Author: Habib Sangar
Yesterday marked the 14th anniversary of 9/11- the deadliest terror attack on American soil that killed nearly 3,000 people in a single day. The commemoration of this day came this year in a time when after nearly a decade and half of war against terror, Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan President, who had been installed by the Americans and guarded for years by American bodyguards on his own request to protect him, has doubted the very existence of Al Qaeda and has called it a “myth” instead of a reality. His provocative remarks come in a critical time when Afghanistan is undergoing financial, political, and socioeconomic turmoil, the situation which is believed to be the outcome of the failures he himself made and the opportunities missed over 13 years of his tenure as head of State.
9/11 has changed Afghanistan into a totally different place than it was under the Taliban. In compare to Taliban’s era, life has significantly improved for the Afghans in so many ways. Nearly around 10 million students, 3.5 millions of which are girls, are currently enrolled in schools. Human capital, namely among the young generation, has unprecedentedly gone up. Health care, women rights, socioeconomic opportunities for the people which all in part contribute to a longer life- expectancy span, improved significantly.
Despite all positive changes that occurred over the last 14 years, there are still persistent and daunting challenges that are entirely inherited to the current administration from Karzai’s incompetent leadership style. The current type of unique government in Afghanistan- Government of National Unity– is the outcome of disputed and controversial election, which was conducted and organized by the appointees chosen and installed by president Karzai himself. Not only he failed to ensure and facilitate a transparent and legitimate elections, it is widely believed that he intentionally had tried to either fail the election or bring an administration that would be worse than the one he ruled over. The increasing unemployment rate and steady decline in economic growth are among major reasons for thousands of Afghans who are leaving the country and risking their lives in pursue of a better future in European countries.
But the ongoing situation- some people would even call it a crisis- is neither born overnight nor in span of a year. No matter who and how would to be elected instead of current president, this situation was defiantly expected to come. In compare to Ghani, president Karzai had no vision and long term economic goals that would economically and politically enable Afghanistan to adjust itself with such huge transition that it’s undergoing now.
Karzai’s rhetoric of America’s involvement in Afghanistan in war against terror is not something new and surprising. The dramatic shift in his viewpoint emerged shortly after president Obama sworn in as newly elected president and reinstated his position of bringing an end to the “blank check”– the type of assistance that Obama believed was delivered to Karzai’s administration by his predecessor, President George W. Bush. Furthermore, the 2009 disputed and fraudulent election was among the other main reasons that contributed to President Karzai’s anger and frustration, for which he blamed U.S. Administration, especially Richard Holbrooke and Peter Galbraith to oust him either by his main rival Abdullah Abdullah or through forming a new administration under Ashraf Ghani or Dr. Ali Ahmad Jalali.
According to an account by Afghanistan Analysts Network, in 1994 when the Taliban were emerging as a resistance force to bring an end point to the authority of warlords and the cruelty they were committing all over Afghanistan, Karzai with the intention of gaining power and influence among the group had supported the movement and lobbied among western embassies in Islamabad to support them. However, his position changed soon after the Taliban refused to appoint him as their representative in the United Nations.
As head of Transitional State of Afghanistan while addressing the joint session of U.S. Congress, Karzai listed the achievements made under his leadership and attributed to the close relationship and partnership between the United States and Afghanistan. He said that Afghanistan would have not made any progress without the support of the United States. With the sacrifices made by the American men women in uniform, he stated, Afghan people became liberated from the oppression and brutality of Al Qaeda and their affiliates.
Denying these facts on existence of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan before 9/11 is similar to the very popular afghan proverb of “trying to hide the sun with a finger”. In a recent interview with Aljazeera Network he not only contradicted his previous stand and viewpoint, he, however, has questioned the ultimate sacrifices and price Afghans and international community have paid together in fight against terror.
The difference in viewpoint with the United States, especially with President Obama’s administration’s approach in fight against terror and dealing with Pakistan might reflect, to some extent, the grievances of Afghan people in regard to Pakistan’s double standard policy on fighting terror. But publically criticizing the United States in such tone will undermine the efforts, sacrifices, and resources the international community and afghan people have paid for the liberation of Afghanistan from Al Qaeda and its remnants.
As Afghanistan is heavily dependent on international aid and will do so for so many years to come, bringing peace and stability- both in economic terms and security- would not be possible without the assistance and support of the International community. Afghans, especially our leaders, should not blame others for the mistakes that we, the Afghans, have played a role in it. Afghanistan, under president Karzai’s leadership, had been named one of the most corrupted countries on earth. There is no doubt that he helped bring unity among the afghan people, but his approach of reaching to this goal constantly violated the main principles of democracy and institutional reforms. Warlords and drug traffickers gained more power and assets under his watch; they even politically and economically got empowered to the extent that today posse a greater danger for the survival of this shaky government. The current Afghan government, under president Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah, is yet to be done halfway cleaning the mess president Karzai and his team made during his 13 years in office.
Habib Sangar is Former Director of Afghanistan Parliamentary Institute and graduate alumni of Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, United States. He can be followed at https://twitter.com/h_sangar