Just when you thought nothing could make the US war in Afghanistan get any worse, it has. American public support for the war is at an all time low, more and more people want to call it a day in Kabul and bring the troops home, Afghan civilian causalities continue to mount, and the question of Afghan women has all but disappeared from anyone’s policy agenda. What could possibly make things for the US in Afghanistan even tougher than it is now?
How about consistent bashing and threats from Afghan President, Hamid Karzai? Since Saturday, Karzai has repeatedly declared himself independent of the US and other “foreigners,” and even stated that he “would no longer be a puppet of the United States.”
In fact, President Obama’s recent trip to Kabul has been followed by a week of speeches by Karzai lashing out at the West for trying to control his government, and accusing them of meddling with last year’s national elections.
What is perhaps the most disturbing are meetings Karzai held with Afghan lawmakers in which he openly declared that if the US did not stop interfering with Afghanistan, the Taliban insurgency would become a “legitimate resistance,” and one he would even consider joining.
White House Spokesman Roberto Gibbs admitted that the remarks are “genuinely troubling,” and that “on behalf of the American people, we are frustrated.”
Is that the understatement of the year or what?
Karzai has ample reason to be upset with the US. Mounting and messy civilian causalities from US air strikes and drone attacks justify the Afghan President’s anger. In fact, just days ago the US finally admitted its role in the killing of three Afghan women in a Special Operations raid gone wrong. Two of the women were pregnant; one of them had six children. And there are no shortages to unfortunate civilian causality stories like this.
Afghanistan has lost its patience, rightfully so, with US mishaps like these. Quite frankly, neither side can afford them anymore.
But Karzai’s provocative criticisms of his Western backers and suggestions that the US involvement in Afghanistan would force him to legitimize the Taliban are not so much of threats as they are a declaration of his agenda. It is also as clear of a sign as ever that not only are the Taliban back in Afghanistan, they have a very loyal supporter in the country’s President.
This is not the first troubling signs that Karzai has given the US that the honeymoon period of Afghan-US relations were over. The US and the world should have paid more attention when last year Karzai approved and signed into law legislation which basically allows Afghan men to deny their wives of food if they refuse to have sex. Despite global condemnation, the law went into effect. The US should also have paid more attention when last year, Karzai all but stole the Afghan national elections in which widespread fraud was reported. Should anyone be surprised that this man supports the Taliban?
If Karzai and the US are not seeing eye to eye, and Karzai keeps bashing the US during a time when the war is so unpopular with the US public, what reason can the Obama Administration publicly give to its people for staying on? No longer can the case of “the Afghan people need us” work because it will make the US presence in Afghanistan look more like an occupation officially. But what would the alternative to US presence be? As the Daily Beast puts it, “the uncomfortable truth is that without indefinite foreign protection, the Government of Afghanistan would probably fall to the Afghan Taliban.”
For its own legitimacy in Afghanistan, the US needs Karzai. What are their other options? But the irony here is that for Karzai to be viewed as a legitimate leader and not a Western puppet, he needs to be defiant of the US, which is exactly what he is doing.
It’s all very Saddam Hussein circa late 1980’s during the Iraq-Iran war when the US found that their puppet Iraqi President was no longer listening to instructions from Washington.
The US’ control over Afghanistan at a critical time is loosening. To make things worse, their relationship with the country’s ruler is also weakening.
Gone are the days of whatever the US says in Afghanistan goes. And that is exactly the problem.
*This post of mine was also published on The Huffington Post.