Hamid Karzai Isn’t Crazy—He’s a Survivor

Military analysis.
Feb. 13 2014 5:43 PM

Hamid Karzai Isn’t Crazy

He’s a wily survivor whose main concern is watching his own back.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai addresses a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on January 25, 2014.
President Hamid Karzai at a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Jan. 25, 2014.

Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Is Afghan President Hamid Karzai acting crazy again?

Had he watched President Obama’s State of the Union address last month, Karzai would have noticed that the evening’s first standing ovation—and a bipartisan one, at that—came when Obama announced that “by the end of this year … America’s longest war will finally be over.”

The war, of course, is the one that U.S. forces have been fighting in (and for) Karzai’s country these last 12 years, at a cost of $700 billion and 2,310 American lives.

Advertisement

At its Lisbon summit three years ago, NATO agreed, with Karzai’s consent, to pull its troops out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Obama’s declaration only affirmed that decision. He did, however, add a little twist, noting:

If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al-Qaida.

The “small force” would amount to roughly 10,000 NATO troops, two-thirds of them American—not quite one-fifth the number there now. The key condition, however, is that the Afghan government must sign a bilateral security agreement, which has already been negotiated by U.S. and Afghan officials. If it isn’t signed, all NATO troops will leave at the end of the year, all military aid will be cut off—and, as a likely result, not just the Afghan army but the Afghan government, and probably the entire country, will go bankrupt.

You’d think that Karzai would eagerly dip his pen in the inkwell. Over the years, after all, the U.S. military presence has been the one firm barrier between Karzai’s neck and a rope tied to a lamppost. Last fall, a loya jirga—an assembly of tribal leaders from all over Afghanistan—urged Karzai to sign the agreement. The Afghan army’s senior officers have said they want it signed. So have all 11 of the top candidates in this April’s presidential election.

But Karzai hasn’t signed the document and says he won’t sign it in his two months left in office.

More than that, he’s spent the last several weeks doing all he can to antagonize his American protectors—his standard ploy amid crises. But this time, he’s outdone himself. In January, he publicly released photos of gruesome carnage that he said was caused by an American airstrike days earlier, thus disputing U.S. officials’ claim that the strikes had killed only a few civilians. Upon inspection, it turned out the photos were more than three years old.

In early February, news agencies reported that Karzai had been holding peace talks with the Taliban, without telling his Western allies. The talks, it was also reported, went nowhere.

Finally, on Thursday, Karzai released 65 detainees from a prison at Bagram Air Base, even though U.S. officials had warned him that all of them were clearly guilty of killing American troops and Afghan civilians. NATO turned the prison over to Afghan authorities last year after Karzai promised that no detainees would be released without a court trial. Yet these prisoners were freed after a Karzai-appointed commission met; there were no court trials.

Even Sen. John McCain, one of the war’s most avid supporters and perhaps Karzai’s most patient American friend, was clearly stunned by this latest move, telling the BBC that the Afghan president had gone “beyond anything I could ever understand.”

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?