By Malali Bashir
Afghan President Hamid Karzai made some unusual comments during the Peace Jirga in Afghanistan. “Foreigners say we will not go [out of Afghanistan] unless the Taliban are defeated. Taliban say we will not go [towards peace] unless they the foreigners are out. It seems like you [both] are agreeable with each other and we don’t know about this [secret association]. You may be tricking us.”
This is exactly what a lot of Afghans believe -- that the U.S. is not serious about disabling and defeating the Taliban and the Taliban is unable to harm Americans seriously. Ironically, the Afghan public does not trust president Karzai because he was “installed” by the Americans. Now it seems the Afghan president has realized, after almost ten years of governing, what ordinary Afghans have thought about foreign troops and the Taliban insurgents all along.
Sarah Chayes in her book “The Punishment of Virtue” writes, “In Afghanistan, there are ways you know things. Outsiders call it ‘rumor-mongering’ or ‘conspiracy theorizing’ and when they ask you for some evidence, for something concrete to substantiate this gut feeling of yours, you shrug a little sheepishly because you have to admit they’re right -- you’re only speculating. But still, you know. There is a tuning fork vibrating inside you to the true pitch.”
Gradually, by the end of 2003, Afghans started raising their eyebrows and one could hear in taxis, cafes, and shops talks about the Taliban and Karzai being two stones in the hand of the United States sandwiching ordinary Afghans. Anecdotaly, it seems that a good number of Afghans believe that the Americans have done little to smash top Taliban commanders, and have let them do whatever they want with the condition that they do not harm Americans and America. However, media reports suggest that more than 5000 insurgents were killed in 2010. And, according to iCasualties.org, a website that keeps track of military casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq -- 711 coalition forces (499 of them American soldiers) were killed in 2010. Meanwhile, a U.N. report said that civilian casualties had risen 31 percent in the first half of 2010, including 1,271 killed.
When the Taliban was forced out of power in 2001, war-weary Afghans had great hopes for reconstruction and development of their country. They thought God was finally going to answer their prayers and put those to justice who were responsible for the destruction of their country and nation. Now, many have lost hope in what they see as a corrupt government ruled by brutal warlords and witnessing the Taliban blowing up schools and cutting ears off of teachers. These atrocities, combined with homes being destroyed and their family members being killed in foreign troops’ bombardments, make for a dreadful combination.
It is time for President Karzai to let Afghans know that even though his government was set up with the help of the international community, he is now a democratically-elected president. He should be able, as a president, to persuade the U.S. to reduce air raids and civilian casualties so that the public does not see the U.S. as being equal to the Taliban in terms of atrocities against them. Karzai should also make serious efforts to wipe out corruption, taking bold moves to remove corrupt officials -- without preferring one over the other. When Karzai got elected for the first time, he came up with a slogan: “Right People In Right Places.” He should stick to that by bringing deserving people in for suitable jobs, and not playing by the normal political rules.