by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 12, Rabi' al-Thani, 1435)
President Hamid Karzai has added one more condition—start of peace talks with the Taliban—before he would agree to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US giving US officials serious heart burn.
Most of the grey hair on President Barack Obama’s head are the direct result of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s antics. The Afghan president is displaying ass-like stubbornness that Obama and his slick team of advisors find hard to fathom or deal with.
For months Washington has been trying to cajole and coax Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that would allow the US to retain up to 12,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond the 2014 withdrawal deadline. While the odd-sounding BSA — would Afgha-nistan come to US rescue if it needed help? — was agreed last November and a Loya Jirga (grand assembly of Afghan elders) also approved it, Karzai has stuck to his guns and dug in his heels. He wants the US to give assurances that it will stop raids into Afghan homes before he would sign the deal.
The raids are extremely unpopular with the Afghans and a major recruitment tool for the Taliban. The Americans simply refuse to understand the Afghan sensitivity. Thousands of innocent Afghan civilians, many of them women and children, have been killed in such raids by American troops. Even worse, it is considered an assault on their honor. No Afghan worth his salt would tolerate such insults regardless of the price.
Now Karzai has added another twist to the ongoing BSA saga: he announced in Kabul on January 25 that he would not sign the security pact unless the US and Pakistan launch a peace process with the Taliban. He said the deal would not be signed at the expense of the lives of Afghan women and children. “If they do not accept this, they [US troops] can leave and we will deal with the situation on our own,” he told a gathering of Afghans in the capital.
“The start of a peace process would mean that no foreigners can benefit from the continuation of war,” Karzai said. “Afghanistan will absolutely not accept or sign anything under pressure,” Karzai said. “If they want to leave, then they [can] go and we will continue our lives… Our main condition is the practical start of the peace process.”
Washington has been exerting pressure on Karzai using threats and inducements to force Karzai to sign but the wily — and often erratic — Afghan has stuck to his guns. He has realized that the Americans need the security pact more than he does. In this he has been proved right. Obama had threatened to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan if Karzai did not sign the deal before the end of 2013.
Karzai simply ignored the deadline and called Obama’s bluff. It was the American who had to climb down. He announced that he would extend the deadline but that time was limited. The humorless Karzai must have chuckled over a plate of rice and lamb kebob in the presidential palace. He may even have repeated the Taliban phrase aloud: the Americans have all the watches but we have all the time!
In any case, resentment over US presence in Afghanistan is growing. Even in Kabul where the Americans have invested heavily, people are extremely unhappy because of American insensitivity and crude behavior.
Leading up to the conclusion of negotiations that were theoretically finalized in November, Obama had sent a string of emissaries to convince Karzai to sign the deal. The decision to send the brusque National Security Advisor Susan Rice to talk to Karzai was a disaster. No Afghan, even an American puppet, will take kindly to being talked down by a woman, no matter what her title or rank. This is not in their genes and they consider it unmanly to be shouted down by a woman. This may not sound polite or nice but lack of understanding of other cultures is at the root of America’s problems. Their attack on Afghanistan was part of not knowing history or the Afghan culture.
When Obama sent his Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to convince Karzai, it was no less disastrous. Hagel also lacks humor and tact. Only Secretary of State John Kerry’s charm worked with Karzai who was already nursing a grudge that Obama does not speak to him as often as former President George Bush used to do. In fact, Obama has let it be known in private that he cannot stand the Afghan. This has reached Karzai’s ears. The feeling is mutual.
Why is Karzai stalling? He has said that his successor could make the final decision after presidential elections due on April 5. There are several reasons. Karzai wants to retain influence in Afghan politics even after his term expires. This is the Afghan tradition. Former presidents do not ride into the sunset, unless of course they are murdered in the manner of Sardar Daoud, Mohammed Tarakai, Hafizullah Amin or the even more luckless Dr. Najibullah who was dragged from the UN compound in Kabul. He and his brother were beaten senseless, castrated, dragged through the streets of Kabul and then strung from lampposts by the Taliban in September 1996.
Further, by not signing the deal, Karzai retains influence over who the next president would be. Rumors circulating in Kabul say that he wants his brother or his former advisor to be the next president. This would leave him with considerable influence in the Afghan political bazaar.
Washington says it wants its troop presence in Afghanistan in order to train the Afghan army and police. Karzai and his officials understand this is merely a pretext. In the 13 years that the Americans and their allies have been in Afghanistan, all they have achieved is to train Afghans who then promptly defect to the Taliban.
The real reason is the Afghan mineral wealth, estimated at $4 trillion that the Americans want to grab. That was also the reason why they invaded Afghanistan in the first place. Al-Qaeda was merely a bogey used to send hundreds of thousands of troops, locust fashion into the rugged Hindu Kush Mountains. The Americans want to keep other potential contenders — China, Russia, Iran, etc. — from the mineral bonanza.
Karzai also knows this, hence his hardball tactics. It would appear that China and others might have promised huge investment to bring the submerged riches out from underneath the stark mountains. Beijing has already invested $4 billion in copper mine development in the country. With its rapidly expanding economy, it would love to grab more of this wealth.
Even if none of this materializes, Karzai knows that the Afghan people have lived in the Stone Age for centuries. They can continue to do so for many more centuries. All the money that the Americans have poured into Afghanistan has been used for bribing Afghan officials including Karzai and his family but more importantly the thousands of contractors who have siphoned off the bulk of the wealth back to the US.
Meanwhile, Obama can continue to pull his curly grey hair and by the time he leaves the White House, he would have nothing left on his head. In this, he would become the mirror image of Karzai, only with a slightly darker complexion!