“Yesterday’s bombings (in Afghanistan) in the name of the Taliban were aimed at serving the foreigners and supporting the presence of the foreigners in Afghanistan and keeping them in Afghanistan by intimidating us,” said Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, on March 10. What on earth could he have meant by that? The “foreigners” he is talking about are the troops from the United States of America and various Nato countries in Europe that have been in Afghanistan for the past dozen years. They will almost all be gone by the end of next year. Can Karzai seriously think that the Taliban bombs in Kabul and Khost on March 9, which killed 19 people, were meant to get the Americans, British, Germans and others to keep their soldiers in Afghanistan longer?
If he were the leader of al-Qaeda, you can imagine him saying that. It was always al-Qaeda’s goal to get Western military forces entangled in military occupations in the Muslim world, in the belief that that would encourage popular hostility both to the West and to the local leaders who collaborated with it. But Karzai is a collaborator, parachuted into Afghanistan after the American invasion in 2001. So what is all this nonsense about the Taliban bombs being an attempt to persuade the “foreigners” that they have to stay, and to “intimidate” Karzai and his cronies into letting them stay? It can best be explained as a manifestation of the “Najibullah syndrome”.
Najibullah was the communist leader who ruled Afghanistan during the latter stages of the Soviet occupation and immediately after the Russians left. When the Taliban finally took Kabul in 1996, he was tortured, castrated, dragged through the streets behind a truck, and then hanged from a traffic light. It can be safely assumed that Karzai and his cronies, when they contemplate the forthcoming American departure, are acutely aware of this precedent.
This leads to various flailing attempts by members of the regime to distance themselves from the American occupation forces who originally boosted them into power. Karzai has been increasingly vocal in criticizing the Nato forces in Afghanistan, as if he had nothing to do with their presence in the country, and didn’t owe his presidency to them.
Let’s deconstruct that remarkable statement by Karzai. The message is that he is an Afghan patriot trying to make the “foreigners” go home, whereas the Taliban are trying to keep the Americans and their Nato allies in the country to further their own purposes. It makes no sense whatever, but what else can he say? That the Taliban are winning, the Americans are getting out, and he is doomed? This is not to say that the Taliban will overrun all of Afghanistan after the Nato forces leave. They will undoubtedly gain control of the Pashtun-majority south and east, and they will probably take Kabul. They didn’t gain control of the Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek minority regions in the north of the country last time, and they may not do so after this bunch of foreigners leave either.
The likeliest post-occupation outcome in Afghanistan, therefore, is a reversion to the situation that prevailed there before 2001. Karzai will either leave or be tortured and killed, as will be most of his senior collaborators. Pakistan will be the dominant influence in Taliban-controlled parts of the country. If this is the outcome, what have the “foreigners” been doing in the country for the past 12 years? For the Nato alliance, which has been searching for a new role ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Afghan operation at least helped to justify its enormous budget. For the US, it never made sense from any point of view. And for Afghanistan, it was merely the continuation of a disaster now more than 30 years old.