The fog of the Afghan war keeps hampering visibility. The headline-hogging news is VP Joe Biden’s unannounced arrival in Kabul. No way, dear, it has to be the headline. Biden was touching base with Hamid Karzai after a gap of two years. The meeting is pregnant with possibilities. The last time they met, it ended in disarray. Biden stormed out of a dinner with Karzai just as dessert was being served after the Afghan leader point blank refused to heed US advice to retire from the presidential election in 2009. So, Karzai made a great Afghan remark that Biden’s visit made him “happy”.
However, Karzai won’t easily forget the insult that Obama visited Afghanistan in October but didn’t meet him. The real success of Biden’s Kabul mission - setting right the perilous equations between the Obama administration and Karzai - can be judged from the unkind cut by the Karzai administration when the VIP was in town. Karzai simply ordered the release to the public of the result of an inquiry
ordered by him, which says David Petraeus’s current campaign in Kandahar (which Biden vaguely commended) has so far resulted in the loss of Afghan properties estimated at 100 million dollars. Afghans are indeed tough customers. Don’t bite, if possible, if you bite, the bone may get stuck in the throat.
Even for India. ‘Civilisational ties’ don’t count at the end of the day. The moral of the story: is it such a wise thing for India to do to enter into joint US-India development projects in Afghanistan? Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, isn’t it? Especially, in such explosive minefields such as ‘women’s empowerment’. Who proposed this quaint idea for inclusion in the joint statement on Obama’s visit to India in November? I would like to adamantly insist on believing this US-India ‘initiative’ in the Hindu Kush wasn’t South Block’s brainwave.
If Delhi isn’t convinced about the wisdom of identifying too much with US’ expertise on Afghan culture and ‘capacity-building’ endeavours, get acquainted with yet another real top story of the ground realities, which simmer only just below the Biden headlines. As Guardian
rightly commented, the forced resignation of Marines general Arnold Fields, the inspector-general for Afghanistan, is a highly significant news. He had been adamant until last week that the one thing that the US Marine Corps taught him was “never to quit”. But quit he did. What else could he do? Fields cannot account for the nearly 60 billion dollars US has spent in Afghanistan as aid money and Congress is investigating. Karzai has been vindicated that it is the lax supervision of US aid money that created such a vast cesspool of corruption in Afghanistan. The story doesn’t end with Fields’ exit. It will roll on and the trail may well lead to some top figures in the US.
Finally, another “real story” concerns the Obama administration’s inexplicable difficulty to appoint a successor to Richard Holbrooke. Biden’s AfPak trip highlights Obama’s dilemma. A full-time wheeler-dealer is badly needed to do fire-fighting in the turbulent AfPak region. How often can Biden fill in? Pakistan had excellent rapport with Holbrooke, whereas acting SR Frank Ruggiero is a different kettle of fish. With his solid intelligence background and the highly impressive field assignment in the Kandahar region, Ruggiero will be seen with some suspicion by the ISI. Unlike Holbrooke who was a ‘generalist’ like most successful diplomats, Ruggiero is a rare breed - a specialist and a genuine ‘Afghan hand’. Put differently, he knows far too much - for his own good. There has been a fascinating report on why Obama is not finding a successor to Holbrooke. May I gently draw your attention to Christine Fair’s (familiar figure to Indian think tankers and intelligence analysts working on the Pakistan beat) truly great summing up of the actual state of the US’ Afghan war, right at the end of the Daily Beast report
Posted in Politics.
– January 12, 2011