Category Archives: Karzai-Obama

Strategic Pact and Uncertainties

Outlook Afghanistan op-ed published May 08

President Obama’s short stay in Kabul was more of a symbolic political visit on the eve of Osama bin Laden’s first death anniversary. Addressing Americans from Afghanistan before launching reelection campaign, President Obama reminded them that he sent the Navy SEALs to kill Osama.

He said the tide of insurgency has turned and the Taliban’s momentum has been broken. He spoke to Americans with a victorious tone, about a situation that is more of a quagmire of uncertainties for us in Afghanistan. It shows the sophisticated reach and strength of the Taliban who were successful to launch an attack in Kabul as soon as President Obama’s arrival was breaking news on Afghan media. Several, including some foreign security guards were killed when some insurgents breached the high-security zone of Kabul and attacked Green Village, a compound where foreign aid workers and diplomatic staff live.

Talking about the security transition and Afghan forces taking control, he mentioned the decrease in size of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in 2015, a plan proposed by the Obama Administration to reduce the burden of military costs on the US and its NATO allies. Details of the plan might be endorsed in the NATO Chicago Summit next week.

The size of ANSF is projected to reach 352,000 before October this year, of which 195,000 number of Afghan National Army has already been completed. The Obama Administration is considering a plan to downsize ANSF to 230,000, reducing a third of it starting gradually from 2015 to 2017. It is estimated that the current strength of ANSF will cost annually about $10billion. But the reduced size of ANSF has an estimated $4.2billion annual cost. The United States is urging its NATO allies to contribute about 1 billion Euros to this, while Washington would channel about $3 billion. But among NATO allies, only Britain has pledged $110million annually. It is expected that Afghanistan add about $500million to $1billion annually to the cost of its security forces.

However, Afghan security officials have been critical of the Obama Administration’s plan to heavily downsize the ANSF. Afghan officials say the plans are a conceptual model based on certain assumptions of improved security and a possible deal with insurgents for a political settlement.

Presidents Obama and Karzai also signed the US-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA). After two years of contentious negotiations on Afghan-control of US-run prisons in Afghanistan and the limits of Special Forces’ night raids agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding on the Transfer of US Detention Facilities and the Memorandum of Understanding on Afghanization of the Special Operations, the announcement of SPA was expected to bring a sigh of relief.

But the SPA is a general framework short of specifics. It talks about the generals of US-Afghanistan relations after ISAF withdrawal in 2014. Details of the US military presence and commitment to Afghanistan will be part of another Bilateral Security Agreement to be finalized by next year.

Domestically, the SPA has been criticized. We could not expect more than this from the ruling circle who have made sure to secure their domestic narrow-interests in the SPA. President Karzai at the press conference next day was saying the SPA clearly rejects change of system in Afghanistan.

One instance is the intentional wrong translation of some terms in the English, Pashto and Dari versions of the SPA. At the end of the text, it is mentioned that all three translations are equally authenticated. The original SPA text in English says “Afghanistan shall strengthen the integrity and capacity of its democratic institutions and processes, including by taking tangible steps to further the efficiency and effectiveness of its three branches of state within its ‘unitary’ system of government, and supporting development of a vibrant civil society, including a free and open media.”

In Dari and Pashto versions, they have replaced ‘unitary’ with ‘central’ (markazi). All major political opposition blocks are calling for decentralization of power, with more administrative authorities to local governance bodies and parliamentary form of government. They are strongly criticizing this part of the SPA. But the fact is that our visionless rulers with narrow-interests are playing domestic politics with the strategic agreement between Afghanistan and the US.

It must have been push by the Palace negotiators to avoid a single mention of the Taliban in the SPA. It glosses over by mentioning “Al-Qaeda and affiliates” avoiding the name of Taliban or other insurgents, keeping room for manipulations of Karzai and Co’s power-sharing designs to strike deal with elements of the Taliban and Hizb-e-Islami after 2014.

But the question is, why should Afghanistan’s system of Government be mentioned in a strategic partnership agreement with any country? It is a matter of constitutional and internal affairs that can be changed on popular demand, not a concern for our strategic relations with the US.

Amrullah Saleh says by avoiding mention of Taliban, some Palace elements are furthering the agenda of their neighboring foreign patrons to ignore the safe havens of insurgents and their leadership across the border. He adds that after ten years of ruling, the Palace has no definition of national security for Afghanistan and a vision for enemy and friend.

Besides all these, the NATO summit in Chicago was supposed to come up with concrete security plans and commitments after its fundamentals were to be detailed in the US-Afghanistan SPA, but uncertainty seems to loom for another year.

The US and NATO are in rush with an exit formula, but without a concrete post-withdrawal strategy. It is not clear how many US troops will stay in Afghanistan. There are no clear US commitments on military and economic support to Afghanistan in the SPA, and it will not be any clear in the NATO Chicago Summit too. NATO countries should come up with clear pledges of continuation of aid to Afghanistan.

The decrease of ANSF strength should be based on ground realities and conditions of improved security. Long-term stability and security should take precedence over cutting costs in determining US support for ANSF. It cannot be based on assumptions of success in talks with Taliban and better cooperation from Pakistan. There is no Plan B for a scenario when insurgency will increase much deadlier after 2014 while Afghan forces will be reduced to half and the bulk of US and NATO troops will withdraw.


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Ahmed Rashid on Karzai-Obama Relations

Prominent Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid has written the cover of Foreign Policy magazine’s March/April issue. The lengthy piece serves more like a press release by Karzai, giving readers a very misleading impression with its title “How Obama Lost Karzai”. As usual, referring to the stories of his meetings, Ahmed Rashid makes the case for Karzai very well with stuff that we have heard a lot before. He argues about how the relationship between Karzai and the US turned bitter with the departure of Bush from White House and Obama’s carrot and stick approach. Rashid concludes that “the fault is not the Obama administration’s alone, of course.” He wants everyone to believe that it has been the fault of Obama Administration to press Karzai for the huge corruption under his leadership in Kabul, the opium mafia partly run by his family members and Karzai’s ineffective governance without any vision for the future of his country.

Contrary to what Ahmed Rashid argues, it has been the fault of Bush Administration to let Karzai enjoy weekly video-conferences with President Bush, who didn’t care much about Karzai’s corruptionistan and the way he ran his administration infiltrated by drug mafia. Actually Obama Administration is suffering Bush’s free hand given to Karzai to run the country as a family business.

Eventually what Ahmed Rashid is suggesting the Obama administration is to keep a close eye on the huge corruption in Afghanistan, don’t give a damn about how Karzai is becoming increasingly autocratic making mess of the fragile democratic system in Afghanistan, and tells Obama to make a Bush-era like relations with Karzai, who misses that “golden age” like a nostalgia, and give the ruling robbers of Kabul a free hand.

Ahmed Rashid’s conclusion sounds exactly like one of Karzai spokesman saying,

“It is too late, however, for the Obama administration to bring Karzai back into the fold with more promises of troops and aid. What is needed is genuine common ground: a shared political strategy to end the war. Both sides already agree on the need to win over Taliban foot soldiers and have put forward a common plan and money to do it. But there is still no agreement on trying to engage top Taliban leaders.”

Basically he concludes the piece more like an anti-war rhetoric that its none of the US business to pressurize Karzai for cleaning his corrupt administration, end the drug-mafia ties of his family members, and that the US has no responsibility in Afghanistan other than packing up and leave as soon as possible–even if needed to talk with those individuals who provided safe haven and supported the perpetrators of 9/11 and still keep ties with Al-Qaeda–repeating history as the US left Afghanistan on its own and the mercy of our neighbors after Soviet withdrawal with the arrival of international Jihadis and rise of Taliban who protected them.

The problem with Ahmed Rashid’s peice, as he mentions repeatedly in his article, is his meetings with Karzai which has made an impact on his thinking that Karzai is innocent and Obama should not press him for doing more. Though he has made few visits to Kabul in the post-Taliban Afghanistan, but his insights from the days of his embed with Taliban are expired after a decade now. Karzai is probably the only Afghan Rashid can refer having met several times in the past many years, until recently last year when he was in Kabul in November for some days.

Indeed the Karzai-Obama relations are needed to be improved, but not the way Ahmed Rashid suggests. Karzai has to realize that Obama is not Bush who had the carrot, but not stick! President Karzai must end the huge corruption in his administration and have a clear vision for everything from good governance to the strategy of reconciliation with insurgents and the war against terrorism. He has initiated the efforts of talks with Taliban, but without a clear vision of the process. The way he is doing things is for the sake of his rule, not the future of Afghanistan. President Obama should press Karzai for more efforts against corruption in his administration and better governance. He should not close his eyes on what is going on in Kabul with millions of dollars of aid going to the villas of Dubai and people turning to Taliban because of the corrupt and inefficient officials appointed by Karzai across the country.


Filed under Corruption, Karzai-Obama

The Year in Review

"Happy New Year" says NATO to Taliban. Cartoon by Alizada

I know i am too late for this post and there are already too many commentaries on blogs about Afghanistan regarding the year in review. I am trying to review the year from an Afghan perspective, which might be a bit different from the ones you have read on western media outlets and blogs by foreign journalists.

For the U.S and NATO, 2010 was another bloody year of failure to speed up transition in Afghanistan. We remained on downward spiral, not only from security perspective, but also governance, nation-building and the socio-economic change. The year ended with stories of corruption at its worst, such as the bags of cash coming from Tehran to the Presidential Palace. The uniqueness and peculiarity of this corruption story was that both Karzai and Tehran confirmed the reports. The promises of a holy war  against corruption made by the President while taking oath for his second term in office was not in action in 2010. Favoritism and tribal political centralism was still a phenomenon at a time when Afghanistan needs promotion of merit and nationhood the most. But alas we are the unluckiest of nations on earth, faced up with the most corrupt and inefficient leaders, who rather than leading us towards a hopeful future, are becoming crisis mongers buried in their personal interests and tribal mindset.

In 2010, many more provinces in North and South East went to militants. The major military operations in Helmand and Kandahar have not proved the expected results. Nor the insurgents are on a position of hide-and-run to be compelled for negotiations. While the efforts of our President who had made the fight against corruption and efforts to persuade Taliban for talks as his prime tasks of the year, brought no success. The story of talks about talks with the Taliban culminated with a beautiful imposter fooling the entire Government of Afghanistan and NATO which exposed the whole episode of talks about talks with insurgents.

It started with hope, but all those London to Kabul conferences, the Jirga and then finally producing the Peace Council has not shown a positive outcome so far.  Besides the civilian casualties, increasing insurgency, rampant corruption and talks about talks with Taliban, below are some other important incidents of 2010 for Afghanistan.

Salang Pass Catastrophe

Over 160 people died in the catastrophic avalanches of the 12,700-feet-high Salang Tunnel on Feb 08. That was a deadly catastrophe, but the Government has learnt nothing from it. Salang Pass is the only road connecting capital Kabul to Northern parts of the country. It goes through heavy snowfall every year and dozens of people die during January and February. The tunnel built by the Soviet Union is now in a deplorable condition, and can bring any tragic catastrophe again, if the Government does not pay attention for repair and reconstruction work. There should be an Emergency Committee ready for any unexpected incident, and the Government should have learnt from the tragic incident of last year.

The Acting-Ministers

The cabinet nominees of President Karzai were rejected for three times from the Parliament, but still after one year, many ministries are run by acting ministers. It seems these acting ministers will complete the whole tenure of five years. The previous parliament, that rejected them could not compel the President to respect their mandate and the Constitution.

First Parliament

The very ineffective first parliament of the democratic history of Afghanistan completed its tenure in 2010. They could not even implement their own resolutions, while the Presidency could easily and completely bypass them. They will be remembered as the first parliament of Afghanistan, who were most disorganized, divided, rubber-stamp and weak house of ragtags. Quorum was not complete for many of the important sessions of the house. Members were not seen once during the entire year in any session of the parliament. The story of bribery to MPs for buying up their votes was the story of every town after nominations, impeachment of ministers of some important voting session. It was this first infamous and ineffective parliament that approved the shameful drafts like the “Rape Law”—the so-called “Shiite Personal Status Law”—which allowed marital rape of women. The hottest discussions of our first parliament was all about banning TV serials, talking about ban on jeans and paint for boys and girls.

Now the new parliament is again with a similar fate. We don’t know what will happen with the constitutional crisis. The rulers are taking the country toward a crisis by their efforts to alter the election results.

The Kuchi-Hazara Dispute

Do you remember that blood Friday in Kabul in the holy month of Ramazan when an armed clash between the Kuchis and Hazara claimed several lives? Every year there is a bloody episode of Kuchi-Hazara conflict in Behsud, but 2010 brought it to the edge of catastrophe when the conflict reached in capital Kabul. That Friday the firing of Police and civilians pelting stones was terrifying for Kabulities. Police failed to control the situation that day, as angry mob burnt down a police station. Half a dozen people died that Friday. The Karzai Government has not been serious about the resolution of the Kuchi-Hazara conflict. Every year dozens die in the dispute between the two groups in Behsud, which reached Kabul in 2010. It can still become a burning fire this summer, the time every year conflict starts. The Govt. and all parties need to get serious for a permanent resolution of the issue.

The Kabul Bank Saga

The Kabul Bank crisis had panicked masses, as well as the Government and international community, but now it seems nothing had happened. I am not sure to credit the Central Bank for its success to manage the crisis, at a time when thousands of people were lining up in front of branches of the bank across the country to withdraw their deposits, but actually it was the Government that created the panic and mayhem with the sudden takeover of Kabul Bank and public announcement of it.

And those responsible in the crisis went unpunished. The shareholders of the bank were bigwigs and allies of President Karzai including one of his brothers. Their corruption and luxurious villas in Dubai caused the crisis that almost brought a financial crisis in the economy and banking meltdown.

Conscript Military Service

There was an intense debate on electronic and print media, as well as among people about the idea of conscript military  service proposed. President Karzai talked about it first time in Munich Security Conference. Afghanistan had conscript army service mandatory prior to 1992. After the fall of the central government and eruption of civil war, the military structure was destroyed. In the wake of difficulties for recruitment for army, the idea of conscript service was proposed. But the history of forced military service is not very positive in Afghanistan. People used dozens of tricks to escape their service, while the influential tribal people and those having ‘good-relations’ with officials were always let go without service. However, the discussion did not come up with something, nor the Government pursued the idea.

Hope for 2011?

I don’t see prospects of any improvement this year too. President Obama announced his last year’s review and there was no change in the policy, nor he indicated any strong support for the talks with Taliban that is being pursued by the Peace Council nowadays. I hope the surge strategy under the leadership of General Petraeus will weaken the insurgency and help the process of talks. But the US and NATO should not close their eyes in hope of talks, while the Northern provinces become the next Helmand and Kandahar. I am also very skeptical of any success regarding the talks with Taliban. Unless the leadership of Kandahari Taliban, mainly the so-called Quetta Shura, and the Haqqani Network under any divine miracle change their Jihadi agenda and thinking, things won’t work. I am skeptical that even if Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment try to support the talks and attempt to persuade these elements, its hard to make a political compromise with them. The Obama Administration should press hard Pakistan, giving the military establishment its wishing ‘role’ in talks with Taliban on some conditions, for the last chance. If even then, such a strategy does not work, the only way  is ultimate defeat of Taliban leadership, which is possible through more successful ground operations, drone attacks on the leadership hideouts of Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and increase of intelligence on ground to chase and track the insurgent leadership.

Websites of the Year!

At the conclusion, i am also telling the readers of this blog the two best websites of year about Afghanistan for me. The Afghanistan Analysts Network is my website of 2010, with the best analysis about Afghanistan. Though not as known as the mainstream media reporting on Afghanistan, but their writers are most accurate and unmistakable, even compared to those breaking reports of NYTimes or Washington Post and BBC. My second best is the AfPak Channel, not only for the great AfPak news links they share on twitter, and daily briefs, but also the quality of commentary on Afghanistan by their contributors.

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Filed under Insurgency, Karzai-Obama, Parliament, Parliamentary Elections 2010, Taliban, US Troops in Afghanistan

Wikileaks Afghanistan

The Guardian newspaper has published the Wikileaks cables on Afghanistan. Here i am organizing all Afghanistan-related US Embassy cables on one page.

Iran in Afghanistan

Karzai Insider on How US Could ‘Open the Door’ to Iran

Iranian Influence at Afghanistan Parliament

Iran Busy Trying to Undermine the US in Afghanistan

US in Afghanistan

We are not just another imperialist force in Afghanistan (Ambassador Eikenberry)

US complains about Karzai’s release of prisoners

Germany Protests US military docking millions from Afghan Army fund

Clinton says Afghanistan troops changes are not withdrawal

Obama’s troops reduction were a military recommendation

Karzai and McCain Discuss Progress and Elections in Afghanistan

Afghan Govt. asks US to quash ‘dancing boys’ scandal

UK in Afghanistan

Hamid Karzai Criticizes UK Military

Karzai Questions UK Effectiveness

Helmand Governor Criticizes UK Military Strategy

UK Military Want to Leave Sangin Because of Lack of Popular Support

UK ‘not up to task’ of Securing Helmand, says US

NATO commander criticizes British anti-drug strategy

Gordon Brown urges Karzai not to replace Helmand Governor

Miliband asks Karzai to reassure British public about the Afghan ‘project’

Allies’ praise for Helmand Governor


US Doubts over Afghan Reintegration Plan

Moderate Taliban Distance themselves from Regime

Former Taliban say peace is now only option for Afghanistan

Karzai’s brother on preliminary Taliban peace talks

Deradicalisation programme would undercut the Taliban

No power-sharing with Taliban, Holbrooke pledges


Hamid Karzai on the Taliban, Iran and drugs in Afghanistan

Karzai feared US intended to unseat him and weaken Afghanistan

Afghan Finance Minister calls Karzai an ‘extremely weak man’ (Finance Minister Zakhilwal)

Kazakh President’s concerns over ‘weak’ Karzai

Karzai asks Defence Minister: ‘can you manage without the US?’

President Karzai’s half-brother is ‘kingpin of Kandahar’

Canadian Ambassador expresses serious doubts about Karzai

Karzai’s attempt to appoint known warlord and criminal (Akhunzada)

Hamid Karzai Threatens a ‘tribal solution’ in Helmand


Money Smuggling Out of Afghanistan (Vice President Massoud with $52m cash in Dubai)

Corrupt Governor in Eastern Afghanistan (Governor of Paktia)

Ghazni Governor Accused of Widespread Corruption


Holbrooke meeting with Kai Aide

Karzai accuses US of funding Abdullah Abdullah

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Federal System Only Option for Taliban, U.S.

My CNN blog post.

Why is it that every policy change is doomed to failure in Afghanistan? From the community-security and reach-out policy to the fight against drugs, all have shown little success so far.

Gen. Petraeus has come to Afghanistan with the latest commitment of success. After fierce opposition from the Afghan government, his proposed Public Protection Force has been approved by the Afghan cabinet. This approach is based on the successful model of Iraq, where Sunni militia groups were armed to fight against al-Qaeda. In the Afghan government, there was intense opposition to the program of arming locals as a Public Protection Force to avoid Taliban insurgency spreading. President Karzai’s ambitions are more of setting a ground for the post-American Afghanistan, regardless of whatever results. There are no signs of success so far that his proposed reintegration of Taliban will work out.

Coming to Arg (the Afghan Presidential Palace) for a second term in a controversial election, Karzai has been moving close to Iran and Pakistan. In June, when the interior minister and intelligence chief were asked by the president to resign, the most common commentary in Kabul newspapers were that the move is to placate Pakistan regarding the Taliban reconciliation, as NDS (National Directorate of Security) Chief, Amrullah Saleh was the fiercest Pakistan-critic voice in the Karzai Administration. Some politicians in Kabul even fear Karzai will attempt to grab power for long after NATO withdrawal, by calling a National Jirga and bringing some amendments in the constitution. And it’s quite possible!

Again the fundamental question is: why after billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives sacrificed, is Afghanistan becoming a quagmire for the U.S. and NATO? Why is it that Iraq is gradually getting stability while Afghanistan is deteriorating with a new story each day of failure? Recently there have been talks about a de facto division of Afghanistan. The U.S. policy thinkers are now discovering the options suggested nine years ago by many in Afghanistan. And it comes at a time when the situation is at its worst. If there was such serious thinking in Washington in 2001, things would have not been at its worst.

Renowned Pakistani journalist Ahmad Rashid in an article on the Financial Times website has mocked former U.S. Ambassador Robert Blackwill’s suggestion of de facto partition of Afghanistan in volatile Taliban-influenced South and peaceful North and Hazarajat. Ahmad writes “Not a single Afghan will ever support such a demand.” Really? Ahmad Rashid analyses from his world of knowledge about post-Taliban Afghanistan, which he has not visited for the last couple of years. He should know that the slogan of Latif Pedram, a presidential candidate rival of Karzai in last year’s election, was for a federal system in Afghanistan demanding division of regions in the country. And there are ethnocentric “nationalist” groups even advocating for a full partition.

Today Gen. Petraeus is applying the Iraq model of Sunni Awakening under the label of Public Protect Force in Afghanistan after years of growing insurgency. Pentagon and Washington know now that the insurgency is of the same nature in Iraq and Afghanistan, ideologically and operationally. But the strategy will only work when other parallels are successful, too.

The political system and civilian government is a measuring parallel for the success of military operations in Afghanistan. The administration in Kabul is a fragile and corrupt one, and fundamentally very different from the system successfully working in Iraq. The key of success in Iraq in fighting insurgency was Sunni Awakening in addition to a stable federal parliamentary political system. Amidst the discussions of alternatives in Afghanistan, federal parliamentary system would be the best way to avoid a bloody partition. As Mr. Blackmill says, “there is no quick, easy and cost-free ways to escape the current deadly quagmire.” Leaders from Afghanistan had suggested it long ago in 2002 during the Bonn Conference and later. And recently, it has not only been Latif Pedram calling for a federal system, but the strongest rival of Karzai in the election – former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah was calling for a parliamentary system. And allies of Karzai in election, who left Karzai’s side recently, Muhaqiq and Dostum, have been calling for a fundamental change in the system. Recently in a TV talk in Kabul, Muhaqiq was saying “we demand decentralization of power, you name it federal system, parliamentary or whatever…”

A central system is against the nature of Afghanistan for centuries. A strong central government has never had control over all parts of the country in history. Even today, under a strong presidency and central government, Karzai due to his political weaknesses cannot remove a rival Governor of Balkh, Mr. Ata, who often talks against Karzai in public.

Such a system would be the only solution for the so-called reconciliation and reintegration program with insurgents. Taliban want a share in power, and they fight under the slogan of Sharia and religion. Some ministries and offices in Kabul would not bring them for a settlement. If local people of an area want to be ruled by Taliban, billions of U.S. dollars and the least-corrupt official appointed from Kabul would never win the hearts and minds of people. It’s impossible for Taliban to burn down girls’ schools, if the majority of local people are against it. Simply, let people be ruled by Taliban in the areas the people want them. And the little population who don’t want to live under Taliban can move to other provinces. Some of the southern provinces could go under Taliban if they take part in elections in a federal system with provincial autonomy. And this can be the only possible deal for workable negotiations.

Taliban insurgency is now spreading to the peaceful parts of country. Most peaceful provinces like Bamyan, Badakhshan and Daikundi were in headlines the past week for casualties. The Iraq model of Gen. Petraeus is incomplete unless the political system in Afghanistan is like that of Iraq. For saving Afghanistan and the efforts made in the last nine years, it’s extremely important to bring fundamental changes in the whole strategy and system in Afghanistan.

Already there is a rise of ethnic sentiments in Afghanistan after the calls of reconciliation by Karzai. Political leaders in North and Hazarajat are saying to launch a mass campaign. The best way to avoid a bloody partition like that of Ahmad Rashid’s country (partition of Bangladesh from Pakistan) in 1971 is to change the system in Afghanistan. The attempts of negotiations with Taliban will not work unless they receive an attractive offer of rule in some provinces of South under a federal parliamentary democratic system. It’s an honorable roadmap for the U.S. withdrawal from a stable Afghanistan.


Filed under Insurgency, Karzai-Obama, Taliban

Afghanistan Needs More Than Conferences

My blog post for CNN.

The one-day Kabul Conference concluded last week with reiteration of promises made by the international community. There was nothing very new – except the fact that insurgents could not succeed in firing any rockets that day in Kabul, contrary to previous such events. Though the conference was given much coverage in the international media, Kabulis didn’t have any expectations about the meeting. Heavy security prevented any untoward incident and foiled some plans by those arrested a day before the conference.

All foreign ministers and representatives were given four minutes each to speak. And it was full of repeated words of promises. Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai organized the Kabul Conference. I liked some of the speeches, including the four minutes of Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who talked about decentralization of power in Afghanistan as a factor toward solution of conflict. Many of the speakers praised the Karzai administration and had a strong belief in his government as if everything will go smoothly.

The only critical speech came from the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Dr. Sima Samar, who expressed concern on the process of Taliban reconciliation and criticized the government for the state of human rights in Afghanistan.

President Hamid Karzai said Afghanistan will take responsibility of security by 2014. It was more like a wish than a pledge. And what if Afghan National Security Forces are unable to take control by then? Karzai also demanded more control over the aid from the international community, up to 50 percent. But according to a recent media report published in Daily Outlook Afghanistan – the newspaper I am affiliated with – most of the ministries could only spend 70 percent to 80 percent of their annual budget for last year due to lack of capacity and mismanagement. Lack of capacity and mismanagement are the causes. Although the reports and presentations looked impressive at the Kabul Conference, the fact is that the practical situation is way different.

All spoke of good governance, but nobody talked specifically about the huge corruption in Kabul. Karzai said he will fight against administrative corruption. But there have not been any practical achievement of this since he was re-elected in a controversial vote last year.

A recent report said $4.2 billion in cash has gone out of Kabul International Airport, most of which has been brokered into safe accounts and luxury villas of Dubai. The fight against corruption was top priority of Karzai while taking the oath for a second term. In the first weeks of his new term, there were some symbolic moves. Soon after the Cabinet formation, a new anti-corruption task force was established, but with no achievement so far.

The U.S. media and Congress should pressure the Obama administration for accountability and transparency of the Karzai government in Kabul. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had once – during the controversial presidential election count in Kabul – said the U.S. civilian aid to Afghanistan in the future will be tied to reform in governance. The international community should pressure the Afghan government for more responsibility and accountability. There has to be serious efforts against corruption.

All the plans and projects presented at the Kabul Conference were within the framework of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. But this entire strategy needs a full review. The international community should ensure that development aid should also go to peaceful areas. The places with military presence have received the entire development budget, but the most peaceful areas have been neglected. And troubles are increasing now in central and northern peaceful areas.

After the Kabul Conference, state media said the international community supports Karzai’s reconciliation efforts with Taliban. Karzai called the insurgents “angry brothers” at the peace jirga in June. But he used the term “our common enemy” at the Kabul Conference.

The “reconciliation efforts” are complex and unclear. And most importantly, there is not a national consensus on this. Political leaders from other ethnic groups in Afghanistan are already leaving Karzai. For instance, former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh has started a grass-roots campaign against Karzai’s approach in “reconciliation” efforts. Important ethnic political figures such as Haji Muhammad Muhaqiq and Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum already have turned away from Karzai, and they supported him in the presidential elections.

The U.S. is victim of wrong steps taken in 2001 and later. Afghanistan has been a complete failure during the last decade. Change of command or fancy conferences will not bring success, but a fundamental change in the whole process and strategy might.

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Karzai’s Changed Behavior in Washington, Afghan Culture of Guest and Host

The sudden change of behavior by President Karzai in Washington was considered a diplomatic success in Washington. It was indeed surprising for the world since recently Karzai had made some blatant critical statements against the US. This time nobody talked about the electoral fraud in Presidential elections. President Karzai who had consecutively offered Mullah Omer with safety, also apparently has changed his stance saying militants who end ties with Al-Qaeda will be negotiated, but not those who do not accept the constitution of Afghanistan and the current political process in the country. Karzai also admitted that corruption in Afghanistan is a huge problem, against his previous view that its not a big issue as being highlighted in Western media.

Friedman of NY Times had once written that in the political diplomacy of Middle East, leaders do not mean what they say in behind-the-door meetings or press conferences to western media, they mean what they say in public in their own language. Thats the case with President Karzai. According to Afghan culture, when you are guest somewhere, you must not talk something against the views of your host, neither oppose them. Its considered very rude and against Afghan pride and traditions to go against the views of your host, until you are his guest. Once you come out, you are not obliged to say yes to his views at your home. I suspect this is what happened in Washington! President Karzai was a guest there. His hosts were President Obama and his Administration. The “diplomatic success” and “change of behavior” on both sides is not what actually exists. And Thomas Friedman got it exactly right about the public diplomacy in Middle East.

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