As Petraeus exits, US interests in Afghanistan far from secured
Gen. David Petraeus is giving up command of the Afghanistan war to take charge of the CIA. Announcement of the shift comes during a bad week for NATO in Afghanistan.
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It's not just in the ethnically Pashtun south where the international coalition is facing problems. On April 1, the lightly guarded UN compound in the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif was overrun by a mob enraged by an obscure American preacher's burning of a copy of the Quran on March 20. The mob murdered at least eight people inside, a number of them foreigners.Skip to next paragraph
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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Afghan officials insisted the crowd had been infiltrated by the Taliban, who took advantage of what had been planned as a peaceful protest. But the Taliban don't really have much of a presence in Mazar, and strange Pashtuns from out of town quickly draw lots of attention. It's also interesting that the protest focused on the UN – a general symbol of the foreign presence in Afghanistan – rather than a symbol of the American presence. After all, the preacher who so offended the crowd was American.
While Muslim intolerance was the spark for the deaths, many analysts argue that if the foreign presence was generally seen as positive and healthy in Mazar, the UN probably would have been spared. And, of course, that whole tragic chapter wouldn't have been opened without the efforts of Hamid Karzai, the man who the US installed as Afghanistan's leader and whose reelection in a fraud-tainted process has been tolerated by NATO.
Illiteracy in Afghanistan is high, Internet access is very low. Almost no one in the country knew of the Quran burning in Florida until March 24, when Karzai put out a press release describing the burning as an attack on the global community of Muslims and appeared to demand the preacher be arrested and tried for his "crime."
Christine Fair, a Georgetown University professor who focuses on Afghanistan and Pakistan, writes that Karzai probably "chose this path of deadly controversy to demonstrate his strategic independence from the United States, which pays his bills while his supporters loot his country’s coffers.... Washington must ask if it can justify squandering such life and treasure on Karzai when he time and time again undermines his and America’s interests."
if the Wall Street Journal is right, Karzai may be exploring his own options. Members of his government anonymously told the Journal that he's being wooed by Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani, who urged Karzai to ignore the US and "look to Pakistan – and its Chinese ally – for help in striking a peace deal with the Taliban and rebuilding the economy."
Petraeus came to the Afghanistan job at a time when the American project in Afghanistan was uncertain. His successor will be taking the job in much the same position.