Deep Concerns as Karzai Starts Second Term

Fears of collapse overshadow the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's second term

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Just a few months after the fraud-plagued election and canceled runoff vote, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was sworn in for his second five-year term. But as President Obama considers how many additional troops to send to the troubled nation, fears of Karzai's role in the country overshadowed the ceremony. Corruption tops the list of concerns, following reports that the Afghan Minister of Mines accepted a $30 million bribe.

Obama recently said of Karzai, "He has some strengths, but he has some weaknesses. I'm less concerned about any individual than I am with a government as a whole that is having difficulty providing basic services to its people in a way that confers legitimacy on them." If Karzai is to meet even the his own people's very low standards -- much less the standards of the international community that has 100,000 troops in Afghanistan -- here is what we must address.

  • Tension in Kabul Foreign Policy's Asma Nemati reports from the streets during Karzai's inauguration. "The pre-inauguration mood in Kabul is tense. Television ads this week have been warning Afghans to stay home and limit movements on November 19. Threats of attacks are piling higher and higher as organizations scuttle to advise caution to Afghan and international workers alike," he writes. "Most in Afghanistan today will be glued to TV screens or radio speakers. In general, Afghans would like the inauguration to be over with so that they can continue their lives. Let's just hope Karzai keeps at least some of his promises to improve security and combat corruption."
  • Corruption, Corruption, Corruption The L.A. Times' Alexandra Zavis laments the "poppy palaces" -- opium-financed mansions -- kept by so many Afghan officials who dabble in the drug trade. "Cronyism, graft and the flourishing drug trade have destroyed public confidence in the government of President Hamid Karzai and contributed to the resurgence of the Taliban by driving disaffected Afghans to side with insurgents and protecting an important source of their funding. With casualties mounting and a decision on military strategy looming, President Obama and other Western leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to justify sending troops to fight for a government rife with corruption."
  • Mind For U.S. Exit Senator John Kerry suggests Karzai and his forces should play a role. "Success is to turn over to the Afghans the ability to maintain their security, to stay engaged in the region and to continue development programs. But to do it at a pace that is primarily focused on a transition so that we can draw down our forces over a period of, say, four to five years," he says. "But we have to find a strategy that is achievable to marginalize the Taliban and to maximize the ability of the Afghans themselves to begin to take over the security."
  • Anti-Corruption Agency Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted Karzai must "recognize the necessity for a new compact with the people of Afghanistan" without corruption. "[I]ncluding putting together a credible anticorruption governmental entity - a commission, an agency, something that truly can deliver on the concerns that we and the people of Afghanistan have about corruption. They've done some work on that, but in our view, not nearly enough to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose to tackle corruption. And it is going to be one of the principled requests that we make."
  • Stability On Pakistan Border Senator John Kerry argues nothing is more important. "If Afghanistan were not on the border of Pakistan, we wouldn't be there. Pakistan is the central issue, in my judgment, and Afghanistan is sort of the means to the achievement of our goals in Pakistan. The ostensible rationale for our being there today is we want to prevent Afghanistan from being a sanctuary for al-Qaeda to come back," he says. "Pakistan is very important strategically for a lot of different reasons. First, it is today a democracy. It's on the border of Iran, on the border of Central Asian countries and Afghanistan. So if you have a stake in the successful repulsion of radical extreme religious ideology, this is a place where it's really critical."
  • 'Guardedly Optimistic' That's Michael O'Hanlon's assessment in the Washington Times, citing the modestly positive reception American troops receive in much of the country. "The Afghan people remain much more pro-Western and pro-American than generally portrayed. Arguments that Afghans are allergic to foreigners and xenophobic in outlook are much more wrong than right," he writes. "Afghans seem to relish the frequent Marine foot patrols through their villages and markets. Elders sometimes even ask if anyone knows, by name, the individual Americans who helped build their irrigation canals in the 1950s and whom they remember fondly to this day."
  • Dangerous Ethnic Divisions Foreign Affairs' James Dobbins explains how Afghanistan has fractured along ethnic lines since Karzai's initial rise. Before becoming president, Karzai "was leading a Pashtun militia in an ultimately successful effort to capture Kandahar, the country's last Taliban stronghold. Eventually, all four Afghan factions coalesced around the idea of Karzai leading the next Afghan government," writes Dobbins, a long-time American diplomat and official. "But once Karzai took office, he began to come under pressure from his Pashtun constituency to diminish a perceived ethnic Tajik stranglehold on the government's power ministries."
Now that Karzai has been declared the election's winner, the breach with Abdullah -- the man most responsible for his original rise to power -- could have very dangerous consequences. The last thing Karzai, NATO, and the United States can afford is the emergence of a renewed northern alliance of disaffected Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras. Together, these ethnic blocs represent at least half the Afghan population. [...]

The United States and the rest of the international community will consequently be pressing Karzai in the coming weeks either to bring Abdullah into government or at least provide him a respectable role among the leadership of a loyal opposition. This means affording him and his supporters some share in the spoils of government. Patronage is important to the functioning of political systems -- including those in the United States -- but is particularly so in impoverished states such as Afghanistan, where there are few other opportunities for advancement.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.