Friday, June 24, 2011

An Indian Diplomat's Analysis of US-Afghan Tensions

M.K. Bhadrakumar, from Asia Times Online:
The Americans may be misreading that the discord with Karzai boils down to his perceived "rentier" mentality, and that through IMF pressure and offers of money, he could be persuaded. Washington may be making a grave miscalculation about the Afghan sense of honor.

It overlooks that slowly, steadily, the US is losing its monopoly of conflict resolution in Afghanistan and Karzai can no longer be kept away from networking with regional powers. Karzai's defiant stance on Saturday comes soon after his return to Kabul from attending the summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana.

The SCO summit adopted a statement on Wednesday calling for an "independent, neutral" Afghanistan (read: free of foreign occupation). Nurusultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, who hosted Karzai, put it on record, "It is possible that the SCO will assume responsibility for many issues in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of coalition forces in 2014."

Saturday also happened to be an extraordinary day with Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi arriving in Kabul - an unprecedented visit in the history of Afghan-Iranian relations - "to explore ways for the further expansion of ties between the two neighboring states". Vahidi's visit unmistakably represents a big snub to the Obama administration.

Vahidi waded straight into the post-2014 status of the US occupation of Afghanistan. He told Karzai, "Ensuring regional stability will be possible only by the collective efforts of regional countries and the withdrawal of foreign forces."

Meanwhile, Karzai has already initiated moves to hold a loya jirga (grand council) soon after Eid. As things stand, the likelihood of such a traditional tribal council approving permanent US/NATO military bases is remote. The Afghan people militate against foreign occupation of their country.

The American game plan was to muster enough support in the Afghan parliament for the strategic agreement. But a loya jirga is a different ball game altogether. In his remarks on Saturday, which were nationally telecast, Karzai said, "They [US-led NATO forces] are here for their own purposes, for their own goals, and they are using our soil for that." He is appealing to Afghan nationalism.

In sum, the Obama administration sees the conclusion of the strategic agreement with Karzai, direct US-Taliban talks and the drawdown of troops in July as inter-related vectors of a wholesome process where Washington will be in total command - ably assisted by London. Obama will find it a bitter pill to swallow to accept that Afghan laws will prevail over the conduct of his troops.
Karzai defiantly claims it is his prerogative to decide on the "surge" operations by NATO and US foreign forces. Karzai insists that reconciliation of the Taliban should be "Afghan-led" so that his leadership is not in jeopardy and he links the US long-term troop presence to preconditions so that the Americans will have to depend on him and learn to work under his leadership rather than vice versa.

He threatens to go to the Afghan people unless the US meets the preconditions. Karzai counts on a balancing role by the regional powers in the Afghan endgame. Interestingly, on Saturday, he slammed NATO's military intervention in Libya.