Afghanistan, Karzai, and the easy-chair critics

Elizabeth Rubin has a new NY Times article about Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan‘s President:

Karzai in His Labyrinth

She offers a gentle-but-tough, compassionate, and honest view of the incredibly complex nature of Afghani politics, and Karzai’s nature.  As excellent as this article is, words just touch the surface of the realities.  And it’s the realities that have my head spinning.

The mixture of old and new culture, the tremendous forces of social connection that far exceed those active in the West, tear the fabric of Afghanistan a thousand ways, a thousand times, every day, in every corner of that difficult and beautiful country.   I wonder how anyone could think of running Afghanistan with any kind of permanent success.

Karzai’s biggest fault has been to stick too closely to the non-institutional format of traditional politics in Afghanistan.  This has stymied his ability to fund the work he needs to do to reach his goals.

Karzai’s strongest virtues are his deeply sincere intent for the well-being of all of Afghanistan, an almost unbelievably resilient and patient perseverance, and a penetrating, intelligent mind.   Using these strengths, Karzai has survived —  not a small feat —  and continues to lead his country, and keep faith with his hopes and goals, on behalf of its peoples.

Although his leadership has been almost universally criticized, I wonder if there’s anyone in Afghanistan who could a do better job than Karzai has done.  Every time I read in Rubin’s article of one of his so-called allies, or his enemies, saying what other choices Karzai could have made, my instincts rebelled.  It’s a hell of a lot harder to do the work than it is to get comfy in the easy-chair called “hindsight” and criticize someone else’s mistakes. If these people really really wanted Karzai to succeed, they knew Afghanistan as well as he did, and they could have supported and advised him, instead of catering to his weaknesses, glossing over his blind spots, or playing a double, or sometimes a triple, game on him.  That Karzai has survived is amazing enough.  That he’s still sane, compassionate and able to work is even more surprising, and heartening.

Karzai is as crazy as Obama, in wanting to lead his country in such difficult times, and for attempting to turn around a very big ship indeed.  My prayers are with both Presidents. Karzai is said to be very edgy and have an eye tic.  He needs some magnesium and vitamin B12, as these are being depleted by stress.  I hope someone figures this out and tells him.  Afghanistan’s first President doesn’t have the medical resources that America’s Presidents have.

Follow Elizabeth Rubin on Twitter.


Serious confrontations

Was wondering what y’all think of what’s going on in Pakistan.

Yesterday, an attempt to destroy one of the Intelligence Agency centers in Lahore killed more than two dozen people, injured more than three hundred, and destroyed an emergency services building:

Today (28 May 2009), Pakistan the Taliban warned people to evacuate cities (scary !!!).

Continue reading

The Great Indian Election

Over 700 million voters – more than the total population of the US and more than the combined population of France, UK, Germany and Holland (so I’ve read). Probably 60%  will cast their vote.  All the booths have Electronic Voting Machines (EVM), this sounds simple. Yet it is mind boggling, not just because of sheer numbers. Some booths are located in the boondocks. Officials can reach them only on foot or on mule and horse back.  The EVM – similar to a vertical key board in shape – has to cater to a large section of illiterate voters. Each candidate’s picture, his party symbol and name have to be reflected. I heard that they were also braille friendly, though I’m not sure they were. The number of candidates was also mind boggling. The choice was between 36 worthies in my constituency. This meant three EVMs on display.

There was also the problem of  choosing a candidate. The process finally become one of selecting the lesser evil.  Recall Harb’s thesis on choosing the correct person. Uunfortunately what does one do when there is no right choice/person?  Till last night I was undecided and we had a sort of family conclave to sort out our minds.

The voters too come in all shapes and sizes. From the youthful, bouncy, energetic first timers to the old ancients, equally enthusiastic, some even being carried into the booth in the arms and shoulders  of their family.

Thanks to the ‘international migraine’  infecting our neighbourhood,    terrorism is the biggest concern. Forces  have to be shifted from area to area. The voting process is spread over almost 45 days and  is being conducted in three phases. To-day was the second one. The final results will be out only in mid – May.

Yet at the end of the day one feels dwarfed by the enormity of this whole exercise and I certainly feel a part of  the process.   One little speck out of 700 million others. Yet, I had a voice, if only for a few minutes.

That is the bottom line


Will it work?

Obama’s AF-Pak review has come up with some fresh legs and ideas . There’s also some old wine in new bottles. Am not yet aware of all the details except for what has appeared in the local press and some fairly comprehensive coverage on TV channels.

Personally I like the idea of concentrating on creating a competent Afghan force to look after its own problems over time. This was the focus in Iraq too, didn’t seem to be very successful. Perhaps the lessons learnt there have been assimilated and there will be better results.

Holding Pakistan responsible and extracting commitments from it is, in my view, the key to the whole problem. The key to success in Afghanistan, and success means peace and stability to me, lies in one single question. Does Pakistan have the ability and the desire to take on the Taliban and the Al Qaida? It cannot get away anymore playing footsie with both sides.

Biden’s plan of giving them 1.5 bn a year for the next few years is the old wine stuff. Pakistan has made a flourishing business of taking US money to help it fight its battles. Starting from the ’60s,  its always been with one hand held out for doles.  Just how much of this money has been well spent is a moot question. Personally I think its throwing good money after bad. But the US is rich. I have my doubts this will change attitudes in Pakistan.

I am  not aware of what is planned regarding Afghanistan finding its political feet . The current administration started off with a lot of promise but gradually deteriorated and is now pretty dysfunctional. How is a healthy political environment going to be created and what form will it take?  Given the many tribes and fierce  tribal loyalties, this will not be easy. Yet it is also an imperative.

Now he says “Lets Talk”

Remember Mullah Omar? The guy whose Taliban took Afghanistan into the barbaric age. After the Pak President wrote an Op-ed in an American newspaper about the good and bad Taliban, and Obama endorsed the idea of doing another Iraq by talking to ‘moderate’ elements,  Mr Omar says “speak to me”.

At first I found it funny. However, I have always thought it better to talk than to blow out brains. I think that maybe it’s ok to talk to the guy. Just remember though that the US has a  reward of a few million on this one eyed Jack’s head. The only condition should be that he keeps both hands visible and on the table at all times.

He is reportedly still conducting operations and running his bizzare operation from around Quetta, in Pakistan. Talk to him by all means. I would  keep in mind though that this is the guy who had the Buddha blown up at Bamiyan, whose lackeys carried out executions of women with a bullet through the head during half time at foot ball matches, the guy who is attacking convoys and supply lines and the guy who refused to give up Osama, because as he said, one doesn’t betray a guest in his country.

So when this nut wants to talk, one can bet that he is doing so for a very specific purpose.  He’s either running out of support and finds his leadership under threat. This could be his way of getting back at his adversaries in his fold. Or he could just be plain sick and tired and hoping to get free treatment, kind courtesy Obama. He could be buying time. And maybe, just maybe he has had a change of heart – rather he has probably just discovered he has a heart. So Mr. President, talk to him but never forget he is a leopard.


Why I love newspapers

Or is it newscreens, newswebs or newsnets?  I haven’t bought a paper paper in more than a year.  One of my fav’s, TOI, isn’t available at my local newsstand. What’s the newsstand guy going to do when we’re all reading digitally?

Today at