Tough tasks



Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s second term is likely to be more challenging than the first. Not only is the situation in Afghanistan far more daunting today than it was in 2004 when he began his first innings as President but also, his position now is far weaker than it ever has been. In 2004, he was no doubt dismissed as an ‘American stooge.’ Yet he enjoyed the support of the international community and of Afghans looking for peace. That is not the situation today. Allegations of poll rigging have severely undermined his legitimacy. Non-Pashtun Afghans who had backed his rival Abdullah Abdullah have not accepted the election verdict. Karzai is in an unenviable situation.

Defeating the Taliban will no doubt be uppermost on President Karzai’s mind. The Taliban is said to have a ‘permanent presence’ in 80 per cent of Afghanistan. With democracy in Afghanistan coming out weaker from the elections, support for the Taliban would have increased. Then there is pressure that Abdullah will mount on Karzai in the coming months. This could have far reaching ramifications for Afghanistan’s territorial integrity. Karzai needs to reach out to the Tajiks, Hazaras and other ethnic groups and convince them that he is the president of all Afghans, not of Pashtuns alone. Corruption is endemic in Afghanistan and many of Karzai’s ministers are said to be engaged in the drug trade and other illegal activities. Karzai will have to stamp out corruption and rein in the warlords to show Afghans that democracy does deliver.

With ISAF troop casualties growing in recent months, several countries are looking for exit strategies. This is not the time for them to turn tail. Whatever their differences with Karzai, the international community must support him fully, whether it is with troops, funds or expertise. The US and Britain have issued ultimatums to the Afghan President — “rid your government of corruption or else we leave.” This is absurd. Karzai’s style of governance is undeniably a problem. As for the United Nations, following the death of five of its staffers in an attack on one of its guesthouses in Kabul, it has decided to temporarily downsize its presence in the capital. This is an unfortunate decision. The international community, especially the UN, should be standing by Afghanistan through this critical period and not cutting and running.

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