5 years ago
Relations between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the international coalition seeking to secure and rebuild his country are rocky these days, with both Afghans and Westerners questioning whether Karzai is a partner or a liability.
The visit to Kabul two weeks ago by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raised eyebrows both in the country and abroad, as did the fact that Karzai stayed quiet as his guest railed at U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had left Kabul just hours earlier.
At a joint news conference at his presidential palace, Karzai called the Iranian president “brother” and said Afghans were lucky he had come. But some Afghans felt Karzai had crossed a dangerous line.
“I think he has been on this confrontational course with the West, particularly the United States, since last year,” said Haroun Mir, who heads the Afghanistan Center for Research and Policy Studies.
Mir, like many Afghans, was uncomfortable about Ahmadinejad’s visit, given that it happened at the same time the Obama administration was seeking international support for stronger sanctions against Iran.
“This could not be explained in a rational manner because the United States is our strategic ally and we are dependent on the United States for everything — for the salary of our civil servants for our security, for our survival,” Mir said. “We could not find any explanation why President Karzai did not react when Ahmadinejad gave this kind of controversial and provocative speech here in Kabul.”
Mir is just being coy – or else he is truly unable to connect the dots. We have failed to do combat with Iran in both the covert and irregular warfare it has conducted on the U.S. in Operation Iraqi Freedom. As for Afghanistan, we already knew that Iran was providing weapons to the Taliban. Now we learn that Iran is formally training the Taliban. The regional war with Iran involves more than just operations in Iraq. Iranian operations in Afghanistan are on the rise, even if by proxy. Iran is also providing support for AQ.
Ralph Peters sees bad things coming.
Coming perhaps as early as this year (certainly within the next few years), the Karzai Compromise will at first look like this:
* Karzai remains the titular head of the Kabul regime.
* Iran “owns” western Afghanistan.
* Pakistan replaces the United States as the Kabul government’s security guarantor.
* NATO grabs the excuse of “national reconciliation” to dash for home.
* The United States won’t be far behind NATO, although we’ll continue to pour in aid to “avoid destabilizing the situation.”
This being the Greater Middle East, the deal won’t last. Karzai holds too weak a hand; national ambitions are in conflict; the hatreds go too deep. Here’s what will come next:
* The Iranians and Pakistanis will struggle for influence. The next phase of the endless Afghan civil war will be a proxy fight between Tehran and Islamabad (alongside the internal factional warfare).
* Al Qaeda will align with Pakistan, gaining clandestine sponsorship.
* Karzai will be replaced by a tougher ruler backed by Pakistan, while the Iranian side elevates its own contender for power based in Herat.
* India will side with Iran. China will support Pakistan.
* Pakistan will find itself unable to control its Afghan proxies, after all. Another military regime will take power in Islamabad, as Pakistan finds itself bogged down in an Afghan morass and violence spreads at home.
* The Taliban will fight everybody and outlast everybody.
As our troops surge slowly into Afghanistan to save the inept Karzai government, they may already be irrelevant. We’re no longer in on the deal. Everybody knows it but us.
Is Peters using hyperbole to make his point? Is this what’s in store for us unless we engage Iran immediately as their recalcitrance deserves? Without answering these questions, it can certainly be observed that in all of our time in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we have yet even to begin to take on the main instigator of all (or most) things bad in CENTCOM’s area of responsibility – Iran.