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LOST GROUND

The Taliban in Afghanistan have just bettered their record. After having repeatedly demonstrated the ease with which they could breach high-security zones in Kabul, they have carefully selected their prey this time. In an uncanny resemblance to the 2008 Mumbai massacres, the Taliban ambushed a Lebanese restaurant popular with the expatriate population in Kabul and killed a large number of foreigners. Their anti-Western, anti-American message could not have hit harder at a time Afghanistan is readying itself for the drawdown end of this year. But it is ironical that the president, Hamid Karzai, should seek to make common cause with the Taliban. Instead of condemning the attack, Mr Karzai has equated the suffering of the expatriate population with that of Afghanistan’s civilians who face the brunt of the Western forces’ counter-insurgency operations. Mr Karzai seems to be referring to a recent operation in Parwan that killed several civilians, an incident the Taliban too have cited as reason for their latest attack. Mr Karzai has pushed the envelope further by insisting that North Atlantic Treaty Organisation troops should stop all military action and air strikes in Afghanistan before he considers the bilateral security agreement with the United States of America.

Clearly, Mr Karzai is deeply uncomfortable about signing the BSA with the US and being painted a villain twice over. Having been portrayed as a stooge of Western powers, he is trying his best to gain back agency in the negotiations with the US. The effort has left him no more popular with the Taliban than with the aid-providers, who believe that a toehold in the country is necessary to keep a tab on their money, especially since the Karzai administration has set no great example in accountability. Mr Karzai’s indecision has ensured that Afghans keep looking at a prolonged spate of violence and instability. As the anxious protestors at the Kabul restaurant, who denounced their president’s stand, showed, the ordinary Afghan knows best what could unfold if foreigners were to withdraw completely, as the Taliban insist. From ensuring security to facilitating healthcare and education and supervising elections, foreigners are there in Afghanistan’s hair. To insist on a purge may be catastrophic now. Although Mr Karzai is not exactly doing that, his vacillation is only strengthening the Taliban’s hands at the cost of the interests of his countrymen.