In the modern Afghan history it is a truism that anyone the outsiders tried to negotiate with became the person who wasn’t worth negotiating with. Hamid Karzai seems aware of this Afghan temper. By publicaly exhibiting an independent streak, Hamid Karzai, in the recent months, has been quite successful in impressing the discerning Afghans.
In a still recent interview with the British writer and historian William Dalrymple, the Afghan president sounded firm. “America and Britain behave as if we also came through a colonial experience,” Karzai said. “We did not. We always won in the fight, but we lost politically. This time I want to make sure we win politically too.”
Next in the interview, the presidential tone becomes characteristically nationalistic, “I would like to give a message through you to the West. Pressure tactics will not work on me. We are only looking for a fair deal — a deal in which the interests of Afghanistan are kept in mind. . . . You will not get an Afghanistan divided into fiefdoms. We will not allow it. Over our dead bodies.”
On a lighter side, Dalrymple had chip in comments from the associates of the Afghan President. “He’s very fit indeed,” said Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan intelligence chief. “He takes at least an hour’s exercise each night and exhausts the guards that have to keep up with him.” Mahmood, who is a brother, agreed: “He’s very disciplined physically. And he’s extremely moderate in his eating. You know how delicious our melons are? I’ve often seen his hand hovering over a second slice, and then he resists. He has steely discipline.”
To cap it all, the Afghan President had tell, “I am not an opponent of the West. I am just the slave of the interests of the Afghan people. And that I shall fulfill.”
But, there is more beneath the surface. Afghanistan is a land of bewildering yet fascinating paradoxes. To politically govern it, a leader is thrown with the challenges of surmounting surreal contradictions of his position. It is not clear that the US President Barack Obama intellectualizes this Afghan surreality. Obama’s recent telephone call to Karzai is bland in its political content.
In the latest academic literature on Afghanistan, there is one piece in Afghan historian Tamim Ansary’s Games without Rules: The Often-Interrupted History of Afghanistan, which US President may look into. The passage is liberally quoted herewith, “Trying to negotiate between the local and global forces, between the inner and outer worlds, put Afghan rulers in a double bind. Anyone who wanted to rule this country had to secure the sponsorship of the strongest foreigners impinging on the country at that moment; yet no Afghan could rule this country for long without the allegiance of the country’s deepest traditional forces. To the dominant outside power, therefore, every would-be ruler had to portray himself as a partner. At the same time, to his country’s internal forces, he had portray himself as a tough guy standing up to foreign bullies. The kings who best succeeded in this balancing act did so by covertly pursuing “modernization” while overtly proclaiming themselves champions of conservative social and religious values.”
But, the curious part is: What if Obama is already aware of this Afghan surreality?
Asimov Arifov is a political scientist/researcher with The École des hautes études en sciences sociales, (EHESS) Paris, France. He is about to publish a book on the geopolitics of the Hindukush Region. He can be followed on twitter @asimovarifov for his latest updates.