My father was a man of few words. He had served in the First World War and always thought of himself as a soldier, a man of action not chatter. He would listen silently to impassioned political diatribes as he went on his daily rounds as an agricultural instructor and finally remove his pipe from his mouth and say, “I suppose you could look at it that way.”
I thought of my father’s favorite response yesterday as I took part in a debate on BBC World Service Radio. Someone there had read my blog on Hamid Karzai’s recent threat to join the Taliban and had sent me an invitation to participate in the debate.
I could not imagine there were two sides to that story. As far as I could determine, the Afghan president is a slippery career politician who has been playing footsie with both sides in NATO’s dispute with the Taliban. And he might be one of Afghanistan’s top drug dealers. His brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is said to head a group involved in opium and heroin trafficking that smuggles drugs to the West through Iran and Turkey. Security sources claim he provides protection for drug transports in southern Afghanistan.
Hamid Karzai’s presidency was engineered by the George W. Bush regime. And long before the younger Bush came to power, Karzai was a CIA contact and a member of the Mujahadine, which was secretly supplied and funded by the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But he is also a Pashtun – and that tribe is the Taliban’s political base.
That might expalin why Karzai has been trying to negotiate an agreement with the Taliban despite NATO’s desire to defeat the insurgents militarily before negotiating with them.
When the Taliban emerged in the mid 1990s, Karzai supported them. He later broke with them and refused to serve as their ambassador to the United Nations. But he recently declared “there are many wonderful people in the Taliban.”
He is also a staunch supporter of the regime in Iran. In 2007, he was quoted as saying that Iran, so far, has been a helper in the Afghan reconstruction process. According to Karzai, “the two Iranian and Afghan nations are close to each other due to their bonds and commonalities, they belong to the same house, and they will live alongside each other for good.”
Does that sound like a Western ally? Not to me or many others who participated in the BBC program, but there were debaters who had nothing but praise for the guy.
William Crosbie, Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan (above), insisted Karzai’s remark about joining the Taliban if the U.S. didn’t butt out of his country’s affairs was “taken out of context.” He and a few others in the debate see the Afghan president as a wise statesman who is dealing with difficult circumstances. And they see nothing wrong with him negotiating with the Taliban in defiance of NATO’s wishes.
Some callers from Africa praised Karzai for showing independence and said they wished the leaders of their own countries would act more like Karzai and less like puppets of the West.
That’s the thanks we get for trying to help the oppressed people of the world?
I suppose you could look at it that way – if you were incapable of gratitude.