From the Indian perspective, Senator John Kerry’s remarks on Afghanistan during his testimony at the 4-hour hearing before the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee on his nomination as the new secretary of state will be of special interest.
The overall emphasis of Kerry’s testimony was on peacemaking and economic diplomacy. Indeed, he de-emphasized the use of military force characteristic of the post-9/11 period, pointing out that “we cannot afford a diplomacy that is defined by troops or drones or confrontation.”
Kerry bluntly warned that the Afghan presidential elections in 2014 should have legitimacy or else the western powers would wash their hands off that country. He said: “Having an acceptable election – it’s not going to be perfect, e’re not going to be able to have perfection in this process for a lot of different reasons – but having an election that passes muster and is acceptable according to international standards and observers will be critical to our ability to have the kind of transition we want to have, and to have confidence that the government that succeeds in 2014 has legitimacy, if we don’t succeed in that effort, it’s going to be very, very difficult to convince the American people, and to convince our allies in ISAF and beyond, to stay engaged in this effort.”
Kerry has given a blunt message to President Hamid Karzai. He pointedly recalled that it was he who was instrumental in allowing Karzai to get away with the rigged election in 2009 when the entire American establishment — especially the late Special Representative Richard Holbrooke — and the western world was up in arms crying murder.
Kerry seems to remind Karzai of some unwritten, unspoken deal. He said: “I went through this personally with President Karzai in the last election where there were serious questions about the propriety of the process and we had to sort of strike a compromise about it.”
Kerry then drew the ‘red line’: “I don’t think there’ll be room for a compromise in the aftermath here. I will certainly make sure that we’re riding herd on it very very closely.” To be sure, the Vietnam veteran would know what happens when a war is being fought to ensure the survival of a dubious regime. (By the way, let me share some ‘archival material’ in my files — a riveting blog by ABC News’ Jonathan Karl on Kerry’s deal with Karzai in October 2009.)
Interestingly, Kerry is reading the riot act just when Karzai gears up for a replay of the rigged 2009 election. To be sure, Karzai can’t contest the 2014 election since the Afghan constitution expressly forbids a third term for him. But he could make sure that power gets transferred from his right hand to the left.
Karzai removed the foreign observers in the election commission who might have voiced criticism about the conduct of the 2014 election. He is apparently in no hurry to revise the electoral rolls although it is getting late to do that.
More ominously, he has begun talking about holding a Loya Jirga by the end of the year ostensibly to consider whether the US-Afghan security pact under negotiations should grant immunity to the US servicemen stationed on Afghan soil from local laws for any crimes committed (such as murder, rape, sodomy, etc.)
Now, the beauty about Loya Jirga is that it is somewhat like the late Saddam Hussein’s scud missile — once fired, you lose control and there is no certainty where it would hit. Simply put, the Loya Jirga can set its own agenda.
There are dark rumors in the Afghan bazaar that Karzai’s 2013 jirga might go on to take a view favoring his continuance as president in 2015. If that were to happen, a delicate situation would arise for Kerry. The Americans could generically call it ‘filibustering’: a jirga that extends legal immunity for the American soldier also extends Karzai’s political life.
Clearly, Washington will be hard-pressed to deal with Karzai in the coming months as he goes about pulling one rabbit after another out of his hat to ensure that power remains in his hands even after 2014. He will be a far trickier protagonist than the elusive Mullah Omar.
Karzai’s latest ploy is to transfer power to his brother Mahmud Karzai, the controversial business tycoon who has been allegedly involved in many venal acts (including bank robbery and murder) in the recent years and is rated as the richest man in the Hindu Kush.
With the Taliban challenge on the one hand and Karzai’s shenanigans on the other hand, President Barack Obama is sailing in a leaky boat. It is improbable that Kerry’s tough message will impress Karzai. At the same time, Karzai’s political adversaries get emboldened to oust him.
Don’t be surprised if all this finally builds up to a bloody coup in Kabul at some point between now and end-2014 in the right royal Afghan style.
The situation is really grim. Read the latest in a string of sombre analyses by Xinhua, here.
– January 25, 2013