe this is incorrect, but this is Karzai’s belief.

Under these circumstances, what do you think President Obama can really do to President Karzai aside from threaten to remove US troops from ISAF and cut off foreign aid? Even if President Obama did this, President Karzai would likely call his bluff. Karzai would point out that letting TTP, TNSM, Siraj, LeT, Iyas Kashmiri’s Lashkar al Zil, Hekmatyur overrun large parts of Afghanistan would likely lead to major terrorist attacks against many countries around the world, and Karzai would be right to argue this.

Exactly what do you want President Obama to do?

“when the taliban hang karzai from that lamppost outside compound B?” I don’t think President Karzai believes that Russia, India, Iran, Turkey would let this happen. If the ANSF pulls back from the South and much of the east to a smaller ink stain, I don’t think President Karzai believes the Taliban could capture Kabul, the North and the West. The ANSF might not be very motivated to win in Kandahar, but Kabul is another matter.

If you think the ANSF could be persuaded to organize a coup against Karzai . . . well it ain’t likely.

President Karzai has been commander in chief of the ANSF since 2002. Every senior officer in the ANSF has been appointed by President Karzai. Every senior transfer of ANSF senior officers needs to be approved by President Karzai. The ANSF is loyal to President Karzai through their chain of command.

“With all the resources at his disposal, why hasn’t he raised a large and effective army of his own (like Najibulluh did, and the Taliban are doing) to secure his country?” Suspect Karzai would tell you that the international community and America kept his ANSF weak until December, 2009, to pacify Pakistan.

Is it Karzai’s fault that the international community refuses to increase the number of ANSF that can be trained at any given point of time?

sayke October 1, 2010 at 3:31 am

anan – the entire freakin’ world recognized mossadeq, noreaga, and saddam, too. do you lack imagination? if you can’t think of an effective strategy for getting us to a post-karzai world, well, i hope thinking of such strategies ain’t your job. first you need to decide what kind of post-karzai world would be desirable, and then maybe you’ll start getting a sense of what’s achievable, and at what cost.

and karzai blaming the international community and the US for a weak ANSF is typical BS. we’ve trained more then enough ANSF for the next 20 years… i’m sure karzai would blame the incredibly high desertion rates on the international community too. karzai’s core problem is his complete lack of moral authority, as reflected in those sky-high desertion rates. ask yourself: what would najibulluh do? raise an actual army, that’s what… that karzai is incapable of doing so, even with the massive resources at his disposal, disqualifies him as a strategic partner, full stop.

he’s toast. the taliban will eat him alive.

anan October 1, 2010 at 4:10 am

sayke, recognize is one thing, strongly endorse and back is something else. Turkey, Iran, Russia and India strongly back Karzai. The UN and China also back Karzai. Karzai has substantial international support and legitimacy, including from every muslim government to my knowledge. Any American plot against Karzai is likely to generate an extremely angry pro Karzai response from the muslim world and from more than 40% of all Afghans. The ANSF is loyal to Karzai and would likely fight tooth and nail to defend him. I don’t think America has the power to remove Karzai. We need to accept this reality.

“and karzai blaming the international community and the US for a weak ANSF is typical BS.” With due respect, I think Karzai is dead right.

“we’ve trained more then enough ANSF for the next 20 years…”
The international community [most ANSF training was not by the US before this year] hasn’t trained nearly enough ANSF officers and NCOs. Some anecdotes:
-before 2010, the ANA only accepted 300 or fewer NMA-A [National Military Academy-Afghanistan or Afghanistan’s 4 year ANA academy] freshman per year. This was because of a severe shortage of funding and international professors and lecturers. Note that 300 freshman means only 1,200 officers in academy at steady state.
-Until December, 2009, the entire ANA only trained 1,850 NCOs per year. Which means that only about 500 NCOs were being trained at any given time.

To say that the international community made any serious attempt to boost ANSF capacity before this year doesn’t meet the laugh test.

“i’m sure karzai would blame the incredibly high desertion rates on the international community too.” ANSF desertion rates are not high. The blended average attrition rate for the ANP is only 16%. That includes wounded, killed, and those who finish their enlistment terms and choose not to reenlist. This suggests a very low desertion rate for the ANP.

ANA desertion rates are also lower than 10%, although not as low as ANP desertion rates.

203rd ANA Corps has the lowest attrition rate in the entire ANA [at least it did for many years until early this year], and it is the only ANA Corps that is mostly in the lead; generating far more kinetic operations on its own initiative than any other ANA Corps.

215th ANA Corps in Helmand has an attrition rate of only 12%. Which suggests that the desertion rate is close to zero.

“karzai’s core problem is his complete lack of moral authority, as reflected in those sky-high desertion rates.” Desertion rates are “NOT” sky-high.

“karzai is incapable of doing so, even with the massive resources at his disposal, disqualifies him as a strategic partner, full stop.” Karzai’s leaderhip of the ANSF from a tactical perspective leaves much to be desired. He isn’t a good general. But isn’t military strategy the responsibility of MoD minister Wardak, Army Chief of Staff Karimi, NDS secretary and MoI minister General Bismillah Mohammadi Khan

Are you sure they have no strategy for victory?

“he’s toast. the taliban will eat him alive.” Do you really think the ANSF will let Kabul fall? Karzai has one good ANA Corps [203rd], 9 good ANA Commando combat battalions, ANA Special Forces, 21 ANCOP combat battalions, 3-111 heavy mech brigade, and some good ANP in Kabul, Khost, and a few other provinces. If the Taliban are arrogant enough to think they can eat Karzai alive, let them try a large premature offensive and get smashed.

Caleb Kavon September 30, 2010 at 2:13 am

FYI: Actually proves Saykes point a little: I just spoke to another friend on the phone. He pulled his pistol in a meeting last year, and had to calmed down via a jirga. He was shaking when he came back from the palace.

I still think things can get better, but my friend, to be fair to Sayke just told me what a “h_ _ _ _ _ (fill in the blanks, famous pashtun curse word) Karzai is.

Afghanistan is a lot of fun if you don’t get too stressed out every day. Easy for me to say.

I still believe Afghans will surprise us in the end.

Toryalay Shirzay September 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Sayke and Sarah Chayes are correct in understanding the problems in Afghanistan and any implementation of their suggestions would go along way in resolving the current dilemmas there.
Caleb Kavon appears as naive because he pays more attention to what Afghans are saying than what they actually are doing,actions are far more important than talking and many Afghans talk a lot of bullshit.
As for Anan,I would strongly guard against appearing to be any kind of an apologist for a corrupt foolish Afghan government which is messing up a unique unprecedented opportunity to establish a reasonable government for the abused and oppressed Afghan people.

Caleb Kavon September 30, 2010 at 12:50 pm

Toryalay….Not sure which Afghans you are talking about. Most real Afghans say very little-and every one gets there say…But I have seen some big talkers not last a week out in the villages.

Naive…been hanging out with them for decades. They are not what every one wants to portray them as. If you don’t like them so much don’t visit. .They will be around after this war like they were around 4000 years ago. Let them solve their own problems without so much holier than thou. The can run their affairs as they have in the past. It is their country.

Seeking perfection is naive, working with people is wisdom.

Boris Sizemore September 30, 2010 at 1:03 pm

I am with Joshua, Caleb and Anand…I am so sick of all the complaints. Every country has problems, we so love to lecture and point to everyone else. These folks need to visit some other countries, Afghans are as generous as they come. These constant complainers give us a bad name and cause Americans to die. They want to have their country back and their lives in peace again. This is lost if we cannot work with them, and complaining is not going to do it. Sorry.

sayke October 1, 2010 at 3:34 am

bors – this isn’t about blaming the afghans, writ large! afghan people are awesome! considering all they’ve been though it’s amazing that so much sanity, determination, honesty, and generosity still exists… i’m not blaming “the afghans” – i’m blaming one particular afghan.

Steve Maghribi September 30, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Its always like this, we go to a country, occupy it for 10 years and complain about everyone there, and then wonder why we have no relations with them for the next 30 years. Same story, Everytime…It is always some one else’s fault…

Steve Coll is right…


CostOfWarBlog September 30, 2010 at 5:51 pm

I can’t agree more, Steve.

Karzai is losing his way because the same people that begged him to take on this enormous task in the first place have forgotten about the difficulty of the situation and turned against him. People rarely talk about the difficulty of Afghanistan right now because they are all busy talking about how corrupt, weak, and dysfunctional Karzai is. How would you react if you were Karzai?

sayke October 1, 2010 at 3:44 am

mr. maghribi – like i said to boris, i’m not blaming “the afghans” – i’m blaming one particular afghan! afghan people by and large are awesome, and there’s no shortage of good potential leadership in the country… it just keeps getting fired by karzai.

steve coll is right, of course, but that article doesn’t speak to my arguments at all. on the contrary, it’s clear that, unlike najibulluh, karzai cannot inspire the kind of national unity that mr. coll rightly deems necessary. mr. coll even describes karzai as “self-isolating”, which is exactly my point…

CostOfWarBlog September 30, 2010 at 5:46 pm

“Karzai manages and runs the opium trade, fires (or failing that, assassinates) promising political competition, simultaneously extorts the international community and uses it as his enforcer, and generally acts like the wannabe dictator of the country”

I think Caleb best summed this up: nothing but sophomoric rant. what evidence do you have that the man runs the opium trade? I would be more than happy to take a look at that.
The best you could come up with is accusations against his half-brother. Please remember this, though, those accusations are not proven: not even John Kerry could produce anything against him. That is not to say that I am not disgusted by Hamid Karzai’s brothers. That, I am. But I distinguish between the president and his brothers. I believe in Hamid Karzai’s dignity as much as I believe in his brothers’ corruption. But remember one fundemental thing: they are different individuals. Disowning your brothers is not an easy thing in Afghanistan. especially not over accusations that are not proven. I bet the President is more frustrated with his brothers than anyone else. Their ill-reputation is the main source hurting the President’s international image.

One gets the best indication of what kind of a mindset you have when you present someone like Mohammad Mohaqeq as a possible replacement to Karzai. Is this some sort of a crude joke? I mean, really? Lets not play the Hazara/Pashtun card here: we have a Hazara in Bashardost who got more votes than any Pashtun after Karzai. But to think that Mohaqeq, whose men raped and pillaged Kabul in the 90s, is a better option than Karzai: there’s something seriously wrong with your way of thinking, man.

I am not saying Karzai is doing is great job. He has messed up a lot. But what frustrates me at times is that people like you forget what the guy inherited. You ask why has he tried to keep people like Dostum and Fahim close to him? your mere raising of that question shows your ignorance of the complexity of the situation in Afghanistan. Simple answer: if he does not keep people like Fahim and Dostum happy, do you know what kind of hell they can raise? You probably don’t know, because you are as ignorant of the hell they raised in the 1990s. They have militias of thousands of men who have only known the way of the gun. What does Karzai have? nothing but western support that is incredibly unreliable at times.

So please consider some of the realities on the ground before you make such broad judgmental statements.

sayke October 1, 2010 at 4:01 am

costofwarblog – how karzai runs the opium trade is not a tale to be told here, but have you ever worked on anti-corruption or counter-narcotics stuff? my beady little eyes have seen plenty. ask around, and remember – if you just follow the drugs you’ll get drug growers and drug traffickers… but if you follow the money there’s no telling where you’ll end up.

hell, do you really think that, given the way he’s bought the (tenuous) allegiance of so many sometime supporters with everything from cement factories to police commanderships, that the opium trade is anything other then another form of patronage? it’s an especially lucrative and risky one, though – so you gotta make sure it’s managed by somebody you can trust… somebody close to you…

but i do apologize – i got bashardost confused with mohaqiq, cuz i’m retarded. i was totally thinking of bashardost there. my bad.

finally, i know well why he’s tried to keep people like dostum and fahim close to him. how’s that working out? he can’t even manage that meager feat… dude couldn’t govern his way out of a paper bag.

Pamela Richards October 1, 2010 at 4:22 am

Sayke….Many people do not agree with your “fixation” on Karzai. Seems a little odd to me.

Try to get over it.


You should just go to Kabul and confront him, if he is the “center of the universe’s evil” as your delusion insists.

Let us know how it goes, please. Thanks..

TS Alfabet October 4, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Here is one practical idea: route the bulk of U.S. aid money through the local U.S. commanders stationed in Afghanistan. Money is power and these commanders need all that they can get in order to win their local wars. Just as in Iraq, the commanders would have discretion to spend those funds in the best way to bring security and governance to their area. In other words, BYPASS the Afghan corruption and let the Karzai cronies come to the commanders for funding. The commanders can then set the conditions (and strings) for doling out any money and build alternative governance if the cronies prove corrupt and/or incompetent. When Karzai objects the U.S. can say, we are giving the money to our commanders who are fighting to keep you in power, but might be willing to send a little more your way if you agree to a re-tabulation of the voting results.

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