Afghanistan: Karzai Family Values


December 4, 2013: The U.S. has finally negotiated terms for keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan once all other NATO forces have left after 2014. Some Afghan politicians played hardball with the Americans on this, refusing to agree to continue American immunity from the corrupt Afghan justice system after 2014. The U.S. told the Afghans that if they don’t get a Status of Forces (immunity) agreement by the end of 2014 then the U.S. will withdraw all their forces and most of their aid money. This finally got most Afghan leaders to agree to U.S. terms, even if president Karzai continued to invent excuses to not sign. The U.S. pointed out that other senior members of the government can sign.

The problem with Karzai, as with most of Afghanistan, is corruption and family politics. Family and tribe are still paramount in Afghanistan. While many Afghans understand that the rest of the world (most of it) has gone beyond tribalism to the more efficient nation state, Afghanistan is still firmly stuck in the tribal phase of cultural development. The Karzai clan got lucky when the U.S. helped the anti-Taliban Northern (non-Pushtun) Alliance bring down the largely Pushtun Taliban government in late 2001. The Karzais were among the many Pushtun clans and tribes that were anti-Taliban and seemed the most capable Pushtuns (the largest minority in Afghanistan and the traditional “kings”) to back in the first presidential elections (in 2004). But the Karzais were still a typical Afghan clan and when Hamid Karzai became president he took the Karzai clan with him. Suddenly, and this did not startle Afghans, there were lots of Karzais in senior positions. Like most other politicians, the Karzais stole as much as they could. Government connections provided the Karzais with many legal, and illegal, business opportunities. Now the Karzai clan faces a crises because Hamid Karzai cannot run for president again. The constitution forbids it and the U.S. has made it clear that trying to use bribes and coercion to change the constitution will not be tolerated. So Hamid Karzai has to make plans for life after dominating the government for a decade (two terms as president). His successor will likely not be a Karzai and will want to grab all the goodies for his clan. Depending on who gets in, things could get ugly and very costly for the Karzais, even though the clan has already moved a lot of assets, and family members, overseas. Worst case would be the new government accusing the Karzais of corruption and bringing in international agencies to go after Karzai clan assets. This is unlikely because all the major Afghan clans are guilty of this and no one wants to encourage such prosecutions. But losing the presidency will be difficult and dangerous for the Karzais.

It appears that Hamid Karzai is trying to force all the Americans to leave after 2014 by stalling on the required treaty. Most Afghan leaders are opposed to this and they have recently gone public with their protests. Some Afghan tribal leaders have accused Karzai of being a tool of the Taliban by always publicly criticizing the Americans when Afghan civilians are killed accidentally, while playing down Taliban atrocities. Everyone knows that most civilian deaths are at the hands of the Taliban and most of these are deliberate, not accidental. Karzai has also demanded that America halt the bombing attacks, the use of armed UAVs, and night raids. These are all tactics that hurt the Taliban and drug gangs in a big way. Despite the occasional Afghan casualties, these tactics are popular with most Afghans and some tribal leaders have openly called for more of this sort of thing. Karzai is seen as becoming bolder in his support of the Taliban and drug gangs by increasingly calling for an end to bombing and night raids.  

While the Karzais have made a lot off corruption and drug dealing in the last decade, most other clans have yet to strike it rich in a big way. Driving the Americans away is seen as economic suicide and most Afghans oppose the drug gangs, whose activities only benefit about ten percent of the population (mostly clans in Kandahar and Helmand provinces). Meanwhile, cheap opium and heroin have turned about ten percent of the Afghan population into addicts, a catastrophe that has most Afghans very angry at the Taliban and their drug gang allies. It’s widely known that the drug gangs pay well to rent politicians and government officials and that many Karzais have benefitted from this. So the growing popular opposition to president Karzai and his clan should come as no surprise.

The Status Of Forces treaty with the United States probably will go into force before the end of 2014. Such agreements are standard practice for foreign troops overseas and, in the case of Afghanistan, are necessary to protect American troops from abuse by corrupt Afghan officials, judges, and prosecutors. If the U.S. withdraws completely a lot of the foreign aid might stop coming as well as essential logistical, training, and air support for Afghan security forces. The implication here is that if the Afghans prove unable to govern themselves, and the country once more becomes a terrorist haven, the bombers and commandos will come back and the Afghan leaders responsible will be primary targets. That threat carries more weight since Osama bin laden was finally taken down in 2011. More Afghans realize that all the U.S. is asking for is the same deal it has received from dozens of countries for over half a century with no problems. Getting most Afghans to understand this has been difficult, as Afghans prefer to believe the worst case, which is how life usually plays out in Afghanistan.

Afghans are also perplexed at how the Americans are destroying so much of the equipment that is not worth shipping back to the United States. The official reason was to deny the Islamic terrorists stuff they could turn into bombs. But another reason, not made public, was that the U.S. knew that the corruption that is endemic to Afghanistan meant that a lot of this surplus American gear would, if given to the Afghan government, end up with one Islamic terrorists organization or another and these Afghans were not bashful about advertising that they were now relaxing with American furniture, generators, and air conditioners. So most of the surplus is being shredded and sold for scrap.

The government signed a deal to import 500,000 tons of petroleum products from Russia. The Afghans are more and more intent on freeing themselves from dependence on Pakistani roads and the Pakistani port of Karachi for exports and imports. The new petroleum deal involves government purchases as well as private companies that will sell to the general public. Russia and many Central Asian countries see economic opportunities in Afghanistan. These nations also want to be involved in Afghanistan as a means of helping stem the flow of opium and heroin into Central Asia and Russia (and now China as well). India also sees economic opportunities in Afghanistan and already has some two billion dollars of development projects going on there. Iran is also a major investor. Pakistan is seen as more of a threat by most Afghans.

December 3, 2013: The U.S. halted movement of trucks through Pakistan because the roads are blocked. In the Pakistani tribal territories the elected government is run by Islamic conservatives who are opposed to the UAV attacks and foreign troops in Afghanistan. The local government has organized a blockade of roads used by trucks going to and from Afghanistan. The U.S. refuses to halt the UAV attacks in the tribal territories because the Pakistani government refuses to go after Islamic terrorist groups based there that make attacks in Afghanistan.

In the east (Kunar province) an American UAV missile strike killed five Taliban, including a senior commander.

December 1, 2013: President Karzai and some of his close allies in the Afghan military have openly accused the United States of withholding fuel and other supplies from some Afghan army and police units in an effort to force Karzai to sign the Status of Forces agreement. Like many similar Karzai complaints, this one quickly fell flat when no evidence of withheld supplies could be found. For most Afghans Karzai’s frequent anti-American complaints are becoming embarrassing.

November 30, 2013: In the east (Kunar province) local officials accused Pakistan of firing 38 rockets into Kunar in the last two days. These were apparently directed at anti-Pakistan Taliban groups that often set up camps in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Taliban usually stay away from Afghan villages so that the Pakistani artillery fire does not hurt Afghans. That would encourage the Afghan security forces to come after the Pakistani Taliban. Generally the Afghan soldiers and police will concentrate on more immediate threats, like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network (which is based in Pakistan but makes all of its attacks in Afghanistan). The Afghanistan government accuses Pakistan of firing 1,477 rockets, artillery, and mortar shells into Afghanistan so far this year, killing 18 Afghans and wounding another 18. The newly selected head of the Pakistani Taliban (Mullah Fazlullah) has long used Kunar as a refuge from the Pakistani security forces.  

November 27, 2013: In the north (Faryab province) six local employees of a French foreign aid group were killed by unidentified gunmen. The Taliban and drug gangs oppose foreign aid, unless the foreigners pay large bribes to the terrorists. These extortion demands are often backed up with lethal force.

November 24, 2013: A loya Jirga (national council of tribal leaders) summoned to Kabul by president Karzai called for Karzai to sign the Status of Forces agreement that the loya Jirga forced Karzai to agree to. Karzai thought he could cajole, threaten, and bribe the 2,700 loya Jirga members into helping halt the Status of Forces agreement. Karzai underestimated the degree to which most Afghans want American troops, and aid, to remain after 2014.

November 22, 2013: In the east (Nangarhar province) seven Taliban were killed when a bomb they were building in a mosque went off prematurely.

November 20, 2013: U.S. and Afghan negotiators agreed on terms for a Status of Forces agreement. Support from the loya Jirga helped the Americans get what they needed.

November 17, 2013: A UN study concludes that the Taliban has suffered 12,000 losses (killed, wounded, and captured) so far this year. Left out were the number who deserted, which is believed to be considerable. Most Taliban personnel are in it for the money and adventure. Rising popular dislike of the Taliban discourages many recruits, including some who are already on the payroll. Moreover the Taliban is largely a seasonal operation with most of the force only on the job during the “campaigning season” (May to September). Most Taliban work is not all that dangerous, as it involves making and placing roadside bombs and mines or bullying unarmed civilians. Sometimes the civilians are armed and fight back, and occasionally local or foreign security forces will catch Taliban on the job. That is where most of the Taliban losses take place. Many of the desertions are for health reasons or the result of accidents. As the Afghan security forces take over from foreign troops they are suffering more casualties (over a thousand a month during the campaigning season, including about 300 dead). Foreign troop losses are only 144 through the end of November, or about 13 a month. Most (80 percent) are American. Losses among foreign troops are down about 60 percent this year compared to 2012.





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