James Forsyth

For Afghanistan’s sake, Karzai must lose the election

For Afghanistan's sake, Karzai must lose the election
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Elizabeth Rubin’s profile of Hamid Karzai in the New York Times magazine is brilliantly done; it is long-form magazine journalism at its best. The two impressions that you are left with after reading it, is what a waste the Karzai presidency has been since his election in late 2004 and how his paranoia has increased in recent years; Rubin reports that in one cabinet meeting he ‘threatened to go to the mountains to fight the invaders himself’ and that he worries that there is a secret Anglo-American plan to aid the Taleban. Indeed, Karzai’s views of this country are particularly bizarre: he thinks that the British have a series of cunning plans in place to aid the Taleban. (Oddly, he’s fan of the Last of the Summer Wine.)

Two bits of the article are worth quoting at some length. First, a friend of Karzai on how every country with a presence in Afghanistan interferes in Afghan politics, backing and protecting their particular favourites:

“Most of the NATO members have a gentleman in the cabinet,” he told me. “Each one defends his own man. And those who make donations are the ones deciding. So he was confused.” One famous example is Dostum, the Uzbek warlord from the north. After he beat up and detained a political rival, he drank himself into a wild state and, in King Kong fashion, took up a position on the roof of his garish mansion in Kabul, baiting the police and vowing that they’d never take him alive. Karzai wanted to arrest him. But the Turks, who are major donors and are ethnically related to the Uzbeks, vehemently opposed the move. Finally a deal was worked out for Dostum to go for some rest and rehab in Turkey."

Second, Ashraf Ghani, the former finance minister who is running against Karzai for the presidency, on the corruption in the country:

“The largest threat to Afghanistan now is this government,” he told me recently. “Just take one figure: last fiscal year from March 2007 to 2008, the Ministry of Finance collected 40 billion Afghanis, which is equivalent to around $800 million. The same ministry declares that the real revenue should have been 120 billion Afghanis. They are acknowledging that, due to corruption, 80 billion is being lost.” That, he said, worked out to $1.6 billion. “We go beg the entire world: ‘Please give us budget support; we need to pay our poor teachers and civil servants.’ If the revenue was collected we wouldn’t have needed a cent from the international community for the budget.”

Karzai has one of the most difficult jobs imaginable. But what is clear is that he isn’t doing it anywhere near as well as he used to. One can’t help but think that someone who has not had their character changed by the stresses and strains of the job might, at least briefly, do better and be better for Afghanistan.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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