Afghan President Hamid Karzai may be an American puppet but he is no fool. He knows that US-NATO troops are on their way out and the sooner he mends fences with the Taliban the greater his chances of physical survival. Staying in power after foreign troops are gone is a pipedream Karzai can ill afford to indulge in at present although nothing can be said with certainty about Afghan behavior. They appear as friends one moment and lodge a bullet in your back the next. The reverse is equally true, especially in dealing with each other. There is an Afghan way of making up even among the worst of enemies, only to repudiate such a deal when one party feels it has the upper hand.
Much has been made of Karzai’s public outburst against the Americans early last month and his announcement that if foreigners did not stop meddling in his country’s internal affairs, he would join the Taliban. The outburst provoked an equally strong reaction in Washington. Top White House and State Department officials used undiplomatically strong language to criticize Karzai. Peter Galbraith, American envoy and former UN official for Afghanistan, went further accusing Karzai of being on drugs (Kai Eides, the former-top UN representative in Afghanistan, had dismissed Galbraith after the latter publicly accused Karzai of vote fraud in the August presidential election). The situation was rapidly spinning out of control between Wash-ington and Kabul when cooler heads prevailed; US officials realized that Karzai is the only one they can deal with. American officials started to tone down their rhetoric calling him an “ally” and “friend”. Dark hints that Karzai’s May 12 visit to Washington to meet President Barack
Obama may be off were also dismissed as speculative and White House officials said there was no change in the planned visit.
A series of events, that has adversely affected both ordinary people as well as political players, have led to Karzai’s angry outburst. Foreign occupation troops, especially the Americans, deal with Afghans with utter contempt. The latest example of “winning Afghan hearts and minds” was demonstrated in Khost when American troops shot at a bus killing four civilians on April 20. Typically, a NATO spokesman insisted that two of the dead were insurgents, as if that justified their execution style killing. Two days later, it was admitted that the dead were all civilians and that it was a “mistake”. American-NATO troops make far too many “mistakes” in killing civilians that have now riled Karzai so much that he has publicly condemned such attacks.
Twelve days before he openly condemned Western behavior toward Afghans, Karzai had witnessed the suffering of a 4-year-old Afghan boy at the Tarin Kowt hospital in Uruzgan. The boy had lost both legs in a US Special Operations forces helicopter strike on February 22 that had killed 20 civilians. According to eyewitnesses, Karzai was badly shaken by the tears of the injured boy and rage of his relatives. On April 12, another attack on a passenger bus by American troops in the Zhari district near Qandahar killed four Afghan civilians including a woman and wounded 18 others. Bismillah Afghanmal, a member of Qandahar’s provincial council, denounced the attack as “savage action” and “a great crime.” He went on, “They knew that this was the public transportation way… Buses always use that road.”
A spontaneous demonstration erupted in Qandahar city denouncing both the Americans and Kar-zai. They demanded that foreign troops get out of Afghanistan and called Karzai an American puppet. One resident said, “They are supposed to protect us. Why are they killing us?” The Qandahar shooting was preceded by Karzai attending a meeting of 1,700 provincial elders at which he asked whether they supported a planned US offensive against the Taliban in Qandahar. General Stanley McChrystal, US commander for Afghanistan was also present. The elders unanimously rejected the planned military operation, at which point Karzai announced that if they did not support it then there would be no operation. McChrystal was visibly shaken at this public rebuke.
But killing of civilians pales into insignificance compared with the manner in which American and other foreign occupation forces violate Afghan cultural norms. Barging into people’s homes in the middle of the night is one such act that has aroused the most resentment among Afghans. One such raid was carried out by US Special Operations forces on February 12 near Gardez in which five people were killed including two pregnant women. In recent months both American and Canadian troops have confirmed that Afghan civilians have thrown stones and spat at them while hurling abuse even in areas far away from the scene of killings.
On the political front, Karzai is fighting back against American allegations of corruption and kowtowing to the warlords. When 80% of all foreign aid is disbursed directly by foreign governments or through foreign non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), it is disingenuous to accuse the Karzai government of corruption. Sure, it is corrupt and in bed with the warlords, but Karzai is doing nothing that the Americans themselves are not doing. Warlords that carry out the American agenda are showered with bakhsheesh and given big titles. Western occupation troops as well as political officials have also adamantly refused to curtail poppy cultivation and the ensuing drug problem. According to UN figures, Afghanistan under US occupation is now producing 93% of global heroin. The Taliban had reduced drug production to less that 10%; so much for America’s war on illegal drugs.
A survey, funded by the US Army in Qandahar province, revealed that 94% of respondents supported negotiating with the Taliban and reject military confrontation. 85% said they regarded the Taliban as “our Afghan brothers.” This has created a huge quandary for US-NATO military planners. The US military offensive for Qandahar in June 2010 has been downgraded to an operation to “change the political culture” in Afghanistan. Really? Good luck to the Americans.
There are also deep divisions among NATO members. Canada, Britain and the Netherlands all want to cut and run. They have realized the war is lost, notwithstanding such self-serving claims that their presence has allowed more boys and girls to attend school, as if that was the purpose of the military invasion in October 2001. McChrystal’s grandiose plans are also on the rocks. The Afghans have shown yet again that they will not tolerate foreign troop presence in their country. For this they are prepared to fight as long as it takes. They have defeated another self-proclaimed superpower and rubbed its nose in the dust.