Saturday, January 26, 2008

Time To Topple Karzai?

Hamid Karzai is turning into a royal pain in the ass and a useless one at that. Maybe it's come to the point where either NATO goes or he does.

Karzai has just blocked the appointment of UN super envoy, Paddy Ashdown. Lord Ashdown had made clear he wanted far-reaching powers to serve as overall co-ordinator for international aid and political efforts in Afghanistan. Now his candidacy is up in Afghan smoke.

From the Times Online:

"The latest snub came as British officials were already fuming over Mr Karzai’s criticism of the role of British troops in Afghanistan. In an outburst to journalists on Thursday, the Afghan leader claimed that British forces had failed in their mission in Helmand province.

“Without British troops in Helmand province there would be no control over the influence of the Taleban in the south, and no control over the Taleban’s exploitation of the poppy,” said one senior army officer who has served in Helmand.

The Afghan leader claimed that Helmand had been under Kabul’s control before the British troops arrived on the scene, and that the province was now overrun with Taleban.

The new tension has been caused by differences between the Kabul Government and the British troops on the ground over Mr Karzai’s choice of local officials to run the Helmand administration and the security forces.

President Karzai expressed particular frustration at the way he claimed the British had forced him to get rid of Sher Muhammad Akhunzada, his chosen and trusted governor in Helmand.
His deployment is yet another signal of Mr Karzai’s lack of faith in British policy in southern Afghanistan and his belief that warlords can succeed where governance fails."

In 2006, the Brits forced the ouster of Sher Muhammad Akhunzada and his replacement by Mohammed Daud. The Brits felt Akhunzada was a corrupt warlord with ties to the opium industry and considered Daud, by conrast, honest and reliable. Maybe Daud was but that didn't stop Karzai from sacking him in December, 2006. And Karzai has blamed the Brits ever since.

From The Telgraph:

"There was one part of the country where we suffered after the arrival of the British forces," Mr Karzai told journalists on the margins of the Davos Economic Forum.

"Before that, we were fully in charge of Helmand. When our governor was there, we were fully in charge. They came and said 'your governor is no good'. I said 'allright, do we have a replacement for this governor, do you have enough forces?'

"Both the American and the British forces guaranteed to me they knew what they were doing and I made the mistake of listening to them. And when they came in, the Taliban came."
Mr Karzai added: "The mistake was that we removed a local arrangement without having a replacement. We removed the police force. That was not good. The security forces were not in sufficient numbers or information about the province. That is why the Taliban came back in."

Karzai is up for re-election next year and this may be time a real leader for Afghanistan came forward. Karzai has just been too ineffective and his government too susceptible to warlords and drug lords to have done any good. According to a new book just released, Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop by Antonio Giustozzi, reviewed in Asia Times, Karzai has contributed to the resurgence of the Taliban:

"Giustozzi partially attributes the re-entry of the Taliban to the feebleness of President Hamid Karzai's administration, which is geared to accommodating tribal strongmen and warlords rather than to building a professional bureaucracy. Corruption, infighting and arrogance among provincial authorities delegitimize the government and open space for the Taliban to re-emerge. For instance, the abuses of Helmand's governor, Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, turned an uncommitted population into Taliban sympathizers by 2006. Harsh methods of the government's intelligence service drive many into the lap of the insurgency. The general weakness of the provincial administration alienates tribal elders who otherwise resent the Taliban's impudence. "

Trying to salvage Afghanistan from its insurgency is hard enough without being undermined by a hapless, corrupt central government. Next year's Afghan elections may be our best, last chance to sort out the Kabul conundrum.

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