Although Afghanistan's president would like the world to perceive him otherwise, Hamid Karzai finds himself in an untenable position. As the U.S. prepares to withdraw the majority of its remaining troops, the country's security forces remain woefully unprepared to assume responsibility for the country's security, corruption remains endemic, and many observers admit that Afghanistan is in reality little better off today than it was when Karzai assumed power in 2004. With his leadership slated to end next year, there is little reason to believe that his successor will do any better in meaningfully addressing Afghanistan's plethora of problems.
Karzai has never hesitated to challenge the U.S. publicly, whether for a domestic or international audience, but the pace at which he is forcefully challenging the U.S. now is unprecedented. Equating the U.S. with the Taliban as forces working to undermine the government really is over the top, particularly given the tremendous resources the U.S. has provided to Karzai's government over the past decade -- and that he owes his position, as well as any progress that has been made to date -- to the U.S. It is a little late to be attempting to change his image as "America's Man." We find ourselves wondering why he would be trying to do so in the first place. His legacy is clear to all. No pandering to domestic political interests is going to change that.
It appears that Karzai wants to be perceived as the 'great uniter' of Afghanistan's intractable ethnic and political factions, yet he has done little during his tenure to make this a reality -- and, in any event, no other leader of modern Afghanistan has been able to achieve the same. His chances of doing so now, with a year or so left in office, are zero.
As for the net negatives associated with having hosted a long-term U.S. and NATO military presence -- such as the killing of Afghan civilians, disruptive night raids, and the militarization of the countryside -- here again, Karzai's attempt to address them is clearly too little and too late. It will be hard to convince the average Afghan that Karzai is a national hero when he invited the foreign military presence into their country, actively promoted its growth and stay, and has willfully courted foreign aid, which has made the country so dependent on the good will of others in order to function. Life for the average Afghan has become more difficult under Karzai's rule, and the Afghan people certainly know it.
Karzai's brazen attempt to cast himself as something that he is not has complicated President Obama's decision making process regarding how many troops to leave in the country post 2014. Some of Afghanistan's staunchest supporters in the U.S. Congress have expressed disgust with Karzai's anti-American comments. It is difficult to imagine that there will be much political support in the U.S. to approve more than 10,000 troops, and there is now likely to be substantial resistance to a figure even that high.
Just what is Karzai trying to achieve? He will fail in his attempt to portray himself as a hero to the Afghan people. He will fail in his attempt to 'unite' Afghanistan's factions. And he will continue to fail in his attempt to make peace with the Taliban. All he is succeeding in doing is alienating the widest group of constituents possible. If he keeps this up, he could end up being hanged by his own people in Ariana Square in Kabul, as his predecessor Najibullah was in 1996.
Reprinted with permission from International Policy Digest
Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions, a cross-border risk advisory firm based in Connecticut, and author of the book "Managing Country Risk". John Lyman is Editor of International Policy Digest.