Karzai begins his new presidential term in the “graveyard of empires”
- Branko Brkic
- 20 Nov 2009 08:13 (South Africa)
With widespread charges of tainted voting and concern about high-level corruption in the Afghan government as an unsightly background, Hamid Karzai was inaugurated for his second term as Afghanistan’s president.
Responding to the criticism that the stability of his regime rests on foreign troops, Karzai said “The role of the international troops will be gradually reduced [and]” we are determined that in the next five years, the Afghan forces are capable of taking the lead in insuring security and stability across the country.” Karzai also promised to convene a loya jirga, a traditional consultative assembly, to invite disaffected Afghans not connected to “international terrorism to return to their homeland.”
In his inauguration address, Karzai at least seemed to make an effort to reach out to the broader Afghan population, speaking in both Dari and Pashto – the two major languages in the country. His speech also touched key issues Americans and other western nations have been urging Karzai to take on board as priority policies, including a more transparent and accountable government and a real crackdown on corruption. However, the president’s brother, Ahmed, has recently been accused of being a major figure in corrupt government and being involved in the traffic in illegal opium crops and it remains unclear how the president will address that conundrum.
The 800 dignitaries in the audience included Hillary Clinton, Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari, British foreign secretary, David Miliband and German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle. Westerwelle was rather upbeat about Karzai’promises, saying, “This was a speech with the right emphases. It fulfilled our expectations [and] we will take President Karzai at his word and expect that the right words will be followed by the right doings.”
Meanwhile, NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen sent a message of congratulation, but it was a message paired with renewed calls for accountable government and real measures to halt corruption. Rasmussen said that NATO strongly supports Karzai’s “intention to form a capable and inclusive administration, and to make it accountable, one in which corruption has no place.”
However, as a near-inevitable counterpoint to the inauguration, Afghanistan experienced yet two more suicide bombings in the southern part of the country where major fighting has occurred for years. Since the 2001 invasion, tens of thousands of Afghans have perished and 1,520 allied troops (including more than 920 Americans) have died fighting the Taliban. Some forty-three countries have troops assigned to Afghanistan now. Afghanistan suffered years of civil war prior to that, including a decade of resistance to a Soviet invasion that lasted until 1989.
Many observers doubt Karzai’s ability to deliver on the efforts at reform he has promised to carry out. In part this is due to loyalties to family, tribe and clan that transcend the modern state. And, from a cave deep in the mountains, the Taliban was clearly not particularly impressed with Karzai’s speech either. Their spokesman managed to connect with foreign news services from deep inside a cave to comment: “Today is not a historic day. This is a government based on nothing because of the continuing presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.”
Former presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah was only a little less critical of Karzai’s circumstances. He told reporters after the inaugural ceremonies, that Karzai’s “record and policies I consider as the basic and fundamental reason for the failures of the international community and Afghanistan together.”
Karzai’s inauguration was the final stop on an erratic electoral journey that began three months earlier when the country first voted for president. Charges of major vote fraud then led plans for a second round vote between Karzai and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, after it was finally announced no candidate had secured a majority. Abdullah then withdrew from the planned run-off and Karzai was proclaimed the winner and still champion – on the political equivalent of a TKO.
Karzai’s inauguration comes as the Obama administration has been agonizing over a revised American military strategy -- after over eight years of war in the embattled nation. Commanding general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, had submitted a secret (but almost immediately leaked) report recommending tens of thousands of additional troops -- beyond the 68,000 now there -- lest the war be lost. This report then provoked an increasingly acrimonious debate within the Obama administration as some senior advisors lined up behind McChrystal’s recommendations, others behind proposals for fewer troops, and some – including the vice president – in favour of an even more fundamental shift of focus away from Afghanistan and towards Pakistan where most Al Qaeda forces actually are located now.
However, just a few weeks earlier, the American Ambassador in Kabul parted company with recommendations for troop increases in Afghanistan, arguing in leaked cables that the troops themselves become the cause and then the focus of new insurgent activity. Instead, he recommended more civilian aid and advisers spread deeply into and across the country. Amb. Eikenberry had also served as a commander of US forces in Afghanistan several years ago and his disagreement represented a surpising split among senior officials.
By Brooks Spector