Q. The second round of Afghan presidential elections will take place shortly. President Hamid Karzai, widely seen as the favorite, and his former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, as the leading contender. Does it matter who wins?
A. Yes, it matters. The general perception about the post-Taliban leadership in Afghanistan is that it does what the United States of America wants it to do. There is no doubt t0he Americans have considerable influence on President Hamid Karzai, and the situation might also be the same in Afghanistan under Abdullah Abdullah. The reason for this is simple: as long as Taliban-led insurgency haunts the Afghan leadership, it will remain dependent upon international security forces led by the United States. However, it would be simplistic to argue that the strings of power in Afghanistan are entirely in the hands of the Americans, and therefore, it does not matter who wins or loses in lections. The ground reality is quite complex. There have been instances in recent years where Mr Karzai asserted and attempted to toe a different line.
As for President Karzai’s comparative ability as an Afghan leader with Mr Abdullah, the other main contender, I think because of his relatively long experience as a head of state in the post-Taliban period and his Pashtun identity, he may be a better choice for the Afghans. He is very well known internationally by now. His policies and approaches have evolved over time, shifting from a staunch anti-Taliban person until a few years ago to a man who wishes some sort of conditional reconciliation with the insurgents at present. Mr Abdullah’s Tajik-Panjsheri connection will be a major obstacle to the potential peace process in the war-torn country in the foreseeable future.
Q. I guess that United States government officials would prefer that Karzai
not be reelected. What is the reason to this?
A.I don’t think so. I think the emerging mood in the United States, and the increasing preference of the Obama Administration, is to resolve the Afghan conflict not through war alone but, rather, through the adoption of additional measures, which includes political conciliation with those insurgents who are willing to dissociate themselves from al-Qaeda, surrender arms and become a part of the political process in Afghanistan. This is exactly what Mr Karzai also aims to achieve. As I argued before, the post-Taliban Afghan leadership whom we some time simplistically assume to be only acting as a puppet of America also acts smart, conducts pragmatically, and has real-politic ambitions—just as leaders of a great power such as the United States often have.
Q. Karzai said in a debate recently he would favor some arrangement with the
Taliban. Is that an appropriate strategy?
A.I think it is a fair argument to make at this stage by the Afghan leader. You see in the last few months, Taliban have been beaten up considerably by the US, British and other NATO forces. In Helmand, we have seen a full-fledged US-NATO operation in recent weeks, and quite a successful one. At the same time, on the other side of the Afghan border, Pakistani troops have undertook a successful counter-insurgency operation in Swat and beyond, culminating in last month’s death of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone attack in South Waziristan.
I strongly belive that such an intensified security campaign across the Afghan border by US-NATO forces and Pakistani forces, respectively, is essentially aimed at crushing the extremist-terrorist-insurgent forces enough so that those who manage to survive these operations are compelled to come around the table and negotiate peace largely on the terms and conditions of the state and international state parties involved in the current war against al-Qaeda-inspired and Taliban led terrorist insurgency.
Q. President Obama made the statement the other day that the Afghan war was
a "war of necessity." This has become something of a theological argument,
whether the war is one of "choice" or "necessity." How do you see this?
A.Well, the US President makes this distinction largely in the context of the stance he took in the US presidential race last year. From the platform of his Democratic Party, he had accused the Bush administration of choosing a war that was not needed—the Iraq war—which, in his opinion, diverted the international attention, particularly that of America, from Afghanistan, which he identified as a “war of necessity.”
A natural extension of the above argument is that the reason Taliban insurgency has increased in Afghanistan in the last four to five years, and overtime become difficult to manage, is because of the start of the Iraq war. In other words, if Iraq war had not taken place, then the international community would have stabilized the situation in Afghanistan considerably by now.
Q. What policy does the U.S need to apply in Afghanistan?
A.I wish the United States remained flexible in exercising its policy options in Afghanistan in the coming months and years. One thing is for sure: the Obama Administration, unlike its predecessor, has proven to be quite creative in handling the Afghan quagmire. Richard Hobrooke is a world renowned and very capable diplomat and negotiator. He is being assisted by an able academic expert on Afghanistan, Mr Barnett Rubin, whom I recently met in Afghanistan.
The United States under President Obama is open to try any option, including reaching out to former insurgents, as has been the case with the success story in Iraq, to achieve peace in Afghanistan. The new US administration also wishes to involve all the regional stakeholders in Afghanistan, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia. I think it is a reasonably pragmatic approach, which has far more chances of success than a policy driven only by a reckless use of force, with a multiplier effect on insurgents in their militant-terrorist response to all the forces combating al-Qaeda-inspired, Taliban-led terrorism in the region.
Access interview in Persian at farsnews.com