Op-ed published on Outlook Afghanistan, June 25
There were lots of rumors and expectations of new announcements on reforms by President Karzai before his annual speech to the special joint session of parliament and judiciary. Interestingly, the rumors were hyped by leaks from Palace insiders. From plans of radical reforms against corruption and nepotism to the coming Presidential elections, none of issues expected to be discussed were mentioned by the President. Some informed circles say Karzai might have changed the content of his speech at the last minute.
It was apparent from an disorganized speech, probably due to interruption by MP’s, which , he actually expressed displeasure about when Lower House speaker Ibrahimi asked MP ‘s to be quite and listen, by saying, “In Afghanistan, it is not like the rest of the world.”
President Karzai, in a rare confession, said “corruption, nepotism, tribalism and ethnic-nationalism are all failures of the Government.” Now after almost a decade in power, and two years left to the end of his second term, he cannot actually deny the fact that we have already lost a golden opportunity in Afghanistan’s history to rebuild the country as a modern nation state based on democratic values with socio-economic development.
With uninterrupted flow of billions of dollars and presence of more than 50 countries, today Afghan society is more polarized than any time in history. And, the achievements of last ten years? It is huge, but it is all at risk with an uncertain situation. When people talk of Karzai’s legacy in media, I wonder if there is anything at all that we can credit to the individual leadership and vision of President Karzai, if it was not the push from international community to make the system get working.
President Karzai said nepotism has reached its peak and it must be cured. How? A day before his speech, UK’s the Telegraph newspaper had a report on a 25-year oil extraction deal awarded to Watan Oil and Gas, owned by President Karzai’s notorious cousins Rashid and Rateb Popal, who served nine years in jail in New York in 1990′s on drug charges. Watan and China’s National Petroleum Company will extract an estimated 160 million barrels of oil from three fields in Amu Darya Basin. Now connected to this, Gen. Dostum is being maligned into a smear campaign after National Front’s popular political rallies in North in recent months. The Karzai Administration called him “national traitor” saying local commanders loyal to him are ‘bullying’ Chinese engineers for money.
But it backfired when NF leader Ahmad Zia Massoud said national traitors are those who have looted Kabul Bank, rigged elections and built townships in Kandahar on grabbed lands of Ministry of Defense. A delegation from NDS and Attorney General’s Office are being sent to ‘investigate’ the issue. President Karzai, who is responsible for the culture of patronage politics, has now launched a campaign to eliminate political dissent.
The President talked of huge corruption saying if the US wants to end it, they should handover former governor of the state bank. It is ridiculous. The country is slipping down in all international rankings recently. We are now the sixth failed state in the world. Similarly, our rank at the corruption index is going down.
Not a single case of corruption involving high-ranking officials has been prosecuted. Rather many cases were shut down. When the anti-corruption body launched investigation and Chief Administrator of National Security Council Zia Salehi was arrested, President Karzai personally intervened and he was released. Later, investigations into the corruption case against former governor of Kapisa Ghulam Qawis Abubakr were blocked.
While talking of his Government’s achievements, President Karzai said Afghanistan was back on world stage during the last ten years. He added that his Government has signed strategic partnership agreements with many countries and Afghanistan has smooth relations with countries and organizations from Russia to the US and NATO to SCO. He also mentioned the upcoming Tokyo Conference saying the international community will pledge $4 billion in civilian assistance.
But this time it is not going to be a blank cheque. With the mess of corruption in the Government of President Karzai, and his lack of interest to fight against it and clean up, the international community will not pledge money when they know it will go to luxurious villas of Dubai or mega-million commercial townships owned by bigwigs of the Palace power corridor. The Karzai Administration cannot deliver the expectations of international community.
There are greater worries. Rumors about reforms and new announcements by President Karzai in his much-hyped-but-empty speech also included call for a Loya and the presidential elections.
In April, President Karzai had said he is considering early elections. The Presidential elections are due in 2014. He said it could be brought earlier to 2013 due to the withdrawal deadline of international troops and security concerns. There is a constitutional limit of two terms in office and Karzai cannot run for next elections. All opposition political parties welcomed early elections in case President Karzai resign. However, now it appears the geniuses in Palace have other intentions.
Recently President Karzai had called members of the Committee for Oversight and Implementation of the Constitution for a consultation. If he resigns earlier in 2013, technically he would not be completing two terms, the constitutional limit, would he be eligible to run for next elections, members of the Committee were asked. President Karzai is looking for some solution to the constitutional limit of two terms in office. There are other options too. He will not hesitate to manipulate the constitution through an engineered Loya Jirga, or deal-making with any faction of the opposition groups.