The US relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai have hit a new low after reports emerged that Karzai was secretly negotiating with the Taliban. The Obama administration was shocked at the development, and according to White House adviser John Podesta, it explains Karza’s ‘erratic’ behavior in refusing to negotiate an agreement to keep US forces in the country after 2014.
As the US draws down its troops in Afghanistan, whether to 10,000 or to zero, efforts to arrive at a deal with the government of Karzai has been stuck in a cul-de-sac. The Obama administration has been intensely trying to sign the deal before it’s too late, but Karzai has been procrastinating much to Washington’s chagrin. The news that Karzai is secretly talking with the Taliban can only add to the US discomfiture, because such talks are contrary to the objectives which the US has on Afghanistan.
Going by the current mood, Karzai-Washington relations are likely to worsen. Karzai has been undeterred by repeated US warnings and is moving as per a script he had prepared for himself. The desperation is more on Washington’s side because it can’t leave the battlefront with its mission unfinished. After spending several billions of dollars and fighting for more than twelve years in the rugged, hostile terrain of Afghanistan, it would be foolish for US to flee without a credible plan to protect the limited gains it has made.
Karzai seems to be planning his future irrespective of the anger of Washington. He understands perfectly well that his alliance with the US is ending and under the Afghan Constitution, he may not serve another term. So if the US remains the power behind the throne, he will have to step down in the spring. That would leave him vulnerable to revenge killing by the Taliban, or going into exile from the country, which will be humiliation for a leader who has led for a decade. So he is working on solutions. One option for him could be to offer the Taliban a chance to take over the government without much of a fight. In return, he could ask that his life be spared, and perhaps that he be given some importance and power through some kind of a formal role in a future Taliban-led government.
Succumbing to the Taliban plan will be a defeat both for Karzai and the US. It’s unthinkable that all the gains made in this protracted, deadly war can be allowed to fritter away by installing the Taliban in Kabul. But the future of Afghanistan is uncertain. The withdrawal of US troops will not result in a disengagement. Afghanistan will continue to haunt the US for a long time.