Get Karzai out of the line of fire in Afghanistan now!
Four months ago the World Security Network had already proposed moving Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai out of the line of fire - one of the first global media organisations to do so:
"Karzai should be invited by France into a golden retirement (previously managed successfully with African friends of the French leadership), as he is burned out after eight years. The West should support a more dynamic, credible leadership in Kabul, one legitimized by elections by the end of 2010. We should then see the first positive results of this new strategy." (see Hubertus Hoffmann, Afghanistan: Negotiations with the Taliban as the Path to Peace from December 7th, 2009)
Then on January 22, 2010 we repeated our proposal:
"Taliban leader Mullah Omar should be offered exile in Saudi Arabia, and Afghan President Karzai should be offered exile in France as a means of facilitating a new beginning." (see Hubertus Hoffmann, Afghanistan & Pakistan: A new and comprehensive NATO Double-Track Decision is needed)
Here are ten reasons why the allies have to get Hamid Karzai out of the line of fire in Afghanistan as soon as possible:
First, President Karzai is burned out after eight years of life-threatening power struggles. He can leave his concrete bunker palace in Kabul only for a maximum of 30 minutes. In an 2008 interview, he said: "I am an exhausted man, as I have been involved in this struggle for 22 years, not only seven."
This is too much for any politician, even someone like Bismarck, Reagan or Obama. Any good friend would advise Karzai to retreat now.
It is hard to blame him for being drained and spent. Unfortunately, the U.S. and their allies have not managed any process of refreshment at the top in Kabul in recent years; they have allowed this gradually fatal harassment. Like a boxer who is wounded and cannot win, Hamid Karzai should be taken out of the Afghan boxing ring by his western coaches and sponsors. The sooner the better, as according to a high-ranking UN official Karzai's latest disturbing speeches are only part of the problem.
Afghanistan needs a fresh, unconsumed and credible president. It needs good leadership, not someone jumpy and nervous at the top.
Second, Karzai's hopes for a personal reconciliation with the Taliban are naive. There is unfortunately no chance at all for this. Hardcore Taliban will hate him forever; they have tried to kill him several times, and will continue trying.
Third, his brutal manipulation of the 2009 elections was not a sin so much as an act of incompetence and hunger for power. It destroyed his credibility - or what remained of it - primarily in the eyes of his own people.
When he dared to accuse his allies of eight years, including UN, EU and U.S. representatives, of "massive fraud" to undermine him, Karzai crossed the Rubicon to become seriously unreliable in the eyes of those who have spent more than $200 billion of taxpayers money and lost more than 1,700 soldiers supporting him.
Fourth, he is therefore now much more a problem than a solution; this includes his brother.
Fifth, he has become a 'loose cannon' in the fight for freedom in Afghanistan. He is now another risk factor, as seen in his infamous Kandahar speech to tribal elders, where he spoke of appeasement to them and challenged the long-planned offensive against the Taliban by both his own troops and ISAF. It is hard to manage too many risks concurrently, and makes failure of both the latest offensive and ISAF itself more likely.
Six, Karzai is not needed. Several others could do a much better job.
Diplomatic dogma so far has been that there is no alternative to him.
This is totally wrong. One option is Abdullah Addullah, but there are several others. Afghanistan needs a new beginning and a credible, not rotten, government. A relatively unknown newcomer, coming out of the blue like Obama, could achieve this. Afghanistan needs a new and younger man representing hope for this ancient land, not a burned-out, unreliable president.
Seven, only two ministers were not corrupt in Karzai's previous government. Corruption remains endemic, as does poppy production, and the quality of his rule is low indeed. The West was naïve to hand over billions of dollars of aid without direct control. When the German Minister for Development met him two weeks ago, Karzai asked once more for free money - he will not change his demands.
Eight, with Karzai in power fair elections the end of this year are impossible; yet they are urgently needed to avoid a vacuum.
Nine, his reputation in Pakistan is near zero and remains very low even within the Pashtun community that is the backbone of the insurgency. He never stopped hating Pakistan.Yet peace without both Pakistan and a consensus with the Pashtuns, peace-making is impossible for NATO.
Ten, the U.S. and NATO cannot and should not risk the life of one more soldier to protect a President who openly argues to members of his own Parliament that if foreign interference continues he would join the Taliban.
French President Nikolas Sarkozy should take the lead, together with the UK's personally influential Prince Charles, to negotiate a dignified exit for Afghan President Karzai within the next few months.
This is no time to leave the status quo and 'wait and see'.