On 1 December, President Barack Obama is expected to declare his much awaited final Af-Pak policy which may last the present term of Presidency after a review which has taken the Administration over eight months. With detractors on both sides, the conservative Republicans led by former Vice President Dick Cheney and the liberal Democrats led by his own Vice President Joe Biden breathing down, President Obama’s speech on Tuesday will receive intense attention in the media. What ever be the President’s choice, the key factor determining success in Afghanistan will be Hamid Karzai. Will he deliver? Here is an overview of the possibilities.
President Hamid Karzai was sworn in for a second time in a row as the Afghan President on 19 November three months after the first round of elections held in August. The President has a tough task ahead given the challenges faced in bringing order to a country which has been at civil war for the past three decades and where systems and institutions have been non existent for long. This was evident on the day of swearing in as a suicide bomber killed 10 civilians in a bomb attack in Uruzgan. He also has to outlive the immediate legacy of a disputed election victory in the first round with accusations of massive rigging. In his inauguration speech Mr Karzai flagged three issues corruption, talks with moderate Taliban and replacement of NATO/ISAF by Afghan security forces within the next five years of his tenure as President.
Swearing in of President Karzai with leaders of the international community in attendance marks a new era in Afghanistan. For those who believe in stability and growth in the country as an incremental process this would be a positive development, a democratically elected president has been sworn in the country for the second time and would represent aspirations and hopes of the Afghan people. On the other hand to those who want instant results the elections riddled with allegations of fraud mark another sad day and one that is possibly terminating towards anarchy.
One of Mr Karzai’s biggest challenge is to ensure that the support of the US Administration and personal support of President Obama for there are many differences that have cropped up between the two leaders in the past which have been fanned by the American envoy Mr Holbrooke who had a very poor relationship with Mr Karzai. But for the Afghan imbroglio to show signs of hope it would be important for the President of the United States and Afghanistan to be on the same page. That is what the international community would hope for in the days ahead.
President Karzai may also be emerging as an independent power centre in Afghanistan and that may not be a very bad thing for stability in the country in the long run. By his ability to take a number of diverse groups particularly the ethnic Tajiks and the Uzbeks the most numerous and strongest groups from the North in his alliance while consolidating his own Pashtun base, the President may enhance his writ in the country.
Much will depend on whether Mr Karzai has the courage to change the dominant elites supporting his government the various tribal combinations that have to be successfully managed and those who believe in the long established code of pashtunwali where revenge is a generational way of life.
With corruption emerging as a key issue in governance in Afghanistan along with the reach of the government, what different model will President Karzai adopt in his second tenure remains to be seen? While there is much hope as well as some apprehensions on the same, given that his support base comprises of dubious leaders as Uzbek tribal leader, Dostum and tainted Tajik leader Fahim who is also a Vice President, the acid test would remain formation of the ministry and the portfolios. Will Mr Karzai be able to rise above politicking and shake away the sobriquet of mayor of Kabul and a tainted brother will be closely observed by the international community.
There are many conjectures, hopes and disappointments ahead for the international community as well as the Afghan people. While the West including NATO and ISAF are hopeful of a new dawn, there are also others who are more skeptical and realistic in expecting what is really possible from a government and a President who is seen to have been elected through a mandate which was possibly not wholly taint free.