Fired Afghan Ambassador Not Going Back
The headline and text of this story have been modified since they were first published. See clarification below.
Afghanistan's former ambassador to the United States, called back to Kabul by an increasingly erratic Afghan President Hamid Karzai, says he's not going back. And he is critical of both the Afghan and U.S. leadership for not having a clear vision of what happens next in his benighted country.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Said T. Jawad, who for seven years served as Afghanistan's ambassador in Washington, said that both President Obama's troop-withdrawal plans and Karzai's new attempts to reconcile with the Taliban suffer from a lack of clear goals.
Jawad, who served as Karzai's press secretary and chief of staff before his diplomatic assignment, said his former boss has consistently failed at a key task. "He didn't articulate a clear vision for the future of the Afghanistan," Jawad said.
U.S. policy toward Afghanistan has improved since Obama's inauguration, Jawad said, calling government officials today "more informed and capable." He said Obama's troop surge has led to improved and more successful military operations with fewer civilian casualties.
But the Afghan government is not stepping up . "The government need to enhance its ability to deliver services," Jawad said -- chief among those being security. "In many areas there is an absence of government," he said. "Travel is getting more difficult even on major roads."
So what Obama aims to accomplish in the long run remains unclear. Without a functioning Afghan government, whatever military goals are achieved by U.S. forces are not sustainable.
Jawad's firing was itself an example of growing chaos within Karzai's orbit. An urbane and photogenic Afghan native who spent 15 years in the United States before joining the government in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Jawad last month found himself the target of a smear campaign.
Some Afghan websites published photographs purportedly showing alcohol and dancing women in sleeveless dresses at an embassy party during the abstemious Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Jawad said there was no Ramadan party at the embassy, that he was on a trip to South America at the time, and that the photos were old or faked.
But not long after the photos were republished in Afghan newspaper, Jawad was out, with no official explanation. He will still not publicly say what faction he blames. Saying he "made a lot of enemies," however, Jawad said Kabul is currently riven with political infighting, and he likened the character assassination that led to his firing with the actual assassinations taking place in Afghanistan.
Just in the past few weeks, suicide bombers killed a deputy governor in southern Afghanistan on his way to his office and blew up an outspoken northern governor -- along with 19 other worshippers -- in a crowded mosque.
Jawad said he left government service on September 23. He had spent about 15 years in the U.S., working in the private sector before joining the government, and he said he intends to resume that work.
He currently has an office at a local law firm and said he hopes to play a role in better directing some of the approximately $100 billion in U.S. money pouring into his country annually. (That's roughly seven times larger than Afghanistan's annual gross national product.)
"There's a lot of waste," he said. There's also some corruption, he acknowledged, although he claimed that was more a function of the vast sums involved than anything else. "For Afghans, it's a new phenomenon," he insisted.
Jawad is not one to advocate a quick U.S. withdrawal. He recalled the last time the U.S. lost interest in the region -- after the Soviet occupation was beaten back by U.S.-supported insurgency. "Look what the consequences were," he said, ominously.
He is also critical of the way former president George W. Bush lost his focus on Afghanistan when he chose to go to war with Iraq. "If we had fully resourced the mission at the beginning and had also worked harder with the Afghan neighbors, we would not have this problem now," Jawad said.
His point about Afghanistan's neighbors is worth reflecting on. While it is common knowledge that Bush made a tragic mistake when he shifted resources from Afghanistan to Iraq -- which of course had nothing to do with 9/11 -- it's less widely recognized that Bush bungled relations with Pakistan, in particular by coddling that country's dictator even as al Qaeda took root there. At the time, I called it Bush's man-crush on Pervez Musharraf.
Today, Jawad supports efforts at reconciliation with elements within the Taliban. But, he said, some important questions need to be answered. "What is the point of this reconciliation?" He said reconciliation "is going to be very difficult, very tricky, to accomplish."
Right now the Taliban appears to have the upper hand. "Building a school takes three years," Jawad said, something he knows from experience as his wife Shamin Jawad's Ayenda Foundation builds schools in Afghanistan. "For the Taliban, it takes half an hour to behead a teacher" and destroy everything, he said.
It's become increasingly clear that U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan have risen sharply in, as the New York Times put it, "a coordinated effort by American commanders to bleed the insurgency and pressure its leaders to negotiate an end to the war."
But Jawad said the Taliban still have the upper hand in talks. "Reconciliation now is based on fear," he said. "It should be vision-driven."
Jawad said he has not given up hope, however. "It's just starting, this discussion."
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story used the word "recall" in the headline and first paragraph. Ambassador Jawad emailed the Huffington Post to note that in diplomatic circles, a country typically "recalls" an ambassador as an act of protest that is oftenr reversed after the disagreement is resolved. Jawad was fired and called back to Kabul, but not "recalled" in that sense of the word.
In his email, Jawad also denied that he indicated that President Obama has not articulated a clear vision of the future of Afghanistan. In the interview, Jawad discussed the lack of a clear endgame for the American military presence, but in his email he stressed that he feels Obama personally "is well informed, and personally and closely engaged in all major decisions about Afghanistan."
Jawad also wrote that his statement that the American government had not "fully resourced the mission at the beginning" or worked hard enough with Afghanistan's neighbors should not have been interpreted as a criticism of former president Bush. "To draw a very specific conclusion form a general statement of under-resourced war to personally blame a former President would not be fair," he wrote.
Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page; subscribe to his RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get e-mail alerts when he writes.