Friday, June 11, 2010

Karzai and Pakistan

Few leaders face the sort of ire in Islamabad as Hamid Karzai does. The Afghan President routinely blames Pakistan for his country’s violence. The Pakistanis see this as a case of self-acquittal and label him America’s, and more damagingly, India’s stooge. Matters reached a new low in 2008 when Karzai accused Pakistan of orchestrating an assassination attempt against him.

Which makes the recent air of conciliation between the two sides all the more puzzling. According to a report published in the Guardian yesterday:
"President Hamid Karzai has lost faith in the US strategy in Afghanistan and is increasingly looking to Pakistan to end the insurgency, according to those close to Afghanistan's former head of intelligence services."
The analysis is derived from the recent resignations of Afghanistan’s two security chiefs - Amrullah Saleh, the director of intelligence, and Hanif Atmar, the interior minister. Both men were perceived to be close to the United States. The official reasoning for the resignation was their failure to protect the recently concluded peace jirga from a brazen attack by Taliban insurgents. Most analysts however see the departures as part of the complex calculus to decide Afghanistan's future; where the US looks increasingly set to quit, leaving the door open for regional players like Pakistan, Iran and India to negotiate a future setup that preserves their interest. According to Washington Post editor David Ignatius:
“Saleh, the intelligence chief, is a particular antagonist of Pakistan’s feared Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, known as the ISI. “He is hated by ISI,” says one official bluntly. Some ISI officials regard Saleh as an Indian agent, though they present no evidence to support that claim.
The groundwork for Saleh's departure it appears came during a crucial moot last week. Ignatius continues:
"A final factor bolstering the idea that Karzai is tilting toward Islamabad is the recent visit to Kabul by General Pervez Kiyani, the chief of staff of the Pakistani army, accompanied by Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of ISI. They are said to have met with Karzai in late May, after the Afghan president’s visit to Washington but before the June 2 opening of the jirga."
The resignations hence point towards a broader, unofficial agreement between Karzai and Pakistan. Elizabeth Rubin at Foreign Policy speculates at the details of the pact:
"The Pakistani's second condition (following the closure of the Indian consulates) was the removal of Amrullah Saleh as Intel Chief (whom they saw as anti-Pakistani)"
If true, this can be recognized as a major strategic coup for Pakistan. It is common knowledge that it holds two of the key assets in the Afghan war endgame: Mullah Omar’s faction of the Taliban, and Sirajuddin Haqqani’s network in Eastern Afghanistan. The addition of Karzai to this camp represents a near monopoly over Afghan political-militant factions. While the US retains the dominant voice in any future settlement, it puts Pakistan in a position of strength against its regional rivals.

How Pakistan leverages this coup to institute peace once NATO forces depart, remains to be seen. In theory it would rise as a statesman and broker an agreement between the sides. In reality this would be near impossible. These factions have been in battle for a good two decades, and the concept of settling such a feud has no precedent in Afghanistan’s history. Complicating matters will the US, which is mistrusted by all the groups, and which will have its own vision of the country's future.

Ultimately, the Karzai agreement will be a test of the maturity of Pakistan’s foreign policy. The last time it found itself in this position, Pakistan ended up creating the Taliban. It was a mistake that still haunts the country.


  1. Its a good point of view but don't you think its a little naive to think that the US will simply allow Karzai to walk away from its dictated policy and align it self with an already unstable ally.

  2. No, I don't think he's 'walking away' in the truest sense of the word. Just reconciling himself with Pakistan, with which he's had an acrimonious past. Remember, Pakistan is closely allied with the US, so this isn't a case of Karzai ditching the American camp.

  3. who is this blog aimed at. I hope you guys get increased viewership as your thoughts are very articulate and the blog is well written! Good luck!

  4. Is this is a test of Pakistans foreign policy or the pakistans military foreign policy. I think as always while the politicians are back home throwing ketchup at each other, these guys decided to go out and make some friends.
    And if your right, then this was give Pakistan a good chance to fight the Taliban even harder on the northern front, with the help of the Afghanis.

  5. I wonder how things turn out when India,Iran and other neighbouring countries who hate the Taliban start using up their cards. India has a buffer in Pakistan and can play its hand freely..