Karzai’s Popularity Slips in Afghanistan

By
Friday, September 26, 2008 at 9:10 am
Afghan Presisent Hamid Karzai (U.S. Dept. of Defense)

Afghan Presisent Hamid Karzai (U.S. Dept. of Defense)

On Friday, President George W. Bush will host his most stalwart ally in the seven-year U.S. war in Afghanistan: Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The relationship between the two men is notably warm — “We’re proud of you, proud of the work you’re doing,” Bush told Karzai during their last meeting in Washington — something understandable, given that Washington ensured Karzai’s rise from an obscure lieutenant of the deceased anti-Taliban warrior, Ahmed Shah Massoud, to president of Afghanistan.

But for the first time in Karzai’s meteoric ascent — and ahead of national elections scheduled for next year — Afghans are beginning to express disillusionment with the president. Corruption, instability and tough economic times are starting to turn even Karzai’s fellow Pashtuns against him. While the anti-Karzai antipathy is building, some experts wonder if Washington has blundered into an Afghanistan policy without a Plan B.

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

“The Bush administration has taken to having a Maliki-Musharraf-Karzai complex,” said Nathaniel Fick, a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq who is now with the Center for a New American Security. He was referring to Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki and the deposed Pakistani dictator, Pervez Musharraf. “It’s slow to criticize its anointed allies,” Fick explained.

Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University, expanded on this theme. “There is a lot of sentiment against President Karzai among people of all ethnic groups,” Rubin said, “I imagine, given the situation in Afghanistan, there would be resentment against anyone who was president.”

A recent two-week trip through eastern Afghanistan, an overwhelmingly Pashtun area, revealed a populace that seemed deeply unhappy with the levels of corruption in the Karzai government. While many people interviewed seemed unconcerned about whether Karzai is personally corrupt — though his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is suspected of being a major drug dealer — they were worried that Karzai is unprepared to lead Afghans out of their current security and economic crises.

“Karzai is a good guy,” Zareen, an elderly farmer in southwestern Paktia province, interviewed about 10 days ago, said through a translator. “We want [aid] money from foreign countries [that Karzai secures]. But there is corruption in the government, so the money is not distributed.”

Zareen’s brother dismissed the local council, known as a shura, as a band of ineffective thieves. “All of them are people of the area,” he said through translation, referring to the shura’s members, “and they just promise, they don’t implement. When the government says it will help, it just steals stuff. There are steps of corruption: Karzai, then senior people, then the governor, then the [district commissioner] — they all steal. There is nothing left for the people.”

An assessment of neighboring Paktika Province, prepared in 2007 by a Human Terrain Team — a group of anthropologists and political scientists working with the U.S. military — revealed similar disillusionment. “People tired of the Taliban because they beat them,” a tribal area in the district of Kushamond told the team. “Now, if this government [also] beats them, what should the people do?”

In the province, the team wrote, “Elders expressed frustration at their inability to engage with the [Karzai government] and [U.S. military] elements responsible for house searches and the death of a mentally-disabled teenager.”

There isn’t much polling done in Afghanistan, but much of what exists is conducted by Craig Charney’s New York-based firm. While Charney said he could not share his results with The Washington Independent, he said his latest poll, conducted last November, found substantial but eroding support for Karzai.

“His favorabilities were in the 70s or 80s, and his positives for his job approval was 55 or 60 [percent],” Charney said in a telephone interview, “But it was down from two years before — which was honeymoon time.” Karzai, he continued, “could have eroded some [in the polls], but still be in a strong position.”

Rubin, of New York University, who is the author of “The Fragmentation of Afghanistan,” said that Karzai’s rising unpopularity is related to his inefficacy as a leader — something hard-wired into post-Taliban Afghanistan. “Only one person has any real power,” Rubin explained. “It’s basically a monarchical constitution with an elected leader. It took the 1964 constitution and made the head of state elected instead of a king with a prime minister.”

The problem is that while one person essentially governs the country, his power is, in essence, limited by Afghanistan’s heavy reliance on Washington. “Hamid Karzai does not run [the Afghan army],” Rubin continued. “It’s run by the Dept. of Defense… In Afghanistan, the U.S. runs most of the [aid and development] programs outside the government, and Hamid Karzai has nothing to do with them. That’s why he feels so ineffectual. He doesn’t feel empowered.”

Several Afghans interviewed by The Washington Independent said they would not vote for Karzai in next year’s election, considering him too weak to govern. One, a doctor in the eastern border province of Khost, said he would sooner leave Afghanistan than see Karzai re-elected, fearing a likely deterioration in security.

Fick heard many similar comments during an trip to Afghanistan in August, but said Washington is at a disadvantage because this is no plausible alternative to Karzai. “We met with half a dozen Cabinet officials, a dozen members of Parliament — and everyone put forward his own name as a candidate” for president, Fick said. “But in terms of who actually has a national constituency, it’s sort of hard to say.”

Charney agreed. “The bottom line is that Karzai — despite all his problems and weaknesses — is still the only national figure Afghanistan has got,” he said.

Be that as it may, Fick feared that U.S. policy has become too reliant on a single figure — and could be thrown into turmoil if Karzai loses the next election. Avoiding such personalization of policy is easier said than done, however.

“It [requires] a return to interest-based realism, in a way,” Fick said, “to not meet with foreign leaders and say, ‘I looked into his eyes and got a sense of his soul.’” Fick was referring to what Bush famously said on his first meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who invaded Georgia despite vociferous U.S. objections this summer.

If Washington is to turn away from being beholden to whomever wins the 2009 Afghan election, Rubin said, Afghanistan’s relationship with the international community will have to change — and changed in way that, somewhat paradoxically, strengthens the presidency. “If President Karzai makes a decision,” Rubin said, “in an hour some [NATO] ambassador is gonna come in and argue with him. He doesn’t control his troops, and doesn’t control the money. That’s a situation that breeds corruption.”

Rubin emphasized this point. “We have to have a strategy focused on building the Afghan government,” he said, “and not on accomplishing short-term goals.”

Follow Spencer Ackerman on Twitter


Comments

21 Comments

bert
Comment posted September 30, 2008 @ 12:36 am

“an obscure lieutenant of the deceased anti-Taliban warrior, Ahmed Shah Massoud”

Come on…You should try to learn Afghanistan history: Karzai was a representative of the “Jabbah e Melli”, a pashto party held by Mojaddedi. He was the representative of the party in Pakistan during the soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Then, he held briefly a post in the government of Rabbani (where Massoud was defense minister), but withdraw, and in 1994, at the very beginning of the taleban movement, he even gave them some money ($50 000?). But he said that he saw at the end of the year that they were puppets from pakistani secret services, and decided not to help them anymore.

He was never a lieutenant of Massoud. This is not some kind of Holywood movie like the one about Charlie Wilson. We're in the reality, a sad reality for afghans.


bert
Comment posted September 30, 2008 @ 7:36 am

“an obscure lieutenant of the deceased anti-Taliban warrior, Ahmed Shah Massoud”

Come on…You should try to learn Afghanistan history: Karzai was a representative of the “Jabbah e Melli”, a pashto party held by Mojaddedi. He was the representative of the party in Pakistan during the soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Then, he held briefly a post in the government of Rabbani (where Massoud was defense minister), but withdraw, and in 1994, at the very beginning of the taleban movement, he even gave them some money ($50 000?). But he said that he saw at the end of the year that they were puppets from pakistani secret services, and decided not to help them anymore.

He was never a lieutenant of Massoud. This is not some kind of Holywood movie like the one about Charlie Wilson. We're in the reality, a sad reality for afghans.


The Biggest (And Last) Crap Of All, In Which Everyone Brings It [Crappy Hour] | StalknBlog
Pingback posted January 2, 2009 @ 11:02 am

[...] SPENCER: Where have I read that story before? [...]


C. Watts
Comment posted September 5, 2009 @ 11:01 am

What a load of shits these Afgan presidential maggots are; how evil is their regime including the f…ng Taliban. They are all murderers, traitors to theirt own people, corrupt to the utmost degree and deserve death. KILL ALL KARSAI SUPPORTERS AND TALIBAN SUPPORTERS, give back the country to sensible uncorrupted people, if you can find any anywhere in the world…you`ll have a job!


louis vuitton
Comment posted August 7, 2010 @ 10:18 am

He was never a lieutenant of Massoud. This is not some kind of Holywood movie like the one about Charlie Wilson. We're in the reality, a sad reality for afghans.


discount Louis vuitton
Comment posted August 31, 2010 @ 8:03 am

“I had to tell them very quickly, because every millimeter that I gain or lose affects them,” she stated. “Sunnery and I are in the clouds. The critical first three months have gone well and I feel good,” she added.


gucci outlet
Comment posted September 17, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

where he implemented a course in counterinsurgency for mid-career Army officers and co-wrote the joint Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency manual, a touchstone text for counterinsurgency theorists.


moncler jackets
Comment posted November 13, 2010 @ 3:37 am

The relationship between the two men is notably warm — “We’re proud of you, proud of the work you’re doing,” That is nice


louis vuitton outlet
Comment posted November 29, 2010 @ 5:16 am

They are all murderers, traitors to theirt own people, corrupt to the utmost degree and deserve death


louis vuitton outlet
Comment posted November 29, 2010 @ 5:16 am

They are all murderers, traitors to theirt own people, corrupt to the utmost degree and deserve death


fred perry polos
Comment posted December 29, 2010 @ 8:00 am

You should try to learn Afghanistan history: Karzai was a representative of the “Jabbah e Melli”, a pashto party held by Mojaddedi. He was the representative of the party in Pakistan during the soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Then, he held briefly a post in the government of Rabbani (where Massoud was defense fred perry polos minister), but withdraw, and in 1994, at the very beginning of the fred perry polos taleban movement, he even gave them some money ($50 000?). But he said that he saw at the end of the year that they were puppets fred perry polos from pakistani secret services, and decided not to help them anymore.


lacoste shirts
Comment posted December 29, 2010 @ 8:01 am

presidential maggots are; how evil is their regime including the f…ng Taliban. They are all murderers, traitors to theirt own people, corrupt to the utmost degree and deserve death. KILL ALL KARSAI SUPPORTERS AND TALIBAN lacoste shirts SUPPORTERS, give back the country to sensible uncorrupted people, if you can lacoste shirts find any anywhere in the world…you`ll have a job!


lacoste polo shirt
Comment posted March 24, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

Corruption, instability and tough economic times are starting to turn even Karzai’s fellow Pashtuns against him.


lacoste polo shirts
Comment posted April 9, 2011 @ 2:32 am

we have to have a strategy focused on building the Afghan government,and not on accomplishing short-term goals


lacoste polo shirts
Comment posted April 9, 2011 @ 2:32 am

we have to have a strategy focused on building the Afghan government,and not on accomplishing short-term goals


Anonymous
Comment posted April 26, 2011 @ 7:11 am

These Replica Watches   are luminous plus show to be fantastic meant for anyone while it make anyone stand out of the swarm. The elegant Rolex Watches   and also surprising looks somebody acquire will be attract all eye in a throng as well as put someone feel extra self-assured. If someone has not containing them up till now, test them plus own them currently as these could not be so reasonable ever in early days. Somebody will be not in love with miss them. The Swiss-based replica watches Breitling Watches   are show to containing ultimate accuracy. Especially these wristwatches brand ranking at the leading edge of the wristwatches field, they are intimated emulate than another’s because of they are in superior require. Each and every detail of this a href=”http://www.replica-watches.org.uk/omega-c-34.html”>Omega Watches   replica is greatly emulated the innovative.


Breitling Super Ocean
Comment posted April 26, 2011 @ 8:23 am

Last week we started discussing the Breitling Avenger Seawolfluxury Breitling watches and its new facelift. The new Breitling Black Bird called the Breitling Bentley and it introduces for the 1st time its own 100% in-house Breitling Chrono Avenger movement.The Breitling Chrono Cockpit is available in four versions including steel, steel with a gold bezel, steel with a two tone Breitling Chrono Matic bezel, and all gold. Other features include diamond polished hands, square grid patterned zone, and quarter hour markers on the Breitling Super Ocean bezel.


Dsfsa
Comment posted May 10, 2011 @ 7:03 am

[url=http://www.louisvuitton.be/louis-vuitton-ellipse-monogram-belt-m6919w-p-135.html]Louis Vuitton Ellipse Monogram Belt M6919W[/url]
[url=http://www.louisvuitton.be/louis-vuitton-gold-initiales-lv-plaque-leather-belt-p-245.html]Louis Vuitton Gold Initiales LV Plaque Leather Belt[/url]
[url=http://www.louisvuitton.be/louis-vuitton-classique-epi-leather-belt-m6833w-p-125.html]Louis Vuitton Classique Epi Leather Belt M6833W[/url]
[url=http://www.louisvuitton.be/louis-vuitton-totally-mm-m56689-p-541.html]Louis Vuitton Totally MM M56689[/url]
[url=http://www.louisvuitton.be/louis-vuitton-totally-gm-m56690-p-542.html]Louis Vuitton Totally GM M56690[/url]
[url=http://www.louisvuitton.be/louis-vuitton-boetie-mm-m45714-p-545.html]Louis Vuitton Boetie MM M45714[/url]
[url=http://www.louisvuitton.be/louis-vuitton-delightful-mm-m40353-p-544.html]Louis Vuitton Delightful MM M40353[/url]
[url=http://www.louisvuitton.be/louis-vuitton-boetie-gm-m45713-p-543.html]Louis Vuitton Boetie GM M45713[/url]


lacoste online shop
Comment posted July 17, 2011 @ 12:04 pm

I very agree with you…” “and not on accomplishing short-term goals.””


paul smith wallet
Comment posted July 17, 2011 @ 11:49 pm

While the anti-Karzai antipathy is building, some experts wonder if Washington has blundered into an Afghanistan policy without a Plan B.


lacoste online shop
Comment posted July 19, 2011 @ 10:23 am

 Charney said in a telephone interview, “But it was down from two years before — which was honeymoon time.” Karzai, he continued, “could have eroded some [in the polls], but still be in a strong position.


RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.