2011 January 07 Friday
Nominal President Hamiz Karzai Too Weak To Rule

Writing in Foreign Policy Paul Miller offers the most realistic portrait of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

But Karzai is acting fairly rationally given the constraints and pressures he faces. He is head of a government that for most intents and purposes does not function, no matter what he decides. He faces an insurgency that seems to have staying power and an international force that does not. He faces a parliament that is unwieldy at best, openly hostile at worst. He "appoints" governors who likely still have their own private armies (which he lacks), who often wield more effective power than he does, and who only recently took sides in a ruinous civil war -- the renewal of which is always a tacit threat hanging like a Damocles Sword over Karzai's head. Karzai faces an impossible balancing act.

Afghanistan probably can not be ruled by any group other than a bunch of Muslim clerics - and even they would rule only weakly. Afghanistan's people have loyalties to extended family and tribe (due to consanguineous marriage) that are so strong that there's little loyalty remaining to give to a central government. So Western attempts to conceptualize Karzai as a Western leader and analyze his moves and failures (and corruption) by Western standards totally miss the boat.

But in response, Karzai does not have many options. His "decisions" don't actually change reality so much as they express intent or exhibit symbols. In the face of his many challenges, almost the only tools he has are words. If he wants to protest air strikes or home raids, he makes dramatic statements about a "foreign occupation." If he feels threatened by conservatives and warlords, he starts to burnish his Islamic credentials and sound populist rhetoric. If he believes the Taliban are winning and the international community is withdrawing, he threatens to switch sides. None of these words stem from real beliefs so much as they simply reflect whichever pressure Karzai feels most urgently at the moment.

Read the whole post. It underscores how little the United States can hope to accomplish in Afghanistan other than waste blood and money.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 January 07 08:31 PM  MidEast Afghanistan

miles said at January 8, 2011 12:34 PM:

Ive privately thought the same thing about Karzai. What will he do if/when the US leaves? I bet he wishes that he never got in bed with us.

Randall Parker said at January 8, 2011 6:43 PM:


I bet he's happy with how much money his family is stuffing into bank accounts using their (limited) ruling power to run rackets. If he hadn't let us put him into power that never would have happened.

His key challenge: know when to flee into exile and where to flee to.

Dave in Seattle said at January 10, 2011 3:11 PM:

The United States could partition Afghanistan, on the the theory that the root causes of conflict are competition for resources and differences in values and therefore peace is best maintained through nation-states. Other than that nothing we do will last past our withdrawal.

no i don't said at January 10, 2011 5:18 PM:

"It underscores how little the United States can hope to accomplish in Afghanistan other than waste blood and money."

Yeap, the U.S. will accomplish neither victory, nor defeat, nor the stablishment of democracy; only prolonged permanence, which will eventually lead to the U.S. becoming irrelevant.

The position the U.S. holds on the war in Afghanistan now belongs into the realm of the absurd.

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