'The US can’t get rid of Karzai – for now'
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Recent controversial statements from Hamid Karzai have prompted speculation of a breakdown in his government’s ties with the US. But Afghanistan expert Etienne de Durand believes Washington has few options besides working with the Afghan president.
Tensions between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Washington hit a new low after Karzai accused the West at the start of April of being responsible for election fraud in the August presidential elections. Just a few days later, Karzai told a gathering of tribal leaders that he was no "puppet" and that they would have a veto over a planned NATO offensive in the insurgency-hit province.
According to an Afghan parliamentarian quoted by the New York Times, Karzai has even declared he could join the Taliban if the US keep applying pressure on him over his recent attempts to amend Afghanistan’s electoral law.
Etienne de Durand, an Afghanistan expert and director of the Paris-based Centre for Security Studies (IFRI), sheds some light on the recent baffling statements by the embattled Afghan leader.
FRANCE 24: Has the unrelenting pressure from the US on matters of governance and corruption prompted Karzai to adopt this anti-Western tone?
Etienne de Durand: Karzai is actually under extreme pressure. The nature of these pressures is significant even in a country like Afghanistan. The Obama administration has humiliated Karzai with its very public demands and by challenging him over his family circle. In return, Karzai has gone after the Americans.
Above all, Karzai want to look like a credible partner, and refuses to be regarded as a mere puppet of the White House. He has been president for several years, and this has allowed him to develop a network, and he’s probably already thinking about what happens the day after NATO leaves Afghanistan. It is to assert his independence that he’s biting back at the West - biting, in effect, the hand that feeds him.
F24: So these anti-Western statements are rather a domestic posture, with no diplomatic implications?
E.D.: Karzai is not about to join the Taliban. But we should not underestimate the force of this rhetoric. Remember, Karzai is the legitimate president of Afghanistan and has the power to demand the withdrawal of Western troops. Not only does he have the legal right, but European governments, that are struggling to maintain popular support for the Afghanistan war, may be tempted to take his word literally.
Even President [Barack] Obama may want to reconsider his full commitment to that war - which he described as "just" - and withdraw US ground troops to refocus his terrorism strategy with more use of drones and air strikes. This type of withdrawal is no longer an unimaginable scenario.
F24: Does the United States have any option but to support Karzai "to the end"?
E. D.: We’re no longer living in the 1960s when a leader could be swept out of power with a coup. Impeaching Karzai today could have a disastrous effect on the war. The US already experienced this in Vietnam, and it was very costly!
Moreover, the US cannot oust a president who has just been re-elected. In fact, it was during the election campaign that the US could have changed things, using the threat of a military withdrawal or openly supporting opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah.
The US cannot get rid of Karzai - for now - and he needs to learn to live with the West.