Nov 8, 2009


During his second tenure as president, Hamid Karzai is expected to face more aggressive pressures

By Aimal Khan

The re-election of Hamid Karzai as president for next five years has come at a time when the violence-hit country is passing through a critical phase. On one hand the western powers are struggling to uphold their credibility and are still undecided about their future line of action and on the other there is no sign of weakness and defeat among the Taliban rank and file.

The election uncertainty may have ended but Afghan government's difficulties have just begun. Keeping in view the enormous internal and external challenges, his second tenure is expected to be a tight-rope walk for newly elected Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Spiralling violence, governance, unemployment and soaring price-hike and virtually no social and physical infrastructure are some of the internal challenges. So is developing a stable government. Unlike Karzai's first tenure, some of his rival candidates will be around to check government's performance this time.

The ethnic-based political polarisation, sharpened after his main rival's boycott of the run-off round of presidential election, will be another internal challenge for the new government which sought national cohesion and political stability.

The foremost challenge is the unending insurgency. The military option has repeatedly failed in Afghanistan and there is need for exploring political options. There was a time when Karzai advocated talks with Taliban but was faced with resistance from some powerful external quarters and denied free hand in this regard. Now the US has realised the need for talks with the Taliban and is using different Afghan and non-Afghan channels for reaching some kind of understanding with them. Bringing Taliban to the negotiation table and striking a deal with them will test the political acumen and tactfulness of President Karzai.

As far as external challenges are concerned, the western powers are becoming more demanding and desperate, and want to see concrete results and significant improvement in the political and security situation in Afghanistan. Due to the growing financial and human costs of Afghan mission and public opinion increasingly getting against the presence of its forces deployment in Afghanistan, the western powers are under immense pressure. The western governments are facing difficulties to justify and sustain its support and commitment to the Afghan mission.

During his second tenure as a president, Hamid Karzai is expected to face more aggressive and demanding external environment and this time the external pressure will be more vigorous and sustained. Some western quarters are already in action to draw a roadmap for the new government and pressure is mounting on Karzai for the formation of inclusive government and initiating reforms.

Behind the scenes, hectic diplomatic efforts are underway to strike a deal between Karzai and his main rival Dr Abdullah Abdullah for accommodating opposition in the government. Reports of curtailing some of the presidential powers, creating new posts and accommodating more technocrats in the government are in circulation.

Karzai is reportedly accepting some of these suggestions and is ready to take his rivals on board; he even announced to include the Taliban who are ready to work with the government. Besides taking some administrative measures, the new Afghan government is poised to initiate some legislation.

The issues of good governance particularly the cancerous growth of corruption, drug smuggling and strengthening of national law enforcement agencies are considered to be top on the agenda of the new government.

Whether Afghanistan is like Iraq or Vietnam or the US president opts for counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism strategy, the fact is that major western powers have so far failed to bring the desired stability and order to the violence-hit country. The frustration and unease over its Afghan mission is getting visible in major western capitals. There is difference of opinion among the western military strategists, political and security analysts and Afghan experts and deliberations have begun over whether to send and commit more troops and resources to Afghanistan or to exit.

For the first time in the last eight years the exit options is becoming a hot issue of strategic discourse on Afghanistan in the west.

The controversy over the electoral irregularities somehow undermined the democratic process. The recent row over presidential election further added to its difficulties and the opinion-makers in the west started raising questions about the viability and credibility of the Afghan democratic project. Also it strengthened the anti-war lobbies in the West. Even the US president is still undecided whether to commit additional troops to the Afghan mission or not.

Afghan government has failed to deliver and there exists wide public dissatisfaction in this regard. Though, his popularity graph has declined in the last two years, Karzai is still more popular than his political rivals. One of the big challenges to Karzai is how to restore public confidence in government and improve the governance.

Over the years, state writ has significantly decreased and violence has phenomenally increased. The nation-building process is faulty and slow and the economy is still not very strong. The Afghan masses are losing confidence in foreign troops who of late are increasingly seen as an occupying force rather than as liberators. The perception that the foreign powers in Afghanistan are there to protect their own narrow interests rather than that of Afghans is getting stronger.

The west itself can also be blamed for making the election process "messy" by mishandling the situation which led to undermining the democratic process in general and election process in particular. First, they tried their level best to discredit Karzai and cultivated some alternatives. When they failed to find a suitable alternative they started manipulations to put him in a weak and more subservient position. Foreign meddling in the election process in Afghanistan was seen from day one and reached its culmination at its last stage.

The writer, a political commentator, is associated with Sungi Development Foundation

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