Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, January 21st, 2018

President Karzai’s Dilemma

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President Karzai’s Dilemma

President Hamid Karzai has been in dire straits ever since the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the ex-president and chairman of the High Peace Council. The assassination robbed Mr. Karzai of an invaluable ally who provided the President with a formidable bridgehead towards a wide segment of Afghan ethnic mosaic. In the post-assassination political wilderness, the President has found himself alone and by himself; the Taliban despise him and so do many ethnic communities that loathe his idea of seeking peace and reconciliation with Taliban.

If this is not enough, his relations with his most powerful ally, the U.S., and the wider Western coalition, continues to be far from its best days. The peace process, in which he had and has stern personal conviction, and on which he had employed much of his political capital, has, albeit temporarily, backfired on him.

Being a good manager might not be among the best qualities of our President, but being an astute politician surely is. In such a delicate situation, the President, being the politically-astute man that he is, has decided to ride the tide of popular resentment against the Taliban by distancing himself from his own peace process, declaring that the process would be stopped if it is found that the Taliban were the perpetrators of last week's tragedy.

A statement issued by his office implied that the President no longer regards the Taliban as his "disaffected brothers". The President's usually- mild tone towards the Taliban has taken a sharp turn towards harsh criticism bordering on outright condemnation. The tough circumstances have certainly made the President backtrack for now, ceding ground to those political forces that are dead set against the government carrying forward the peace process.

However, President Karzai has a strident personal conviction that Taliban are an indispensable part of the Afghan social fabric; that they should be brought into the political mainstream by any means possible. He wants his government to be the benevolent patriarch who, far from disowning the Taliban, would work towards sorting out their grievances and bringing them into the fold.

The President's hostile take on Taliban, epitomized by his speech and the statement of his office, would never be his final call. Soon, our President would be busy again courting the Taliban and restarting the broken wheel of the Peace Council and the peace process.

The President's conviction that the Taliban are part and parcel of Afghan social milieu is, after all, a reality. Let us be honest with ourselves, the Taliban insurgency and the ten years old war in the country are primarily intra-Afghan conflicts. Taliban are as much Afghan as are a Badakhshi or a Bamyani.

In this intra-Afghan conflict, it is Afghans themselves who cannot reach a truce among themselves; what Pakistan and his security agencies do and do not do are of secondary importance. Our own inability to live in peace with ourselves cannot be put at the feet of other countries, including our neighbors.

Therefore, the President's personal conviction that the Taliban are indeed part of this soul and need to be reconciled is a reflection of reality, which is laudable. He had been the first to draw attention to the inescapable necessity of opening paths of talks and reconciliation with Taliban, appreciating the nature of the Afghan conflict and refusing to get carried away by the barrage of media coverage and popular opinion that went against the Taliban. On these points, the President deserves credit and should be supported.

While it is important to keep the peace and reconciliation process going despite the odds against it, the Taliban, on the other hand, continue to be consumed in mindless violence and have refused to speak any language other than the language of gun and suicide attacks.

Time and again, they have failed to show even the slightest measure of political understanding and recognize the stark realities on the ground. Unfortunately enough for Afghanistan, the Taliban's track record over the past few years and their refusal to give talks and negotiations any serious chance make it a certainty that the Taliban will have less and less incentive to engage in meaningful peace process on the way to 2014. They, rightly or wrongly, consider themselves the unquestionable winners of a decade-long war.

The sum outcome of these developments has been a dangerous polarization of Afghan body-politic and society with ethnic and communal tensions resurfacing after a decade of relative stability. This does not bode well for the future of Afghan politics which, after all, should move towards greater convergence of diverse political interests rather than the current dangerous fragmentation.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that Afghanistan is headed towards renewed civil war. The danger of a civil war engulfing Afghanistan again, being a distant possibility, is, to a great extent, exaggerated, given the current status-quo. What is disturbing is that the current dangerous drift in Afghan politics would negate and reverse many of the hard-earned gains made over the past one decade and prevent the consolidation and maturing of Afghan politics and fledgling democracy.

The Afghan government has been quick in joining the bandwagon of harshly criticizing Pakistan. After the upsurge in U.S.-Pakistani spat in recent days, Afghan government was tempted to make a hasty and ill-judged decision of indulging in some harsh Pakistan-bashing.

It seems our policy-makers did not note that the U.S.'s spat with Pakistan was too short-lived to provide Afghanistan with a strong bulwark to take shelter behind it. The U.S. government was quick to have the common sense prevail and tone down its harsh criticism of Pakistan. After all, the U.S. continues to be mercilessly dependent upon Pakistan's cooperation for its Afghan war and cannot afford to lose Pakistan. For the Afghan government, it has been a good lesson.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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