1 Dec 2013

Afghans’ national suicide note

Say what you will about Hamid Karzai, you could never accuse him of just running with the pack.

Out of time and soon out of office, the Afghan president-outgoing (Karzai’s attempt at a third term was thwarted by the constitution which he abided by) has just done exactly what Afghans and foreigners alike, never expected.

He convened the father of all focus groups to seal a final deal with the US – then promptly over-rode their decision.

That father was a Loya Jirga or grand tribal elders council convened by the president to say yes to Obama’s plan to keep a small number of US forces in the country indefinitely after the bulk go by the end of next year.

The Loya proved loyal – and did the US bidding so a deal seemed all but signed after months of wrangling.


Then came Karzai.

No, he wouldn’t sign until the Americans return 19 Afghans kidnapped by the US and held illegally in its torture centre at Guantanamo Bay. Sticking point one.

Then came sticking point two. He said:

“Our interest is to protect the homes of the Afghans from American attacks, night raids, and the unnecessary suffering of our people so that Afghan women and children are not forced to abandon their homes at night because of fears of American bombs and helicopters.

“You know well that in Afghanistan during the past few years people have taken their women and children to the mountains just to protect them from American attacks at night.

“It is impossible to have a security agreement with America while our people are still forced to leave their homes because of the fear of American forces.

So if America wants to conclude a security agreement with us, America needs to respect the security of Afghan homes and let the Afghan children, men, and women live in their homes in security.”

(Editorial note: remind readers at this point that Afghan government and USA are actually on the same side in the current war).

The first point seems morally and legally unarguable since nothing can justify Gitmo’s existence and its remaining reality symbolises Obama’s impotence.

The second reasonable too on first sight as the US (and her minor allies like UK) have for 12 years killed and terrorised Afghan civilians in their unwinnable war.

But it’s still perplexing everyone. Not least Afghanistan’s military – 350,000-strong. What if Obama calls the Karzai bluff and ups and leaves full stop?

What if Nato stops paying their salaries too? Kabul cannot afford to foot the bill.

“I hope President Karzai signs because the Afghan nation wants it and 2,500 Afghans gathered in Kabul and approved signing it,” said Brigadier General Aminullha Patyani, who runs Kabul Military Training Centre near the capital, referring to the Loya Jirga.

Well, if the USA can’t beat the Taliban – and it plainly can’t – how are the Afghans supposed to do it even with security back-up deal agreed? Without it, things amount to Karzai currently writing a national suicide note.

Yet that’s just what Hamid Karzai is writing in hanging out for last-minute concessions.

The US won’t grant the non-entry concession of Afghan homes as it would mean they couldn’t get their own soldiers freed when necessary and it’s plainly a wholesale strategic and security non-starter.

America has blown over $20bn training up Afghans and they’re still not where they need to be and have little by way of credible heavy weapons or air capability.

They desperately need training but Nato’s already leaving. War-weary and out of money, Nato is departing.

Nowadays just 46,000 American troops along with 26,000 from Nato and other allies remain.

That figure will be down to 34,000 US, 50,000 all up, come February, compared to almost 150,000 last year.

So the gamble goes on. Uncle Sam is threatening the zero-option:  we’re all going home and no training and not much money on the table – take it or leave it.

Presumably Karzai thinks they’re bluffing. Perhaps he wants his legacy as the man who brought home a deal for Afghans from the ruinous war?

Perhaps Karzai himself is bluffing, the longer he keeps this up the more leverage he retains (he may feel) and the fewer months he has as an empty-shell, lame-duck president winding down to next year’s elections.

Whatever, if you thought Afghanistan faces a bloodbath even under the deal the US wants – it’s far, far worse if the White House really does tire of Karzai and and abandons Afghanistan’s new army to the Taliban.

Follow Alex Thomson on Twitter.

Tweets by @alextomo