Millennium Post

Understanding Hamid Karzai

In less than a few days, Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president since December 2001, will step down from his plum post to make way for others. Once the blue-eyed boy of US-led western powers, the scourge of Taliban and Soviet Russia, the undisputed face of Kabul in the international dais, indeed the sympathetic interpreter of many an ‘Afghan malady’, good friend of former US president George W Bush – Karzai has donned several hats. Constitutionally barred from enjoying a third term as president, Karzai is retiring after more than a decade of overseeing, and often pulling the strings of, events that have shaped present-day Afghanistan, touted the ‘graveyard of international diplomacy’ with its myriad disappointments and periodical promises. The presidential polls of 5 April will bring down the curtain on a career as chequered as hopeful, as mercurial and symbolic, of a man from the badlands promising deliverance from the turbulent days of Talibanised 2001 and over the years, failing spectacularly in doing that. Hamid Karzai, now in his 13th year of power, however has much to still offer to the political economy of his battleground. Even though he leaves behind a tangled and questionable legacy, Karzai did have policymakers in the post-9/11 world harbour hope that a de-Talibanised Afghanistan was possible. That the dream was gradually quashed, with Taliban resurgence since 2007 sending the country back to Stone Age, almost, and donor-fatigue causing the ‘friendly’ western regimes to slowly dry up their alms, Karzai is now a bitter overlord arranging his ceremonious exit, eager to cast his name in stone and in ‘nationalist’ colours.

But like all beginnings, Karzai’s sudden entry into the global Af-Pak diplomacy scene was pregnant with hope. After the fall of Soviet Union and withdrawal of Russian forces, the takeover of the political void that was Afghanistan had been the fallout of a Frankensteinish experiment by the Americans with the Taliban. Once that backfired, Kabul had been consigned to the scrapyard of global politics, until post-9/11 contingencies stirred American sentiments enough to put their money on Karzai. A native of Kandahar, a Pashtun who had even dabbled in sympathising with the Taliban for a while, Karzai was the man of the hour in the difficult and shocked times of 2001. First installed as the head of a transitional government, Karzai sailed through the 2004 elections and then, in 2009, he came to power again, even though charges of electoral rigging were thrown around. In fact, Karzai was never an American ‘puppet’ as some of his detractors would term him, but someone who played the powers that be to give Afghanistan a chance in the wild. His increasing acrimony with the Obama regime, his refusal to sign the draconian Bilateral Security Agreement and his recent flirtation with Taliban chiefs to broker peace ‘organically’ have all been fronted as signs of the end of his era. But can he survive the political endgame?
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