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Update No: 103 - (26/08/10)

Ring-fencing the regime
Karzai’s campaign to cast himself as a patriotic leader and distance his regime from his foreigner supporters might seem far- fetched, given their total dependency on external support, but Karzai seems to have decided that he has room of manoeuvre. American-sponsored efforts to bring corruption in check are particularly threatening for Karzai, because the enquiries were beginning to uncover evidence of the involvement of his cronies and family members in the corruption and in the illegal transfer of funds abroad. In August Karzai decided to bring the two anti-corruption bodies created under American sponsorship under his control. Karzai covered his move in a claim of independence and autonomy from the foreigners. The enquiry is linked to the freezing of US$4 billion in aid, that the US Congress decided earlier this year. The two anti-corruption units are now accused of having violated the human rights of the high rank officials being investigated.

Karzai’s relationship with the west is also suffering from the Wikileaks revelations of how aware ISAF is of Pakistani support for the Taliban. Karzai can now ask, why don’t you do something about Pakistan? What the Americans have delivered so far with their efforts to mend fences between the two countries (Afghanistan and Pakistan) is little in comparison. In August it was announced that a deal has been signed, allowing Afghan goods to reach India via Pakistan; Pakistani goods will also be allowed to reach Central Asia via Afghanistan. Characteristically, the deal still does not allow Indian goods to reach Afghanistan via Pakistan.

Can Afghans go alone?
Karzai’s other most recent move has been an attack on private security firms. About 40,000 guards secure convoys and offices of western agencies, embassies, etc. In reality Karzai’s own family has greatly been benefiting from the business, as they own several of these security firms. Karzai now says he wants these firms be replaced by the police. Is he in reality trying to push out foreign fIrms, which have the largest market share? Or is it a bargaining position? In any case Karzai’s claim that the Afghan security agencies can do everything on their own is doubtful.

In August an experiment was attempted. For the first time an Afghan army battalion was sent on a serious mission without ISAF support; it ended in disaster, with the battalion badly ambushed, many soldiers captured by the Taliban, and ISAF having to rush to the rescue. It is worth pointing out that the battalion was one of the few rated as ‘capable of autonomous operations’. Only 23% of the army units have that rating, the others all being lower.

One step after the other, towards negotiations
Karzai in the meanwhile continues to manoeuvre himself into a position where he might be able to attract elements of the armed opposition. The Council of Ulema, staffed by pro-Karzai clerics, has endorsed the option of negotiations with Taliban and other groups and has recommended a thorough Islamisation of the legislation, to facilitate the incorporation of former opponents. Many former allies of Karzai, particularly from the minorities, oppose Karzai’s move and accuse him of having lost his conviction in the fight. In the West too many are baffled by Karzai’s manoeuvres; how much of it is posturing and how much a genuine indicator of what Karzai aims at?

 

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