Monday, January 4, 2010

Karzai's humiliation

By Hashem Ahelbarra

President Karzai has suffered a public humiliation when 70% of his cabinet choices were ruled out by the parliament.

The rejection comes at a very crucial time for the country. The Taliban are gaining more ground, conducting daring attacks, like the suicide bomb attack at a CIA base in Khost province. Seven CIA operatives were killed.

The country is marred by instability, and a growing public mistrust of Nato forces, especially after the string of deadly attacks against civilians.

Eager to limit the impact of the damage made by the vote, Karzai’s dispatched his spokesperson Waheed Omar to reassure the Afghan people that things are still under control. He told the media that while the president was “surprised by the rejections”, he respects the process which he qualifies as “the beauty of democracy”.

But “surprise” is an understatement. The vote is already setting a chain of negative reactions in Karzai’s clan.

Junbish–e-milli, the party of the Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum said the vote was “politically motivated”. Three Uzbeks were among the 17 nominees which were rejected. Without Dostum’s support during the presidential election, Karzai would have lagged far behind in terms of votes in the north of the country. Karzai owes Dostum an explanation as to why his people were turned down.

It is hard to tell whether the parliament acted on its own to express its discontent with the cabinet picks, or was it Karzai, a master tactician, who had been pulling the strings from the presidential palace to affect the outcome of the vote.

The man holds a formidable sway among many Pashtun MPs. He also relies on veterans like Sibghatullah Mojaddidi, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, Khalili and others to win more votes in the parliament.

Karzai is left with very few options. He has to submit a list of new choices to the parliament and hope this time that they won’t be rejected.

Politically beholden to the warlords and tribe chieftains who backed him in the elections, he won’t risk going down unexplored alleys, on the contrary he will confine himself to safe and cautious moves so as not to upset the West and his allies. But by doing so he might end up alienating both.

Although the vote is not likely to erode Karzai’s chances to form a new government in the future, but he might still go alone to the important London Conference set for January 28th..

But going to London prior to forming a government may not be a good strategy. His caretaker government is more of a liability. Beset by allegations of graft, infamous for its crippling bureaucracy and ineffectiveness, that government stands no chance whatsoever to convince the international community to commit more cash and troops?

Only a new government committed to good governance, can change Western perception on the Afghan political establishment. Former Nato chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer once echoed the perception saying : "The basic problem in Afghanistan is not too much Taliban; it's too little good governance."