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 !!!).

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Democracy and its pal capitalism

Had a thought on the way to work this morning — in a democratic country with an essentially capitalistic economy, war instincts are sublimated to other kinds of survival efforts, like making money. If this is true, democracies are healthy things.

Or to reverse it…

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My Own Op-Ed

Well I’ve always wanted to write one, this seems the one place which won’t hand me a rejection slip. Moreover, at last, I think, Ive got something  to say that merits being called an Op-Ed.

News headlines in India on 15 May 09 read “Elections too close to call” , “Exit Polls – Fractured Mandate”, “Weeks of horse trading ahead” and so on and so forth.  On 16 May, Indian voters hit all these experts for a six, proved that they can no longer be taken  for granted and that it is now about time someone credited them with plain, simple common sense.

But first the election itself. Except for the odd violence here and there,  perhaps the largest single security operation undertaken by this country was an unqualified success.  60% of the 714 million electorate apparently cast their vote.The verdict was sealed and delivered within a day. The Election Commision did a job that none want to take on and did it with elan.

At last, a very very clear mandate was given to India’s oldest party. Again most of the experts give credit for victory to the Nehru – Gandhi dynasty which controls it. I think they deserve a lot of credit, this time round. Yet I also think that were it not for the unassuming, mild, honest and efficient Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, this verdict would not have been as decisive. At last we have one party, the Congress, which has been asked by the people – rich, poor, urban, rural alike – to give us governance, unencumbered by petty chieftains who with not even 10% stake held the Government to ransom earlier. It is still a coalition, but it is a coalition of the willing, not one stiched up by political expediency and horse trading.

Another redeeming feature was, and this will gladden Harb’s heart too, most of the hoodlums and dons have been shown the door in no uncertain terms.  Some even fought from jail and some others, who were debarred, fought through proxy by getting their wives and kith and kin to stand. Most have been told their days are gone, face the consequences and the law first, before you come back to us.

The poor rural voter was often accused earlier of voting along religious and caste lines. This was true till recently. This time round though, all those who thought caste was a political bond and made up for lack of performance felt the recoil of the common man in no uncertain terms. Similarly those who exploited and banked on religion as a political tool tasted defeat. Their sell by dates have long passed.  Those who delivered governance over the last few years were rewarded and it is  wonderful  to think that we have at last matured as thinking people who  voted on performance and performance alone. Many voters may be illiterate, uneducated and living in abysmal poverty but they now want things and are not going to waste their precious vote on sentiment alone. Foolish promises must now on give way to performance.

The majority of the electorate was under 35, perhaps it is their new found interest in what concerns this country is what brought about this change.

There’s a lot more that can be said, but it is enough to-day to let the Congress celebrate its victory and let them start tomorrow earning points for 2014. Opportunities such as these don’t come often. They need to grab it now and establish themselves. They have been freed from the left yoke, which shackled it  with unmatched arrogance,  there can be no more excuses.

To-day there is just one word that most Indians carry forward  –  optimism.

Are Things Under Control?

I’m sorry I have to ask this but I’m beginning to wonder if there is anyone left  who understands what’s going on.

It all started with 9/11 and look where we are now.

First Afghanistan. Then when things were almost under control Iraq was sprung on an unsuspoecting world. Then  back to Afghanistan but it hasn’t stopped there. Now I wonder where this roadshow will end up. Is Pakistan the priority or Afghanistan?

If the idea is that Afghanistan will stabilise once Pakistan is bailed out , I am unable to understand the logic. Sure they are entwined to an extent. Even so, they are two seperate issues altogether and should be handled individually. One cannot run an operation by shifting focus every few weeks. More problems will arise.

GM Commits Suicide At The Concession Stand

What will it be? If GM cannot appease the Obama administration

with a plan that seems worthwhile, the government will come up

with a brand new PLAN and set them straight. The UAW and it’s

members will have little say on the workings of this new plan.

The workers will have to patiently wait for an actual contract

to mull over. They will be doing this at home instead of in the factories,

for a work stoppage will commence one way or the other.

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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.