THE BLOG
07/07/2010 12:18 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

"We Have to Remove This Stick!"


High profile Republican officials visiting Afghanistan this week told news media in Kabul Tuesday that President Obama's plan to withdraw US troops starting July 2011 is a mistake that will only serve to reinforce the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But while senior US and western officials may oppose the speedy timeline of the withdrawal, president Hamid Karzai's government appears to be eagerly awaiting it.

Western countries in Afghanistan "are like a stick in our ass that won't allow us to sit properly," the Afghan president said recently at a private gathering of ministers, according to reliable sources who attended the meeting. "It was our mistake to let them get involved so deeply," he said. "We have to remove this stick."

For some western countries, continuing the war on terror in Afghanistan is necessary to establish long-lasting peace in the region and bring an end to global terrorism. But in the eyes of Afghans, and especially president Karzai, this fight has a different meaning. The 'Talib' who have been fighting against the Afghan government and NATO are actually ordinary Pashtuns from both Afghanistan and Pakistan. They want to establish their own territory in Vazirestan and the Frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and want total control over the government in Kabul.

Ethnicity and race are still major issues in Afghanistan, where most extremist fighters are actually fighting on behalf of their own ethnicity with the hope that it will triumph to become the ethnicity that runs the nation. President Karzai is an ethnic Pashtun who has always said that his government does not differentiate between race, sect or ethnicity. But his office is dominated by Pashto speakers who are mostly from his own tribe. There is not one single Tajik, Hazarah, Uzbek -- not one Farsi speaker -- working in the president's private office. Karzai may prefer or have more trust in his ethnic counterparts to work in his private office, but he hasn't been able to expand this policy into major government posts to avoid sharing power with others because of pressure from the international community to prevent him from doing so.

Karzai allies in the west have become increasingly frustrated with the Afghan president's mismanagement, and hoped that the Afghan people would elect a new president during last summer's presidential elections. It would be easier to work with a fresh face, foreign diplomats told me during interviews in Kabul. But the high level of fraud in last August's election went above and beyond all expectations, and Karzai remained in power. His controversial presidency was accepted by the international community in order to prevent any future difficulties that could be prompted by Karzai's many corrupt supporters. But instability and insecurity in the country have only gotten worse, and Karzai's intensifying drive to hold talks and arrive at an agreement with the Taliban and Pakistan at any price have shocked some members of the Afghan parliament and even the heads of some Pashtun tribes. "Afghanistan's police and security forces are capable of defeating the Taliban, but (the actions of) Pakistan and terrorism have weakened their will to fight," said former intelligence chief Amrollah Saleh in a recent interview in Kabul.

Those who support peace talks with Pakistan and the Taliban think that "if we ignore our values, then maybe they will no longer attack us," said the 37-year old former Afghan government official, who resigned from his post in June. "I am not defending our failures. My point is to ask whether it's better to surrender and allows them the ability to kill more people?"