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Opinion

December 31, 2010

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The Afghan reality

The Afghan reality
It was on July 6, 1808, that King Joseph of Spain presented a constitution. It allowed the peasants to retain their harvests, an independent judiciary, press freedom and abolition of Church privileges. Till then, abbeys and bishops owned every single building and piece of land in towns and villages. These were inhabited by some of Europe’s most wretched tenants.
The Spanish peasantry still chose to ignore it. Instead, they obeyed the priests who motivated them to fight against the foreign invader’s ungodly innovations. This, because Joseph was Napoleon’s brother, placed on the Spanish throne by French troops. That was what mattered to the Spaniards – not the ideal constitution to better their lives, but the perception about the man behind it. In today’s made-to-order corrupt democracies (including ours), these perceptions are realities.
The hypocrisy is galling when individuals who could never be allowed to function at the junior most level of any sensitive government organisation in Western countries are trussed up to rule the destinies of other nations. It becomes all the more abhorrent when the governments of these unaccountable individuals morph into kleptocracies.
US ambassador in Kabul Karl Eikenberry characterised Hamid Karzai as “a weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation-building,” whereas President Zardari (the “greatest obstacle to Pakistan progress”) was branded “clearly a numbskull” by Jock Stirrup, then Britain’s chief of defence staff. These perceptions are not gospel because they come from afar, but because the miserable lives of a crushed multitude bears a stark testament to this harsh reality.
Back to President Karzai. During Milan’s fashion Week in 2002, Gucci’s Tom Ford called him “the chicest man on the planet.” Silvia Fendi termed his attire as worn with “nonchalance and elegance.” Unfortunately for him, Karazai was propped up to govern Afghanistan, not exemplar for models or the catwalk.
Today, with billions invested, and thousands dead, he heads the most turbulent country of the world. His predicament (and that of our chosen King Josephs) is that he is viewed as a US asset. If ever he moves around Kabul, which he rarely does, he does so with American bodyguards; not trusting Afghans with his life. Referred to by many as the “Mayor of Kabul,” there are no imminent signs of increase in his municipal limits.
Dogged by corruption charges and dwindling support, he relentlessly blames Pakistan for all that plagues his land. He also blames the ISI of helping the Taliban, an affront, given the thousands of lives lost here and an economy in ruins.
He has also often repeatedly demanded of the NATO/ISAF forces to enter Pakistan. The cables released by Wikileaks have him alleging that Al-Qaeda training activity on our side of the border has increased. He also wails that the West is unwilling to move against Pakistan.
He demands: “The question now is, why they are not taking action?” He has previously even threatened to send his own forces across the border to a country whose largess he enjoyed for two decades and without whose complete support he could never have been “elected.”
His brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, tainted by massive corruption and drug trade allegations, charged that a peace initiative was undermined because “Pakistan detained Mulla Baradar and Taliban leaders prepared to discuss reintegration with the Karzai government.”
In its edition of Jan 29, 2008, The Telegraph had this advice for the Afghan president: “Mr Karzai must live with the knowledge that every one of his predecessors for the past 107 years, whether kings or presidents, was overthrown violently. Of the ten men who have served as Afghanistan’s president in the past three decades, four were murdered and one strung up from a lamppost and disembowelled.” Was the ISI up and about since the last one century?
Today’s Afghanistan is a battleground between unfounded Western optimism and realism. Optimists think that Afghanistan can be transformed into a made-to-order democracy, a Western satellite; realism cautions otherwise. In public, defeat in Afghanistan is anathema for Western governments; in private it is deemed inevitable. Australian foreign minister Kevin Rudd, the country’s former prime minister, epitomised the West’s mindset when he confided thus to visiting US Congressmen: “Afghanistan scares the hell out of me.”
Similarly, public statements of faith in Afghan democracy are coupled with private expressions of despair when it comes to hopes of even remotely legitimising President Karzai and his administration. Western officials agonisingly admit in private that any real hopes of bringing about this miracle are now dead.
Hostilities, coupled with remote-controlled democracies, breed resentment and resistance over a period of time. In this “mission accomplished” war, we have seen America’s firepower thwarted and blunted. Devoid of military victories, it has only fuelled hatred and global insecurity. Rationally, the US-led West should engage the Taliban positively, although the latter have little incentive to negotiate, given their growing strength and sway in Afghanistan.
If engaged, the Taliban can prevent Afghanistan from being an ungovernable state sliding into warring anarchy and inhibit its present stature as the globally largest, freely enduring, drug producer courtesy Operation “Enduring Freedom.”
Churchill wrote in his History of the Second World War: “When two armies approach each other, it makes all the difference in the world which one owns only the ground it stands on and which owns all the rest.” This is the Afghan reality of today: it has the war theatre, time and history firmly on its side. To face and accept this Afghan reality, though it could be extremely difficult for some, will augur well for Afghanistan, this region, and the West in particular.

The writer is a freelance contributor.
Email: [email protected]
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