Who’s afraid of a Karzai comeback in Kabul?

A systematic campaign has been afoot in the western media in the recent months focusing on the former Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s political activities as an elder statesman, while living his life in retirement in Kabul.

A newspaper report says Karzai is being backed by “powerful foreign friends” who are interested in overthrowing Ghani’s government

A US newspaper report says Karzai is being backed by “powerful foreign friends” who are interested in toppling Ghani’s government

What began as innuendoes has lately become an avalanche of forthright allegations to the effect that Karzai is furiously working on a game plan to stage a political comeback through the back door as the ruler of Afghanistan for a third term, which the country’s constitution expressly forbids.

The hypothesis is that Karzai is systematically discrediting and undermining the credibility of the present national unity government led by President Ashraf Ghani with a view to overthrowing the set-up in Kabul and reset the power calculus by positioning himself as the savior of Afghanistan duly anointed by a Loya Jigha.

Karzai’s own categorical denials have had virtually no impact on the tirade against him in the western media. Last week, the campaign escalated significantly with the Wall Street Journal firing all eight cylinders.

A report with Kabul dateline said: “Capitalizing on popular discontent as the Taliban advanced and international financial aid dried up, Mr. Karzai and his circle of former senior officials, who continue to meet regularly, have used this time to build an alternative power center. That circle increasingly attracts regional power-brokers and, diplomats say, now may threaten the current government’s very survival. Some of these politicians are even openly calling for a removal of Mr. Ghani…

“For now, the current and former presidents have agreed to a fragile truce widely seen as temporary… Afghanistan’s Western donors, led by the U.S., are watching these intrigues with mounting apprehension.”

The report went on to allege that Karzai is being backed by “powerful foreign friends” who are interested in overthrowing Ghani’s government. It specifically mentioned Moscow, Tehran, New Delhi and Beijing as the regional capitals where Karzai has enjoyed “connections”.

What could be the reason behind such an orchestrated western media campaign against Karzai? On the face of it, mentioning Russia, Iran, India and China together in the same breath is the height of absurdity. Anyone who knows Afghanistan and regional politics would know that these countries have specific interests to pursue in the Hindu Kush and these interests do not necessarily overlap, while in their perspectives on the power dynamic in Inner Asia are strikingly dissimilar.

Why should these four regional powers incite Karzai to usurp power in Kabul? Among the four countries mentioned, it is with India that Karzai maintained very close ties. He openly claimed India to be his second home, where he lived his youth, received university education and enjoys a wide circle of friends.

Without doubt, as president Karzai went the extra league to promote ties with India so much so that his retirement as president literally handicapped India’s Afghan policies and rendered them ineffectual. Ghani never really warmed up towards India and he reportedly rolled back the close security cooperation between the two countries that had flourished during the Karzai presidency.

To be sure, India is deeply skeptical about Ghani’s overtures to Islamabad and the trust he is willing to place on the Pakistani military and the ISI to help kick-start the peace talks with the Taliban leading to a negotiated settlement.

But having said that, India has scrupulously refrained from undermining Ghani and has instead only tried to woo him, remaining rooted in the belief – rightly or wrongly – that in the fullness of time the Afghan president would be a sadder and wiser man in his dealings with Pakistan.

Two things compel India to wait patiently and mark time. One, the plain truth is that India no longer has any special links with any Northern Alliance [NA] groups, which in the nineties spearheaded the anti-Taliban resistance.

The best-known NA leader today, Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah in Ghani’s government himself is more beholden to the Americans for his political future than to India or any other country in the region.

In fact, name any NA leader, and the story repeats itself – most of them have been bought and sold in the Kabul bazaar by foreign intelligence agencies at some point or another through the past decade – and some probably sold themselves to more than one benefactor at the same time. In sum, India has no “guaranteed proxy” today on the Afghan chessboard.

Secondly, India has a fair knowledge of the extent to which the US has gone to catapult Ghani to power last year. And anyone who knows anything about the foreign policy orientation of the present Indian government would vouchsafe that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will never undercut the US’ regional strategies in Asia.

What Modi has done during the past one year in power to dilute India’s non-aligned policies and to get the country to identify with the US’ strategies in Asia has been absolutely breathtaking. None would have suspected that this politician with such a robustly nationalist reputation could have secretly harbored such a pronounced pro-American bias.

That being the case, why should Modi let loose the Indian agencies against Ghani and to undermine the government in Kabul, which has been installed in power by Washington with such painstaking personal involvement on the part of Secretary of State John Kerry? It will be an insult to President Barack Obama, which Modi will never allow. Simply put, it belies logic that India is egging on Karzai to seize power.

True, Ghani has dealings with Pakistan. He has injected much warmth into Afghan-Pakistani equations. But then, Americans also have dealings with Pakistan but that doesn’t deter the Modi government from working closely with the US’ containment strategy against China.

If this is the actual story about India and the Karzai conundrum, the story with Russia, Iran and China is not very different, too. Russia and China probably have misgivings about the US’ intentions in keeping its (and NATO’s) open-ended military presence in Afghanistan, but having said that, neither would want the Americans to get the hell out of Afghanistan, either.

In fact, Moscow and Beijing will be terrified of a situation where they are called upon to bear the main responsibility to mould Afghanistan’s future. Most certainly, they want the US to continue to be involved in Afghanistan.

A curious thing in common between the Russian and Chinese foreign policies is that both are manifestly keen to engage constructively with the US on as many fronts as possible in regional politics and internationals security issues. This is only natural in the present-day big power politics, which is devoid of ideology.

Thus, despite the US’ containment strategies toward them and the tensions over Ukraine or the South China Sea, both Russia and China have bent over backwards in the recent period to be helpful in the US’ negotiations with Iran. President Obama actually phoned up his Russian and Chinese counterparts to express appreciation for the help they rendered in concluding the Iran nuclear deal.

It is also useful to factor in that neither Russia nor China has spent anything more than a tiny fraction of the money that the US has spent on Afghanistan during the period since its intervention in 2001. They are acutely conscious of a cost-effective Afghan policy, which brings dividends without heavy financial commitments. (India and Iran have spent far more money than Russia or China in Afghanistan so far by way of economic assistance.) In sum, Moscow and Beijing do not want to replace the US as Afghanistan’s principal donor country and take on a multi-billion dollar burden.

Finally, the core issue in Afghanistan is terrorism and both Russia and China have consistently underscored their abiding interest in working with the international community in the struggle against terrorism. They may harbor suspicion that the US would use the extremist groups as its proxies or as geopolitical tools and they will most certainly safeguard against such negative fallouts, but the priority nonetheless is to work with the US to defeat the terrorist groups – be it in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Above all, there is hardly any evidence to show that Karzai was a hot favorite of the Russians or the Chinese. As president, Karzai’s equations with Moscow and Beijing were cordial but were based on considerations of mutual benefit. (With Moscow, Karzai was even distinctly cool for much of the time.)

Equally, it is inconceivable that these two big powers ever really forgot that Karzai was originally installed in power by the Americans as their trusted man in Kabul. Wouldn’t they know that Karzai depended heavily on the Americans for even his personal safety, leave alone for bankrolling his government? Of course, they knew.

Therefore, while Karzai’s outspoken criticism of the US’ policies in Afghanistan might have made platinum grade stuff for anti-American propaganda, neither Moscow nor Beijing would have been under any illusions about getting entangled in what was essentially a family quarrel that at times spun out of hand and became unpleasant or embarrassing to onlookers.

Suffice it to say, it is illogical for Russia or China to destabilize the Ghani government at a juncture when the security situation in the country has reached a criticality. Like India (or Iran), Russia and China too are “stakeholders” in Afghanistan’s stability and they also are extremely concerned about the spectre of the Islamic State that is haunting Afghanistan.

All four regional powers – Russia, China, India and Iran – would know that once constitutional rule is derailed in Afghanistan, it may take generations before it could be restored, and what lies ahead could well be the disintegration of the country itself.

If so, what explains the exaggerated stories that foreign powers are egging Karzai on to seize power by creating a power vacuum? Put differently, who stands to gain from spreading such dark rumors that Karzai is stoking the fires of a coup in Kabul? This indeed needs further probing.

This is the first part of a two-part article by M. K. Bhadrakumar  

(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

 



Categories: AT Top Writers, M.K. Bhadrakumar, South Asia

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  • Maria

    ​#1) In Bhadrakumar’s brilliant article, [Iran’s ‘Look East’ policy takes wings ] he wrote “Clearly, the Iran-Pakistan-China energy cooperation and Iran’s link-up with the CPEC will also mean that there will be strong desire on the part of Islamabad and Tehran to harmonize their interests in Afghanistan.”, (which is a breathtaking piece of insight). Given all the leverage Pakistan has on Afghanistan, Doesn’t this indicate that Ghani will not (realistically speaking) listen to any policy pleas from Modi that Pakistan may believe threatens her security/interests? What exactly are Modi’s objectives in Afghanistan? It seems to me that Modi has “painted himself into a corner” by threatening Pakistan (especially with the recent raid into Myanmar, as a “message” to Pakistan). http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/12/us-india-pakistan-idUSKBN0OS0PS20150612
    #2) Bhadrakumar points out that the US provides stability in Afghanistan, BUT, given that Afghanistan would be a great place to base the F-22 stealth fighter jet to threaten both Russia & China’s venerable sides (since, as a fighter, the F-22’s range is short, and can’t attack the lightly-defended “underbelly” of Russia from Western bases, nor China’s west from SKorea/Japan), are the Russians & Chinese worried about this aspect of US influence: to maintain a US Air Force base in A-stan in the long-term??
    #3) A corner stone of Indian foreign policy is freedom from other countries trying to turn India into a pawn of THEIR foreign policy, YET, Bhadrakumar’s describes how Modi has reversed this as “absolutely breathtaking”.__Question: as India advances in SCO membership, and a basic tenet of SCO membership is that no country acts against the interests of other SCO members, then, will Modi lean towards disrupting the SCO, or lean towards disappointing the US?? Is Modi trying to use a close military relationship with the US as “leverage” against China/Pakistan?? If so, I predict Modi will fail, and the result will be the disadvantages of both circumstances: conceding FP-considerations to the US while damaging his relationship with the rest of the SCO.

  • Maria

    #1) In Bhadrakumar’s [Iran’s ‘Look East’ policy takes wings ] he describes the robust influence Pakistan potentially has on Ghani “Clearly, the Iran-Pakistan-China energy cooperation and Iran’s link-up with the CPEC will also mean that there will be strong desire on the part of Islamabad and Tehran to harmonize their interests in Afghanistan.”, clearly, the US is jealous that the US-backed competitor, TAPI, is less important, especially since the US is always obsessed with limiting Iran’s options. But, in order to influence Ghani towards favoring TAPI, the US probably needs to wire more US$$ into Ghani’s account.__But how does the US government justify this to an American public who is tired of A-stan & foreign-aid giveaways?? THIS is probably the reason behind the phoney American media’s line that China/Russia/Pakistan are grooming Karzai to be their puppet, as a come-back A-stan president: (Therefore, you see, in order to “counter” China/Russia/Pakistan, the US must influence the competitor – Ghani – and that therefore Ghani is worthy of US$$). The US is hoping to manipulate the American public into accepting their tax money being spent on an Afghan politician (at a time when American’s are sick of both Afghanistan & foreign-aid spending)… the US corporate media is heavily influenced by Washington think tanks. The American public, for their part, are happy to be manipulated, as they love the sports mentality of “supporting the home team”. Americans were born to be manipulated!! They are suckers…Anway, Modi probably favors TAPI because, unlike the IPI pipeline, it will not include China! Bhadrakumar points out that Modi doesn’t have any influence in A-stan, (so, my opinion is that Modi is hoping the US will influence Ghani for him).

    #2) Bhadrakumar points out that the US provides stability in Afghanistan, BUT, given that Afghanistan would be a great place to base the F-22 stealth fighter jet to threaten both Russia & China’s vulnerable regions (since, as a fighter, the F-22’s range is short, and can’t attack the lightly-defended “underbelly” of Russia from European NATO bases, nor China’s west from SKorea/Japan), are the Russians & Chinese worried about this aspect of US influence: to maintain a US Air Force base in A-stan in the long-term??
    #3) A cornerstone of Indian foreign policy is freedom from other countries trying to turn India into a pawn of THEIR foreign policy, YET, Bhadrakumar’s describes how Modi has reversed this as “absolutely breathtaking”.__Question: as India advances in SCO membership, and a basic tenet of SCO membership is that no country acts against the interests of other SCO members, then, will Modi lean towards disrupting the SCO, or lean towards disappointing the US?? Is Modi trying to use a close military relationship with the US as “leverage” against China/Pakistan?? If so, I predict Modi will fail, and the result will be the disadvantages of both circumstances: losing FP-independence to the US, while damaging his relationship with the rest of the SCO.

  • Daniel Berg

    Excellent analyse , thanks

  • Kris

    Much ado about nothing.

  • Qiaobao

    MKB (who is a great writer anyway) seems a bit vexed and surprised that the WSJ lumped India together with “rogue states” like Russia, China and Iran, in spite of Modi’s “breathtaking” pivot to the US. Where is Obama’s “subtle intelligence”, which he so often touts?
    The truth is, the US has no respect whatever for poor countries, even though (or especially when) they have a civilization of 5,000 years. And when they start to get rich too fast, they are only respected as a “threat”.
    India best make a thorough study of the Japan-bashing of the nineties, and the China-bashing of 2008-?, to prepare for the Hindu-bashing of tomorrow

  • Biased

    Excellent except the bit about China/Russia/Pakistan grooming Karzai. It is Iran/India/China/Russia and Pakistan is conspicuously absent. Karzai has a greater PASHTUNISTAN axe to grind against Pakistan and the ‘twain shall never meet.
    The Indian SCO vs US dilemma is slated to become acute in due course. Let us watch for the next act in this drama.

    Lastly, the F22s, how would they arrive at their Afghan base? Overfly Pakistan or Iran?

  • Arif Sharifi

    Afghanistan will fuck you don’t play with afghans

  • Arif Sharifi

    PorKistan is sending its troops in name of fucking Taliban and mullah’s fuck mullahs fuck Taliban’s fooling afghans in the name of Islam

  • Arif Sharifi

    Pakistan is kafir don’t believe in god just is slave nation living on Earth

  • Arif Sharifi

    If there is no Pakistan there is no problems Pakistan is headache for world because its terrorist nation

  • Global_South

    China has disapointed India many times in the past. The previous Indian government believed that China was stalling India’s entry into SCO and the Indo-China border talks. While the border talks have not yet restarted, China has been more welcoming of India’s concerns lately. Many Indian diplomats vouch for the fact that China pressurised Pakistan into discussing Lakhvi at the recent Ufa meet. Moreover, China allowing India to become a member of SCO was a diplomatic master stroke. Modi unlike the previous government has been more frank in airing his concerns to China and Xi has been more receptive of them. Whether that’ll change India’s strategic calculations in the future remains to be seen.

  • Global_South

    CNN did a a bit of “Hindu bashing” whent the previous Indian PM Manmohan Singh couldn’t live upto their expectations. For now, US is positive about Indo-US relationship and that shows in their media too.

  • Maria

    According to this Asia Times article: http://atimes.com/2015/06/looking-back-to-the-future-the-sino-indian-border-dispute-of-1954-62/
    #1) “India’s unilateralism on the border dispute is considered illegal in international law.”
    #2) “A leading Indian historian (Gupta 1974: 53) has held that the Indian claim to Aksai Chin in the West has no basis in treaty, usage or geography and that its claim to the McMahon Line in the East has a basis in geography and usage but no basis in a valid international treaty.”
    #3) “S Gopal, director (1954-66) of the historical division of the of the Indian ministry of foreign affairs failed to do his homework on both the Aksai Chin and the McMahon Line issues and briefed Prime Minister Nehru poorly on India’s border claims which led to rigidities on his part in expounding India’s border claims against China.”
    **
    So, I’m not inclined to think that India’s land claims against China are legitimate.

  • Maria

    Good question. The answer to that is: Northern Distribution Network (traveling through the former soviet republics, like Azerbaijan & Georgia to go from Black sea to Caspian see. Then, Turkmenistan, etc, until A-stan).

  • Global_South

    I wasn’t even talking about the legitimacy of the claims but about the border talks itself. You seem to eager to defend China even if it involves cherry picking old sources, which is exactly what you’ve done. For starters, any Indo-China border dispute involves legitimacy (moral and under international law) of Chinese occupation of Tibet. Here are a few reliably published scholarly sources on the topic –

    1. Anthony James Joes in ”Resisting Rebellion” (pg 86, 2004) – “Nehru had long pursued good relations with communist CHina even at the cost of dissembling about what wa shappening in Tibet… He failed to see strategic implications on India of China’s massive occupation of Tibet…. The only reliable link between Lhasa and Beijing was by air… One of these strategic roads ran through Sinkiang into northern Tibet through Aksai Chin area, across territory claimed by India. Accordingly, having learned in 1962 of the new invasion route through, and of military posts around it, Nehru…”

    2. Brahma Chellaney in ”Water: Asia’s New Battleground” (pg 177, 2011) – “By accepting Tibet as a part of PRC, India has ended up encouraging Beijing to assert Tibet’s claims on Indian-administered territories… A perceptible hardening of China’s stance towards India in recent years is at the hub of bilateral tensions, reflected in renewed Chinese muslce flexing on the 4,057 km disputed internatinal border… But having annexed Tibet and and then seized some Indian territories through conquest China has laid claims to areas far south of Himalayn watershed. ”

    3. Bruce A. Elleman in ”Modern Chinese Warfare, 1795-1989” (pg 259, 2001) – “Sino-Indian tension sharpened almost immediately after signing of the Tibet treaty and adoption of Panchshila principles. On 17 July 1954, Chinese government first claimed the Barhoti section of the border was Chinese… Thereafter, China protested Indian troops had entered into its territory…”

    Actually, I could go on, there are so many scholarly sources which say the same thing. You have not only picked up old or unreliable sources, such as an article from Asia times, but have also cherry picked sentences from those sources ignoring their spirit. Nice try though.

  • Maria

    1) The author of that Asia Times article (K S Subramanian), is a very credible source, and a Professor: he’s a former officer of the Indian Police Service, is Senior Fellow at Schumacher Centre for Development, New Delhi. He has worked as Assistant Director of the Intelligence Bureau (1967–72); Director, Research and Policy Division, Union Home Ministry, New Delhi (1980–85); Professor, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi (1991–93); Director General, State Institute of Public Administration and Rural Development, Government of Tripura (1993–97); and Professor, Academy of Third World Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi (2002–03). He has been a Visiting Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla (1973–75); Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford (1983–84); Centre for Contemporary Studies, Nehru Memorial Library, Teenmurti House, New Delhi (1986–91); and Institute of Development Studies, Sussex (1989–90). He was a member of the Concerned Citizens Tribunal―Gujarat 2002.

    2) “cherry picked”?? lol, funny. those sentences were the introduction, and the REST of the article supports the introduction (that’s how essays work), so, saying I “cherry picked” those sentences is a stupid thing to say, as there’s nothing in that article that counters the introduction.

    3) Then, you call it “old”, Hmm, the Asia Times article is very recent, and they mention that source because it’s still relevant.

    4) Find me a credible article, from a western source (a professor), who contradicts the Asia Times article, you haven’t done that.

  • Global_South

    An op-ed in Asia times is your recent scholarly source. You’re funny! Brahma Chellany is famous, search for him yourself. Anthony James Joes was appointed to faculty of Saint Joseph’s University, 1969; full professor,
    1980. Visiting Professor, Department of National Security and Strategy,
    U.S. Army War College, 2001-2003. (see http://www.sju.edu/about-sju/faculty-staff/anthony-james-joes-phd). Bruce A. Elleman is Professor of Maritime History (see https://www.usnwc.edu/Academics/Faculty/Bruce-Elleman.aspx).

    I have given you three sources two of which were published by universities in US and one by Routledge, I can give you more ‘western sources”. But you seem to prefer reading op-eds by retired bureaucrats on AT, of all the places, rather than scholarly books. Okay I’ll indulge you. Read this article from worldaffairs journal – http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/china-and-india-today-diplomats-jostle-militaries-prepare. The author is a professor…. http://www.apcss.org/college/faculty/malik/

    In this article he notes exactly what I’ve been saying “During his last visit to India, in 2010, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao
    dashed any hopes of early border settlement, stating that it would take a
    very long time to settle the boundary issue—a situation that in many
    ways works to Beijing’s advantage. An unsettled border provides China
    the strategic leverage to keep India uncertain about its intentions, and
    nervous about its capabilities, while exposing India’s vulnerabilities
    and weaknesses, and encouraging New Delhi’s “good behavior” on issues of
    vital concern.”.

    In another article published in China Quarterly of Cambridge University Press he goes into the Chinese occupation of 14500 sq kms of territory (http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/chnaquar36&div=19&id=&page=). I could go on but I don’t see the point.

  • Biased

    I believe Russia closed NDN last month. It was reported in Free Europe.

  • Maria

    the NDN includes many passes, some of those passes don’t even go through Russia.

  • Biased

    Enumerate one operational pass? Please 🙂
    Because the tenuous air corridor from Azeri airspace into Georgia is way too close to Putin’s radars AFAIK.