Tag Archives: India

Karzai says he’ll side with Pakistan against the US. But who’s surprised.

President Karzai has been on a roll recently. He dropped talks with the Taliban, decided to negotiate with Pakistan, signed a strategic partnership with India and has just promised to stand by Pakistan if it ever goes to war with the US or India.

On a diplomatic time-frame, that’s all on the scale of one short breath. But it’s President Karzai we’re talking about, so we shouldn’t be surprised. Even if he made his newest strategic partner and the country that props his government into imaginary foes and decided to fight them in support of a country that he maintains backs the enemies of his government.

In his latest comments he said Pakistanis are his brothers, so he would stand behind them. But then again, he once called the Taliban his brothers, even when his army and international partners were fighting the group.

Given this context of perplexing and often contradictory statements, your guess is as good as mine about why Karzai made his latest comments. But they are hardly surprising. They follow a pattern of progressively worsening relations with the US under the Obama presidency. After all, he had weekly video conferences with President Bush, took walks in the Rose Garden and even testified before Congress. (Yes, that was 2003, and Bush called him afterwards to apologize for the grilling he received from the overzealous lawmakers.)

But as soon as Obama became president, he put Karzai under a lot of pressure to fight graft and corruption in his government. At one point, Obama even conditioned further aid to Afghanistan on Karzai’s crackdown on corruption. But Karzai wouldn’t budge. He kept scraping investigations against high-ranking officials in his government, and when the pressure got too high, he threatened to join the Taliban.

Upping the ante by more than just a few notches, he hosted Ahmadinejad in Kabul, providing the Islamic Republic’s firebrand president with the perfect forum to lambaste the US.

US Defense Secretary Gates was also in town, exploring the possibility of sending more troops to buttress Karzai’s government. But Karzai stood beside Ahmadinejad in a joint press conference as he uttered the following words:

Your country is located on the other side of the world, so what are you doing here?

Did Karzai even try to ameliorate the force of his rude guest’s comments? The BBC reports that he didn’t say much at the press conference, be he was sure to say this:

We are very hopeful that our brother nation of Iran will work with us in bringing peace and security to Afghanistan so that both our countries will be secure.

This was around the time when the US was discovering rockets and other arms that Iran was allegedly supplying to the Taliban.

So, in a nutshell, Karzai’s diplomatic pyrotechnics are not new. We are not even sure he quite understands the significance or symbolism of his words/actions sometimes. After all, he was just a teacher of English language in Quetta before he was suddenly thrust into the limelight of the Afghan presidency.

But the only thing we can be fairly certain about is that his latest comments are just another milestone in his rocky relationship with his current US counterpart.

VIDEOS: Karzai: We’ll stand by Pakistan against the US, India

In a bombshell interview on a private Pakistani TV channel, Karzai said his country would side with Pakistan if it fought a war with the US or India.

The two videos — in Urdu and English — are embedded below. Transcripts of each are also provided.

I’ll write more on this later, but for now, suffice it to say that he tries to blunt the sharp edge of his comments by mentioning the Pakistani people instead of the government. But no one’s splitting hair. Update: here’s the promised post on this subject.

First, the Urdu version and its transcript, as translated by yours truly.

Transcript:

Karzai: God forbid, if there is ever a war between Pakistan and America, then we will be with Pakistan.

Interviewer: So, you will be with Pakistan?

Karzai: Absolutely. We are your brothers.

Now, the English version (Karzai’s comments start at 0:17):

And its transcript, with my emphasis:

If Pakistan is attacked, and if the people of Pakistan need Afghanistan’s help, Afghanistan will be there with you. Afghanistan is a brother. Afghanistan would never forget — will never forget — the welcome, the hospitality, the respect and the brotherhood showed by the Pakistani people towards the Afghan people, who were five million refugees there [sic].

Anybody that attacks Pakistan, Afghanistan will stand with Pakistan, Afghanistan will be a brother of Pakistan. Afghanistan will never betray their brother. Afghanistan is not going to be dictated in any way, by any country – US or India. Afghanistan has its own policy, it’s own stand, it’s own clear view on things – and from that point of view, from that stand, is dealing with our brothers in Pakistan. We have more than 2,000 kilometers of border, we have ethnic links, we have – we have – cultural links, we have historic links. We have to live together in happiness and in prosperity….

The road to peace in Afghanistan passes through Islamabad and Delhi

Below is a piece I wrote for the Daily Post, an India-based paper. The gist of the article, simply put, is this: If India and Pakistan can work out their insecurities vis-a-vis Afghanistan, peace will have a realistic chance.

Here’s the full text:

An Afghan voter found himself one eye short after he cast his ballot in the 2009 presidential elections. The Taliban had gouged his eye because he had voted that morning despite warnings from the group prohibiting people from participating in the elections. The Taliban had done all they could to intimidate voters but had failed to deter this man and others like him around the country. There were other people – voters, candidates and their campaign workers – who had been threatened and even killed by the Taliban that August, but the elections went ahead. The number of candidates was the highest it had ever been, and turnout was comparable, if not higher, than the turnout in any U.S. midterm election since at least the 1960s.

Granted, several districts didn’t see polling due to insecurity, election results were tainted with allegations of widespread fraud, and the man who lost an eye saw the elected government turn down his request for compensation; but what remains clear, despite all of the setbacks, is that Afghans have a strong positive predisposition toward democracy. The current government suffers from a lack of credibility and, therefore, low popularity; but given the choice between the Taliban’s theocratic regime and an iteration of democracy, the choice for Afghans is clear.

But they want their democracy to be Afghan. That means what they consider unbridled personal freedom interfering with deeply entrenched societal mores and Islamic precepts is unacceptable. They don’t want a Taliban-style draconian government that stifles all personal freedoms; they want a democracy that respects and promotes the Afghan way of life.

The struggle against the Taliban, though, is hardly the biggest challenge of democracy in Afghanistan. We face an insurgency that cannot be quelled by 100,000 of the world’s best trained, best equipped troops. And with 70% illiteracy rate, we wouldn’t need an insurgency to drag us down. These, though, are still not Afghanistan’s biggest challenges to democracy. You see, left to their own devices, Afghans have been fairly successful in keeping their martial instincts in check.

The last Afghan king, Zahir Shah, reigned over 40 years of peace and quiet that are still considered to be 20th-century Afghanistan’s glory days. Zahir Shah successfully navigated the pressures of alignment stemming from World War II by declaring Afghanistan a neutral country. Prosperity, rights and development were relative unknowns, but people weren’t at each other’s throats like they would be later on.

The USSR’s involvement turned Afghanistan into a proxy battleground. The Soviets dragged with them to Afghanistan the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran, each of which had their favorite proxy. That gave rise to the infamous three decades of war in Afghanistan that culminated in the rule of the last-standing militant group, the Taliban, which enjoyed Pakistan’s backing.

That same force – foreign influence – is still undermining our democratic development. Pakistan is looking for what they call strategic depth, a prospect that spooks India. And when India and Afghanistan sign a strategic agreement, Pakistan is scared witless. Afghanistan is once again becoming a playground for external rivals who want to see an outcome of their choice prevail in the country. India’s soft power approach – manifested through cultural outreach, development work, educational scholarships, etc – is better than Pakistan’s militant-proxy approach, but the net effect of India’s strategy hurts Afghanistan all the same because both rivals see Afghanistan as a zero-sum game.

Afghanistan cannot continue to be the battleground where India and Pakistan play out their insecurities. If Pakistan has a problem with the strategic realignments, it should solve it with India. The faltering negotiations between India and Pakistan, their history of wars, the mutual distrust and the rivalry are ultimately destabilizing Afghanistan. The road to a peaceful solution in Afghanistan passes through Islamabad, Delhi and Kashmir.

The sacrifices of the Afghan people will in the end be meaningless if external actors keep muddying the waters for us. Like the USSR’s involvement in Afghanistan, that of India and Pakistan can trigger events that can undermine democracy and drag us further down into misery.  But miseries in a country like ours – at once connected to China, the Central Asian Republics, South Asia and, through Iran, the Middle East – will not remain confined to our borders alone.

India is a rising economic power and Pakistan is struggling to stay afloat. China is a global player and the Central Asian Republics are fast rising in geostrategic importance. Another three decades of war and instability in Afghanistan will undoubtedly have negative consequences for the region and the globe. As the world has seen in the past, what happens in Afghanistan reverberates in New York, London and Madrid. It’s high time Afghanistan’s neighbors, including India, helped it become stable and democratic by removing its biggest hurdle – the curse of instability coming from the outside.