- Published on Thursday, 28 July 2011 13:08
In late 2009, Barack Obama dispatched 21,000 American troops to Afghanistan. Although a sizable number, the troop deployment was less than anticipated. Following the guidance of some key advisers, President Obama withheld the deployment of additional troops on the warning that the American intervention in the Southern (ethnic Pashtun) areas did more harm than good, serving as an oppositional force that had galvanized support for the Taliban.
While this lack of additional troop deployment concerned Obama’s critics, his advisers and close confidants were reassured by the other assets the U.S. had on the ground — namely one man, Ahmed Wali Karzai.
Ahmed Wali Karzai was President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother. The most powerful man on the ground in Southern Afghanistan, A.W. Karzai was a surrogate with unlimited political latitude, an ultimate negotiator and a stubborn and ruthless ideologue. Largely, and sometimes reluctantly, aided by the United States, he brokered deals with local tribes, Pakistani forces, and even the Taliban. Widely credited for maintaining the peace in the region and forging temporary (if hostile) settlements, A. W. Karzai was a key player not only in Afghan-U.S. relations, but to the long-term peace process in Afghanistan.
This month, that peace process took a major step backward as Ahmed Wali Karzai, 50, was shot to death by his bodyguard. Many saw his death as inevitable; a polarizing man with close ties to the United States, large drug-trafficking networks, and unabashed political and military persuasion was bound to face violent dissent.
Nevertheless, Karzai was a crucial asset to the U.S. His presence on the ground led to new alliances and established a paradigm whereby local negotiating power on the ground trumped foreign troop effectiveness in the region. His loss will leave a gaping hole to fill. What does this mean for the future of Southern Afghanistan?
Some analysts, such as Fareed Zakaria, argue that the type of political business Ahmed Wali Karzai excelled at is urgently needed today to bring stability to Afghanistan. Although Zakaria is correct in illustrating the need for local brokering on the ground, I disagree with the broader implications of his premise. A.W. Karzai was an ideologue, an ornery and unquestionably corrupt man circumventing legitimate government control. And while the underbelly of corruption blankets his entire country, it undermines the peace process for legitimate action. The type of political brokering Karzai conducted was a political and economic nightmare for the region and a living hell for the region’s non-Pashtun population. Reestablishing this pattern is not the way forward for Afghanistan.
To move beyond the death of Karzai, The United States and Afghanistan will have to broaden their scope of political negotiations across various parties and various regions. Fifty-eight percent of the population is not Pashtun and 65% speaks a language other than Pashtu. Negotiations must surely include all the country’s stakeholders, accounting for their interests. Settlements will need to be forged using a comprehensive contingency of ground negotiations that report directly to a legitimate governmental - and institutional- authority, not one man’s subjective approval or denial.
Backing Ahmed Wali Karzai, The United States placed all of its proverbial eggs in one basket. The foreign policy of an entire region was tied to the heartbeat of one man. And with a single bullet, the US saw its foreign policy and its clout in the region of Afghanistan dissolve almost immediately.
By Zain Velji, Aslan Media Contributor