Dexter Filkins at NYT:
Two senior Afghan officials were showing President Hamid Karzai the evidence of the spectacular rocket attack on a nationwide peace conference earlier this month when Mr. Karzai told them that he believed the Taliban were not responsible.
“The president did not show any interest in the evidence — none — he treated it like a piece of dirt,” said Amrullah Saleh, then the director of the Afghan intelligence service.
Mr. Saleh declined to discuss Mr. Karzai’s reasoning in more detail. But a prominent Afghan with knowledge of the meeting, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Karzai suggested in the meeting that it might have been the Americans who carried it out.
Minutes after the exchange, Mr. Saleh and the interior minister, Hanif Atmar, resigned — the most dramatic defection from Mr. Karzai’s government since he came to power nine years ago. Mr. Saleh and Mr. Atmar said they quit because Mr. Karzai made clear that he no longer considered them loyal.
Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:
This confrontation between Karzai and his intelligence minisiter Amrullah Saleh–widely seen among the Americans as among the most competent members of Karzai government–has been the talk of Kabul and Washington this past week. My sources say that the confrontation got very hot, a major screaming match. My sources also say that Karzai’s insane accusation, that the U.S. conspired to launch rockets at his peace jirga, was more an outburst of unhinged fury than evidence of core paranoia. The real concern here is that the Karzai government may be splitting back into the same old Afghan factions: north versus south, Pashtuns versus the Northern Alliance.
There is also an India versus Pakistan dimension here. The Pakistanis, who have significant influence over the Afghan Taliban, have been demanding that Saleh be sacked; they consider him an Indian agent (he was active in the Northern Alliance, which received support from India). Saleh was able to remain in his job, despite serious disagreements with Karzai, in part because he had the strong backing of the CIA. Karzai’s willingness to sack him, or let him resign, could well be a sign that Karzai is tilting toward Pakistan, which would be crucial if there is to be a rapprochment with the Taliban.
This is only the tip of a very distressing iceberg (or, given the locale, the leading edge of a blinding sandstorm). I’ll have more on it in my print column this week.
After several months of seeming to have calmed down in the wake of the uproar that followed his controversial, and most likely corrupted, election “victory,” it seems that Karzai has once against returned to the phlegmatic, seemingly irrational at times, behavior that we saw several months ago when he was doing things like threatening to join the Taliban. If nothing else, Karzai has proven that he is an unreliable “ally,” a fact which itself calls into question the entire reason for the American mission in Afghanistan, which at this point seems to be reduced to fighting the Taliban that Karzai threatened to join and propping up Karzai’s seemingly corrupt regime.
I’ve been asking for a couple years now what the heck we’re doing in Afghanistan, and when I see the leader of the nation we’re supposed to be defending acting like this, it just makes me wonder why we aren’t getting out of their faster.
Rich Lowry at The Corner:
Was just talking to someone following this situation closely, who thinks the thrust of this story may be slightly dated. He thinks that Karzai was somewhat reassured by his trip to Washington last month. But there’s no doubt that he’s hedging his bets.
Karzai’s priorities are increasingly diverging from the U.S. The resignations of Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan’s national intelligence agency, and Hanif Atmar, the Minister of Interior, while supposedly connected to security lapses at the recent Peace Jirga in Kabul, hint at deeper problems. Saleh and Atmar were said to share key priorities with the U.S., and were widely acknowledged to be among the most reliable members of the Afghan government. As always, rumors are rife about the true instigation and meaning of their resignations, and one possible consequence is that Karzai gets more direct control over key security services. Karzai, who appointed one of Afghanistan’s most notorious warlords to chair the Peace Jirga, has never seemed especially enthusiastic about either the planned Kandahar offensive or the good governance meant to follow it.
The Kandahar offensive, and subsequent claims of success, appear to be a foregone conclusion. Based on past evidence, a strong Taliban presence and bad governance after the assault seem similarly inevitable. I plan to keep a close eye on Alex Strick’s Twitter feed when the time comes.
Perhaps it’s time to put a sharper point on these two phenomena. The Obama administration decided last year to underscore to the Karzai government that the scope of its relationship with the U.S. needed to change. So out comes the July 2011 “inflection point,” a date to signal the beginning of the end of America bearing the lion’s share of the burden in the war, a beginning for transition to Afghan control, and a kick in the ass for the Karzai government to get around to governing.
But it’s an ambiguous date. The Obama administration adds that Afghanistan is going to be a strategic long-term partner long after the U.S. withdraws its troops, and everyone in NATO understands the money will keep flowing. Gen. McChrystal begins hugging Karzai even tighter, and the rest of the Obama administration eventually follows suit, recognizing that he’s the only game in town. So the political message is — to put it judiciously — subtle.
Maybe too subtle. Karzai’s most visible initiative following the announcement of the July 2011 date hasn’t been an intensified effort at governing, as we can see in Marja. It’s been to seek reconciliation with the Taliban through the Peace Jirga. And unsurprisingly, the Taliban isn’t interested. If you were a Taliban fighter, and you saw that the Karzai government wasn’t actually making itself more relevant to people’s lives in the areas in which you operate but it was dangling an olive branch before you, that would probably look like negotiating from the point of weakness. Why not just continue fighting when your enemy is weak and looking to sue for peace?
Maybe there’s a way to change Karzai’s behavior. The Kabul Conference may be an opportunity to underscore that reconciliation without intensified governance isn’t going to change insurgent calculations. Or maybe — as a diplomat argued to me yesterday — the governance effort is a lagging indicator that just takes more time to manifest than Washington-based jerks like me are willing to concede. And the logic of underscoring in a real way to Karzai that the U.S. isn’t writing a blank check anymore is compelling. But a preliminary assessment of the political utility of setting the July 2011 date is that it’s not having the intended effect on Afghan governance.
DRJ at Patterico:
Wars and allies are sometimes thrust upon us. Like him or not, Karzai’s support is vital to winning in Afghanistan but Obama has alienated him and is now stuck trying to climb back to where he began 18 months ago. Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan has become the longest-ever war America has fought and its monthly costs outpace the War in Iraq. It’s worth it if our leaders are committed to winning but it’s not clear they are.
It’s also interesting to watch President Obama repeatedly try to harange, intimidate and cajole foreign leaders into doing what he wants. It worked domestically. It’s not working as well outside the U.S.
Whatever happens in this three-quarters surge, in these talks with the Taliban and with Karzai’s government, the end state needs to al Qaeda destroyed or at least in a box. Neither of those things are going to happen if the Taliban gains any kind of role or leverage in government in anything but a severely diminished state. It also isn’t going to happen if we don’t have a long-term military presence in the area in some form.
So if Karzai has no confidence in the Americans, is actively seeking to undermine the Americans and the surge, and is interested in making nice with the Taliban indiscriminately, whether for some high ideals of peace or to save his own neck, what the heck do we, or Afghans who aren’t interested in that kind of arrangement, do about it.