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Sleepwalking into trouble

As Afghanistan, sitting at the crossroads of civilization since centuries, floats rudderless on a sea of unknowing, India’s Narendra Modi government has started fishing in the troubled Afghan waters with renewed vigor. Utilizing former Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s good office to destabilize the Ashraf Ghani-led national unity government is top on New Delhi’s agenda these days.
And India-educated Karzai has been reciprocating Indian hospitality by playing ball with New Delhi’s strategic security establishment in a manner unbecoming of a genuine statesman. How else, could Karzai, having enough diplomatic experience to nuance his position for retaining minimum respectability in the eyes of the world, nod concurrence with Modi’s rather pretentious anguish over the human rights situation in Pakistan, sitting on Indian soil, and also hit out at Islamabad frequently, using languages that New Delhi wants him to use?
Not many are aware, as a government source indicated to this writer, Karzai has been receiving full support from India’s diplomatic and security establishment, in his effort to unite influential figures and groups from all across Afghanistan and stitch together a formidable front to foment trouble in the volatile landlocked country. The fact of the matter is, Karzai is plotting a coup from behind the walls of his fortress-like residence situated right next to the presidential palace, to overthrow the Ghani-led dispensation. And Karzai’s real intent is to take control of the Loya Jirga, a grand council of elders mandated to take a call on changing the constitution for creating a post of executive prime minister as per the 2014 power-sharing agreement, which is critical for maintaining the Afghan peace-balance.
Not surprisingly, New Delhi has thrown its weight behind Karzai to empower the former Afghan president with the capacity to influence the outcome of the Jirga, scheduled to meet this fall season, with an eye to establish a provisional administration headed by India’s best politico-strategic bet in Kabul. Already the grapevine in Afghan intelligence and political circle is, New Delhi has spent lavishly to diminish Ghani’s legitimacy through defection of high-ranking government officials.
Karzai, who loves to call himself a marathoner in politics, is working quietly from the wings, trying to maneuver his way into limelight by exploiting the deep fissures in the existing asymmetric political system originally legitimized during the George W. Bush era — that too with the blessings of a country, which loves to call itself the best friend of Afghan people. Interestingly, Karzai openly declared, “If there are some people running faster, those who are falling behind should not complain,” even while supporting surreptitiously violent protest movements, like the ones organized by Hazaras (Indian intelligence’s longstanding asset in the land of Hindu Kush), against alleged systemic discrimination, and northern militias, calling for reburial of a bandit king, executed centuries ago, with dignity.
With tribal warlords and power brokers on his side, and this network feeling increasingly sidelined under Ghani’s rule, Karzai is tactfully exploiting India’s anti-Pakistan bias to sow the seeds of confusion. He has opened a front against the Americans too, accusing Washington of making a sham of democracy in Afghanistan and very shrewdly used the Afghan peoples’ visceral dislike of puppet regimes as an alibi to criticize US Secretary of State John Kerry for suggesting that Ghani’s government would not collapse at the end of two years, which is only 24 days from now.
Karzai, in fact, has adopted and aggressively promoted a rabid nationalism model that has propelled India’s fanatical right-wing Hindutva groups all these years. No wonder why, Karzai can be heard lambasting the West with assertions like “we waged jihad and liberated our country. The benefits went to the US that became the sole superpower, Germany became unified and Europe got expanded.” So why is Karzai, a very polished and astute politician, hell-bent on blemishing his own repute and, most worryingly, take his country into a blind alley?
No doubt, the Americans too had suspected that political cohesion will remain a challenge for Ghani, as he confronts, during the course of his reign, larger and more divisive issues, including implementation of election reforms, holding of long-delayed parliamentary polls and a potential change in the constitutional structure that can fundamentally alter Afghanistan’s political system. But Washington knows Ghani’s removal will be a big setback for Afghan peace process and the country’s democratic transition, as he is the only one capable of reaching a lasting political settlement with Taliban or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezbi-e-Islami.
Intriguing it is that Karzai, who do not want Afghanistan to become America or Pakistan’s strategic pawn, is pushing his motherland into India’s lap deliberately, instead of contributing positively to prevent further militarization of Afghan society. And for India, as a senior security source asserted, both Pakistan and China’s aggressive engagement in the Afghan peace effort has acted as a catalyst for cultivating internal discord to try and usher a Nepal-like regime change, knowing fully well that this will adversely impact the stability of a region, whose future hangs in the balance.
Besides, Sino-Afghan security relations during Ghani’s tenure have undergone radical transformation, with Beijing announcing concrete military assistance to Kabul for the first time. It is in this context that Karzai must recognize the fallacy of using the future of Afghan people as a bargaining chip to gain power. Rather, all political stakeholders should conquer their inflated egos and work together to lay the foundation of a reformed Afghanistan, living in peace and harmony.