Karzai’s Misdirection

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by Sekundar on 3/31/2012 · 6 comments

Going after President Karzai is something I’ve so far (more or less) avoided, but recently he stated “Sometimes I hear that some businessmen are fleeing and moving their businesses to outside Afghanistan… Curses be upon such businessmen that made tons of money here and now that the Americans are leaving they flee. They can leave right now. We don’t need them” (NYT).

Oh yeah? Never mind that Karzai’s government has done little to nothing to counter corruption within itself, fostering a corruption-perception rating of 180 out of 182 nations (take that, Mogadishu!), or that the banking system is so horribly inept  that locals prefer the unregulated hawala system and accounts in the Gulf. Never mind that Karzai’s own family is hedging its bets (Guardian/Kabul Press). Never mind that the government needs business and the tax revenue it generates (however little reaches the government coffers) in order to supplement a drastic reduction in aid, because the government can’t (and won’t be able to for a very long time) support itself (h/t NYT). President Karzai wants Afghans and the world to know that fleeing a faltering government and financial sector is cowardly. He doesn’t  assuage the business community, nor put forward security and good governance plans that would ease their minds, but curses them.

There are a million things I could write about how that’s funny coming from a man who spent some time in exile himself, who keeps part of his family safely in the West, who heads a government staffed by the most dual-citizens this side of… actually, probably anywhere. Or why arguably more cash per GDP dollar leaves Afghanistan (often in government hands) than anywhere else. But what chafes is that for all the shady businessmen who may very well be trying to take the money and run, there are many, many more Afghans who simply want a better life for themselves and their families, and know that in no small part thanks to Karzai, Afghanistan faces a very bleak time ahead. Doing business in Afghanistan has never been easy; private security has now been effectively banned, and the government alternative is more expensive and of questionable quality. Even the poorest Afghans often pay five to tens times the nationally regulated fee in order to obtain a national ID, without which registering for school, receiving benefits, registering legal cases, or travelling is virtually impossible. To mock those who are leaving for something better is callous, even for him.

I suspect things in Kabul will still function over the next year or two as they have done for the last year or two;  the end of  2014, however, looks set to go down like the New Year’s Eve scene from the Godfather II. No one I’ve spoken with, Afghan or foreign, expects Karzai to stay past then. It’s possible he may survive, in Afghanistan, past 2014. But not likely. Therefore, perhaps he should ease up on the curses (or save them for his “misguided brothers“), and address the underlying issues.

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Sekundar works in national security, and has worked and studied in Central and South Asia.

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Don Bacon April 1, 2012 at 8:26 am

Hamid Karzai is, or soon will be, a lame duck. According to the Afghan constitution he must relinquish office on Dec 7, 2014. If he decided to defy the constitution it would result in a constitutional crisis and even more loss of faith in the Afghan government, at a time when US combat forces are leaving (if you believe that).

The leading contenders for the Afghan presidency in a 2014 election currently seem to be Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmay Khalilzad. The former is an advocate of the India/Tajik/UnitedFront bloc, the latter a proponent of continued US presence. Neither of these bodes well for any improvement over Karzai, in fact the opposite seems likely.

anan April 2, 2012 at 10:40 am

Abdullah Abdulah would be a massive improvement over Karzai. He would dramatically improve Afghan ties with Iran, America, Europe, India, Russia, Turkey, Japan, UN, international community. He would take decisive control over the war and the ANSF, accept more personal accountability and improve morale. He would support the ANSF much more than Karzai has when the ANSF make mistakes or kills civilians. [About one twentieth of all civilian deaths in Afghanistan are caused by the ANSF, although that ratio might have fallen this year.]

Abdullah would be more likely to actually stand up for Afghan interests in practice. [Unlike Karzai who insults people left and right from every country without getting much from them.] He would articulately demand more international assistance for the ANSF far more articulately than Karzai has. [Karzai’s idea of lobbying for more ANSF assistance is to stand next to the Iranian defense minister and yell obscenities at ISAF saying that he will not sign any status of forces agreement with ISAF unless the Afghan Air Force gets F-16s right now. But then backing down immediately and not follow through on his threat. ] Abdullah would be far more likely find a diplomatic way to bring Iran, Russia and India into NTM-A and force all of Afghanistan’s “friends” to get along in training, equipping, funding and advising the ANSF.

In February, 2012, based on preliminary reports, the Taliban caused about 90% of all civilian casualties. Abdullah would demagogue that to death in the Afghan media and crucify Mullah Omar and the broader Taliban movement with it. [Even though Mullah Omar does not have that much influence over what many Taliban militias do.] More dangerously Abdullah might rally anti deep state and anti Saudi sentiment to his own advantage. More dangerous because enraging the Afghan public at them could get out of control and force Abdullah to do things against Afghanistan’s interests to prove to Afghans that he is standing up to GHQ and the Saudis.

Karzai thinks about a lot of things, but can’t figure out a way to articulate and implement what he thinks in a coherent fashion. Even worse he changes his mind by the day and hour, confusing the bejeezus out of everyone in the Palace, let alone outside the palace.

Khalilzad won’t run. Good.

There are a lot of other good candidates who might run in 2014.

Sekundar, many Afghans seem deeply embarrassed by many of Karzai’s public comments. This is just another nutty comment in a long line of nutty comments. You are absolutely right that Karzai needs to prove that Afghanistan is a good place to conduct business. You don’t often see Chinese, Indian, or Azerbaijani government officials talk like this because of how counter productive it is.

Fortunately Karzai is too personally tired and exhausted to run again. Afghanistan will likely see new and better leadership. The danger is that the GIRoA could turn into Neo Northern Alliance plus, loose control over pockets of the east and south, and get stuck in a forever war against the Taliban and deep state.

The proposed reductions in the size of the ANSF from 352 K to 227 K means that the GIRoA will have to cede large parts of the East and South to the Taliban.

Don Bacon April 2, 2012 at 11:17 am

That all may be true but there are other considerations besides internal Afghanistan ones, primarily Pakistan’s security interests. It refuses to be an India sandwich.

Don Anderson April 4, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Sekundar’s point about the “dual citizens” is very accurate.

We are essentially dealing with a dual national government on many levels. This was created, propagated, and developed by both ISAF and the American Occupation forces. It is always easier to work with someone who speaks your language than deal with the “foreign” Afghans who actually live in their country without roots in other places.

Of course, we need to be careful with the measurement of patriotism in each and every case. The exile of so many like Karzai, whose father was killed by the Taliban, or Abdullah Abdullah who was in Tajikstan fighting all the way until Nine Eleven, represent legitimate patriotic efforts to return one day to Afghanistan. So it is a fine line knowing which person borders on disloyalty.

However, it is clear we picked the “wrong” Afghans to help manage the effort in Kabul. Something should be done about this now.

In general, the “get the money out cabal” should be clearly identified as having the intent to betray the Afghan people and its current government. There is no doubt on this.

Major players , be they Karzai family members, Kabul Bank interests, or the MOD family members and their security/consulting interests are obviously in the betrayal category.

Anyone allowing this to happen, be it the President himself must be singled out for singular blame.

Yes, the culprits intend to leave the country and go back to the US or Europe with their stolen assets. Their day of punishment cannot come soon enough.

There is no other way to deal with this. This has been a corrupt episode which overshadows so much of what could have been a bright era in Afghan history. The Aid System, the Development System have failed the Afghan people, the American Military and our long term goals in the Region.

These crimes alone must define a failure at all levels, and make any real solution to the conflict more and more unlikely in the future. This has become in essence a largely illicit and criminal enterprise and the blame goes right to the top.

When “business as usual” becomes a corrupt and criminal act, we have lost all direction both in Afghanistan and Washington DC. There are not any excuses left for the parties involved anymore.

anan April 5, 2012 at 7:25 am

As you correctly point out, Karzai and Abdullah are both patriots. Karzai was initially championed at the Bonn Conference in 2001 by Iran. Karzai became president because he was the only prominent candidate supported by Iran/Russia/India/Northern Alliance who was acceptable to Pakistan.
“get the money out cabal”
But what can be done against them? Karzai’s palace controls all senior ANSF promotions and transfers. The Palace also controls all provincial and district appointments. Karzai directly controls 194 thousand at the MoD and 138 thousand at the MoI. Karzai believes has unstinting support from Turkey, Russia, India, Khamenei. Karzai can at will veto and sabotage anything ISAF does.

Therefore, the only person who can effectively move against the “get the money out cabal” is Karzai himself. How to persuade him to do this, and how to support him in doing this?

It is critically important for policy makers in Washington and Brussels to understand their own limited influence. They can only effectively exercise influence if they can unite the international community behind them and many Afghan factions behind them. Which means they need to find policies that can develop a consensus around them.

A lot of the “get the money out cabal” also have roots in Pakistan, Iran, India, former USSR, China and other places too. Their arrogance gives new meaning to the phrase A-hole. They aren’t shy about boasting their skullduggery to every Afghan they meet, either.

Unfortunately the morons in the US Congress will not ease up on the massive maze of regulations and audits for all USAID and Cerp spending in Afghanistan. Which forces US AID and the US military to use large well established contractors rather than take a chance on local small Afghan contractors.
Don Bacon, the ANA has enough legitimacy to do what it needs. Even in Kandahar. Even when the Pashtuns in it come from Kunduz, Nangarhar and other far off provinces [albeit a few come from Helmand]. However for the ANA to be effective they need clear instructions and strategy from Karzai, as well as assurances that Karzai will back them up 100% if they make mistakes due to mid level officers taking initiative.
Don Anderson, there is discussion about India transporting ISAF supplies through Iran to Afghanistan. Do you see this becoming substantial? What can be done to integrate Iranian contributions into GIRoA and ISAF? A common question among several ANSF is why can’t Iran and ISAF work together against the Taliban and deep state. To what degree does the broader Afghan public support a larger Iranian role.

What are your thoughts on the deep proposed cuts in the ANSF budget. This has been a large cause of anger for the GIRoA and ANSF for over a year. And not just from Karimi:

Don Bacon April 4, 2012 at 10:01 pm

SecDef Panetta: ” In Afghanistan we’ve also made a turning point. Thanks to General Allen, thanks to, again, the men and women that have put their lives on the line in that very difficult terrain, 2011 represented a turning point.”

General Allen: “And I think the progress that has been made at a societal level, the progress that has been made within the Afghan national security forces to push back the momentum of the Taliban and to deny Al Qaida safe havens has been remarkable.”

High-fives all ’round. But the ineffective government lacks legitimacy and according to FM 3-24 “Counterinsurgency” legitimacy is the main objective —
1-113. The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government.

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