Opinion

Obama should tell Karzai it's time to resign

Karzai’s failed leadership is preventing the US from succeeding in Afghanistan.

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America’s hopes for a reliable partner in Afghanistan were crushed as soon as the Obama administration based its strategy on a partnership with President Hamid Karzai. Today, security in Afghanistan is more fragile than before the military surge. Yet, Washington policymakers insist that we’re on the right track.

We’re not. According to Pentagon’s April Report on Progress toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, 29 percent of Afghans rate US and NATO forces as good, a drop from 38 percent in December. The Pentagon study also concludes that out of 121 important districts, only 29 could be classified as sympathetic to the Afghan government.

While Karzai’s government loses ground, the Taliban have expanded the war into northern Afghanistan and slipped back into Marjah, the town American troops recently freed from Taliban occupation.

Despite this, the Obama administration is backing away from its earlier tough rhetoric toward Karzai. Instead, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and senior officials are treating him like a trusted friend during his visit to Washington this week. Apparently, they’ve concluded that they’re stuck with Karzai, so they better work with – rather than against – the Afghan president.

That’s not a strategy for success, and it assumes that Washington has no options. But it does. Instead of playing nice, the Obama administration should force Karzai to resign.

Without a reliable and capable partner in Kabul, US strategy will fail. If Karzai stays in power, the massive US sacrifice in blood and treasure to create a stable country free from terrorist infiltration will be wasted. Consider the evidence:

1. Despite promising to fight corruption, Karzai continues to shield high-level officials from prosecution. The percentage of Afghans who claim that corruption affects their lives rose from 79 percent in September 2009 to 83 percent in March 2010.

2. It recently was uncovered that Kabul Bank, Afghanistan’s largest private bank, has spent at least $150 million in real estate purchases in Dubai for the benefit of some of Afghanistan’s political elite. Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s brother, is among the beneficiaries, having reportedly received a gift of an expensive house.

3. When American forces chased the Taliban out of Marjah, it was left to Karzai to dispatch a representative to buttress the military success with good governance. Mr. Karzai’s choice for district governor was a person who reportedly spent four years in a German jail for stabbing his stepson.

As the US continues to do business with Karzai, it should not wonder when Afghans doubt America’s sincerity. Especially now that the US wishes to negotiate with the Taliban, it must convince its enemies that it says what it means and does what it says.

Half-measures will not prevent Afghanistan’s slide into mayhem. It certainly could not be done by “paging Khalilzad,” as Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker recently suggested.

In 2001, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad was the prime force behind the creation of the post-Taliban government and installation of Karzai as its interim president.

Far from keeping “the bad guys at bay,” as Ms. Parker suggests, it was Messrs. Khalilzad and Karzai who forged close cooperative relations with a number of warlords and gave drug kingpins a free hand, transforming Afghanistan, which the UN had certified free of poppy cultivation in 2001, to the world’s largest opium producer.

Khalilzad should be the last person the White House ought to be “paging.” It was the Faustian bargain that Khalilzad and Karzai entered into with warlords and criminals that has caused 70 percent of Afghanistan to fall back into Taliban hands, bringing the country to the brink of collapse.

Instead of tolerating Karzai, Washington should force him to resign. The US and its allies should then assist the Afghan people to form a transitional administration, giving it a minimum of two years to break the warlords’ hold on the government, trim Kabul’s bloated administration, clean up the courts and police, draft laws that reflect the ethical and commercial norms of the 21st century, and prepare the nation for free elections.

Such a radical change may not be easy to implement and could possibly be messy. Nevertheless, as daunting as the job may appear, it must be done for the sake of both America and Afghanistan.

Nasir Shansab is the author of “Soviet Expansion in the Third World: Afghanistan a Case Study.” He’s working on a modern history of Afghanistan.

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