Would someone please cry for Karzai?

Published: September 30, 2014
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The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the London School of Economics. He tweets @AsadRahim

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the London School of Economics. He tweets @AsadRahim

Sharper than the serpent’s tooth, goes the saying, is a thankless child.

As Hamid Karzai howled to the heavens one last time, taking names and seeking redemption, the world shrugged. They had heard it all before: for 13 years, Hamid Karzai had a sad song to sing — either at America’s feet, or at its throat. Now departing the scene, hat in hand, the president’s voice cracked.

A farewell address is a statesman’s swansong: to admit to past mistakes, to point to new horizons and, above all, exit the stage with grace and gratitude. But that would be unfaithful to Mr Karzai and the themes that define his presidency: a mob movie of bombs, drugs and dollars since 2001. In its own way, the speech was classic Hamid — the gentle accent, the petty tones, and the scrub-scrub of hands covered in blood.

But it was also a final hurrah: one last swipe at the America that fed him; one last salvo at the Pakistan that sheltered him. ‘Today, I tell you again that the war in Afghanistan is not our war,’ pleaded Mr Karzai, “but imposed on us and we are the victims. No peace will arrive unless the US or Pakistan want it.’

Worthy sentiment, one would think, coming from the average Afghan citizen; an 18-year-old with the world’s lowest life expectancy, who was born in war and may possibly die in it. But it sours coming from Mr Karzai, who has lived on the charity of his countrymen’s killers.

The latter seems hard to believe now that the president’s rebranded himself an opposition leader of sorts — one hilariously against his own government. The sympathetic among us would make room for Mr Karzai’s split personality disorder; after all, few would own an administration best-known for legalising marital rape, rigged elections and dead children.

And yet even for the president, this latest yelping and yowling is unseemly. Mr Karzai and his late brother — formerly Kandahar’s most eligible drug peddler — were largely sustained by piles of CIA ‘black cash’, a cute expression the Western press trotted out last year.

As for the Brother Neighbour, Mr Karzai has much reason to find fault with Pakistan (even as Mullah Fazlullah hangs out in Kunar). Though the president spent the ’80s in Quetta — terrified of the Soviets next door — that means little today. From what we know, it was an idyllic time: while fellow resisters were tortured by Dr Najibullah, Mr Karzai whiled away his exile roaming the hills and contracting for the CIA.

Yet despite Mr Karzai’s anger, history tells us America’s minions-in-war often suffer separation anxiety — South Vietnam’s Thieu comes to mind. With the Viet Cong closing in, Thieu memorably screamed, ‘You Americans with your 500,000 soldiers in Vietnam! You were not defeated! You ran away!’

But before they run away again, would we remember how the Ballad of President Karzai began in the first place? Even after the Taliban fell, the Afghans never wanted weedy old Karzai as president. That would have been Zahir Shah, the last king of Afghanistan. Having detected something of a spine in the ex-royal, the Americans ran interference. As the loya jirga prepared to elect Zahir Shah, Bush Co.’s Zalmay Khalilzad bullied the king into withdrawing his candidacy — via written statement prepared by Mr Karzai’s staff.

One thousand of the 1,500 delegates left for their villages in disgust, with the rump voting whichever way the Americans pointed. And Mr Karzai would go on to be president until last week (around the same time we found out the Justice Department was investigating Zalmay Khalilzad for money laundering).

But it’s 1996, not 2001, that worries the West. As Mr Karzai nears the end of his trials, references to another Afghan stooge — the late Dr Najibullah — are pouring in thick and fast. Mr Karzai has long been compared to the good doctor, but it is a comparison that’s wearing thin.

For one, Najib wasn’t afraid of commitment. Conservatives called him ‘the Bull’; a human giant that, egged on by his red-and-gold backers, literally stamped on the heads of dissidents (Gregor ‘The Mountain’ Clegane could be a nickname more current).

On some level, Mr Karzai is aware of the dead bear in the room. ‘Why are you building prisons in Afghanistan? Isn’t that what the Soviets did?’ he asked Senator Graham in 2008. Besides, Mr Karzai has a natural advantage over Najib: he’s still breathing, and his most important parts are intact.

Of course, that may be down to logistics: as Fred Kaplan put it, the US military presence has been the sole barrier between Karzai’s neck and a rope tied to a lamp post.

Might the president save himself instead? Asked about his retirement plans, Mr Karzai said, ‘I will be 56-and-a-half, and I will be no longer the President. So I will have plenty of time, and if God gives me a life, to go around, visit the country and enjoy myself and go to cafes, visit London during Christmas, and see the lights, visit places, work on Afghan education and be with the Afghan people.’

At best, Mr Karzai can be another Karmal — the only commie boss that wasn’t butchered — dying in Moscow after a long, lonely exile. Mr Karzai would do well to seek solace in Washington instead, the land that coroneted him king.

It’s a quaint Americanism: the actor Cary Grant saying, ‘I made up the name Cary Grant, and then I became him.’ But then all of Mr Karzai is a quaint Americanism — the exoticness that so charms Western observers — the karakul hat, the purple-and-green chapan, the way he glides around his broken, screaming country like the last son of a fringe aristocracy.

In his farewell address, the president may have mentioned the US and Pakistan; he didn’t mention the state’s involvement in drug trafficking, or in its death squads. He didn’t mention General Dostum, or Brother Wali. He didn’t mention his fondness for Don Rumsfeld, or the 15,000 Afghan troops dying in a war he feigned believing in. Yes, in the end, the president mentioned nothing.

He was, after all, looking at a lifetime of London Christmases.

If that.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • WB
    Sep 30, 2014 - 3:19AM

    Pakistanis expect Afghans to be thankful and grateful to them for helping with their refugees.

    Pakistanis forget that they’re the reason why there are refugees.

    Pakistanis expect Afghanistan to be thanking them, without realizing that Pakistan is the very reason why Afghanistan is a mess today.

    They expected Karzai to say in his speech, “Pakistan is our savior, Pakistan is our rescuer. USA is evil occupier. India is US puppet. Afghanistan need to side with our leader of Ummat-e-muslima, the purest of the pure country Pakistan. Because Pakistan is selfless and has the best interest of Afghanistan in its heart.”

    Would someone please cry for Asad Rahim Khan?

    Wait what am I doing? The world is not listening to Pakistan amid the noise and chaos surrounding Modi’s visit to US.

    Recommend

  • Naeem Khan
    Sep 30, 2014 - 6:26AM

    If any one recalls that he had Americans who constituted his body guards for a long time because he did not trust the Afghans to look after his details. The news are going around that he will be the guest of Indian hospitality in New Delhi this time around, well, Indians should know that he will bite that hand which feeds him because he can’t help it. He may be contemplating to reside in Virginia near by Washington DC but knowing the American culture, he will not be encouraged to settle there because Americans have history of treating their satraps for decades with contempt and discard them like used tissue paper after use. Remember Shah of Iran, Noriega of Panama, Mubarak of Egypt and Pinochet of Argentina, and our esteemed dictator Musharraf and many more. If Karzai stays in Afghanistan which I doubt it very much, it could be not be good for his health, some how lamp posts comes to mind.Recommend

  • IndianDude
    Sep 30, 2014 - 6:29AM

    Sharper than the serpent’s tooth, goes the saying, is a thankless child.
    ..I am amazed at the courage of this author for he has so bluntly described his own country.

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  • Junaid
    Sep 30, 2014 - 7:48AM

    @WB: Get a life. Stop trolling. Stop day dreaming. And get your facts right. Pakistanis dont care about mud slinging to India at all.

    Recommend

  • wonderer
    Sep 30, 2014 - 8:50AM

    Who will not cry both for Karzai and the writer after reading this?

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  • WB
    Sep 30, 2014 - 9:02AM

    @Junaid:

    I appreciate your comment. But could you please tell me which part of my writing seemed like a daydream to you?

    Recommend

  • rizwan
    Sep 30, 2014 - 9:25AM

    @IndianDude: writing hate will not make Hindustan Great Hindustan. Read history, perhaps subcontinent history before you dish out shallow sarcasm.

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  • sidjeen
    Sep 30, 2014 - 11:22AM

    it seemed like the authors was throwing mud at everyone, Hamid Karzia, Dr Najib, King Zahir shah and Zalmay khalilzad but true to pakistani tradition without a shard of evidence. and good of you to mention mullah fazlulah. questions come to mind how did he reach paktia when he was ruling swat he was meeting people openly and was not in hiding. alas the writer would see clearly if he could throw away the glasses provided by the establishment.

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  • Pir Roshan
    Sep 30, 2014 - 12:07PM

    Admin,,,,dont you want me to express my genuine opinion without any foul language. Why gag people voices?

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  • Gurion
    Sep 30, 2014 - 1:52PM

    @WB:

    @Junaid: I appreciate your comment.
    But could you please tell me which
    part of my writing seemed like a
    daydream to you?

    I’m guessing, the reality part.

    Recommend

  • Iftikhar
    Sep 30, 2014 - 1:53PM

    Asad Rahim Khan your view is like -It’s Afghanistan through the Lahore’s lens. The very root cause of the problem Karzai has referred to.

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  • Old Ravian
    Sep 30, 2014 - 2:06PM

    Asad, witty as always. Beautifully written. A nation which blames others for its ills, never comes out of the jinx. This holds true for Afghanistan and also for Pakistan. While the Afghans hold us responsible for whatever is happening in Afghanistan, and we blame millions of Afghans refugees for social and economic burden.

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  • Rex Minor
    Sep 30, 2014 - 2:20PM

    @Pir Roshan:
    I would’nt want Admins. to gag my opinion as well. My experience tells me though that our post occasionaly gets lost in transit for no obvious reason. Try again. What the author has not mentioned that President Hamid Karzai is a Pakhtun leader and represents the true incarnation of a Pakhtun character!! His loyalty is to Pakhtun tribe and no one else, his concerns have been for the loss of Pakhtun lives on both side of the border and no one else he is no different than former King Zahir Shah and the one before him who were placed in the seat of Kabul by the Pakhtun tribesmen, representing Afghan Nation to the outer world but having no overriding power within the country over tribal chiefs. The Afghans have no taste for foreigners especially for Americans but this does ot mean that they will refuse cash gifts from the yanks. The drug peddling went on unabated after the fall of Taliban and with the knowledge and assistance of the occupation force. There has never been any romance or love between the Afghans and the non Pashto speaking Pakistanis who were anti Batcha Khan. Karzai studied in India and like all former leaders have maintained cordial friendship and good working relationship with Indian leadership and even understanding of their culture. Indian Government with Congress majority have always maintained amicable relationship with them.

    Rex Minor

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  • WB
    Sep 30, 2014 - 2:34PM

    @Gurion:

    “@WB:

    @Junaid: I appreciate your comment.
    But could you please tell me which
    part of my writing seemed like a
    daydream to you?

    I’m guessing, the reality part.”

    That’s true. To Pakisanis reality seems like a dream or a conspiracy theory. Lies seem like truth. Heroes appear as villains and villains appear as heroes. Good appears like bad, bad appears like good. Honesty appears like hate, dishonesty is very sweet to their ears.

    A completely backwards country. Pun intended.

    Recommend

  • Rukh
    Sep 30, 2014 - 2:34PM

    @WB:
    1) Afghan refugees are in Pakistan due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
    2) Afghanistan is a mess today due to the Cold war which led to the above mentioned invasion as well as the drug trade and administrative problems within the country. Pakistan was wrong to support the Taliban but that does not mean that it is responsible for all the country’s ills.
    3) Karzai also criticized the US which has spent billions of $’s and lost many troops in Afghanistan. I don’t think they will look upon this speech too kindly.

    Stop being such a troll.

    Recommend

  • Rafeeq
    Sep 30, 2014 - 3:04PM

    @WB
    You do know that Karzai cried hoarse about US as well as pakistan. Iff, and thats a big if, you did listen to his speech. Perhaps the Jingoism surrounding Modi’s US visit drowned out everything else around??

    Recommend

  • Khalid
    Sep 30, 2014 - 3:55PM

    Only time will tell whether Karzai was right or wrong. Karzai was able to transfer the peacefully and keep safe. Lets see if Pakistan leaders can be safe or will they have the same plight as Benazir, shot by who……… still unknown, but the lamp post planners are well known.

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  • Humza
    Sep 30, 2014 - 5:31PM

    @WB: Forget that Afghanistanhas been a willing puppet of India from 1947 when they used their country as a base for misadventure against Pakistan? Do you forget that Afghanistan was the only country to not recognize Pakistan in 1947 after receiving orders from their Indian masters. Afghanistan is responsible for its own misery and the fact that millions of Afghans are smuggling themselves all over the world illegally is due to the role successive corrupt Afghan governments have played in cross border interference for others and their own greed.

    Recommend

  • Khalid
    Sep 30, 2014 - 7:16PM

    @Humza, Afghans smuggle themselves to escape war, why do Pakistani smuggle themselves, have you ever wondered? There are more illegal Pakistani across the world than afghans. I have seen it with my own eyes in Europe. Think before you type.

    Recommend

  • Parvez
    Sep 30, 2014 - 11:47PM

    The important thing that is being missed is that he has gone.

    Recommend

  • Bakhtiyar Ghazi Khan
    Oct 1, 2014 - 2:56AM

    Article is spot on. Unfortunately, Afghan nationalists today seem to be the most anti-Muslim, anti-Arab, anti-Pakistan, anti-Iran fanatics the world has ever seen. When they are not fighting among themselves, they are busy blaming other Muslims.

    US and India invasion, occupation, and re-education crippled Afghans and removed the blessing and softness from their hearts.

    I am a Pashtoon, and I can see a clear difference between Afghan nationalist mindset and Pakistani mindset. Pakistanis are much more accepting of others, especially Non-Muslims and minorities.

    I still have hope Afghanistan can rid itself of foreign occupation, and not be used as a tool of foreigners to divide Muslims against each other. That however would require representation of the religious Pashtoon majority of Afghanistan, which is not present in politics at the moment.

    Recommend

  • Humza
    Oct 1, 2014 - 6:06AM

    @Khalid: I can tell you the majority of Afghans in North America are refugees whereas the majority of Pakistanis you see in North America are immigrants with skills who arrived legally through the immigration process based on skills and points. That’s why most Pakistanis in North America are employed tax paying tax citizens while a large number of Afghans are unemployed and living on social assistance. I work in social services and this is a fact. Now you need to ask yourselves why Afghans in North America and the West blame their dismal state in these countries also on the societies where they have sought refuge. It is a common Afghan habit to take ownership of their own problems but pass the buck onto others. Unless Afghans see the reality, there can be no improvement in their social situation either at home or in countries where have gone as refugees.

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  • freed
    Oct 1, 2014 - 8:27AM

    I have never seen uneducated society excel at anything but civil war among warlords, maybe Afghanistan can prove me wrong, time will tell.

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  • Bakhtiyar Ghazi Khan
    Oct 1, 2014 - 11:54AM

    Indians are the ones shedding tears for Karzai. Ofcourse, US and Israel secretly crying as well.

    I think all Muslims, esp Afghans and Pakistanis, are happy to see this menace go.

    Recommend

  • Rex Minor
    Oct 1, 2014 - 1:03PM

    @Bakhtiyar Ghazi Khan:
    You live in your little world of delusion! No one is crying for Hamid Karzai whose family has offered sacrifices and his legacy is that the western world knows that Afghans were forced into a war which was never theirs.

    Rex Minor

    Recommend

  • Afghan Maihan
    Oct 4, 2014 - 12:46AM

    The author’s essays regarding Afghanistan and its leaders are laced with dogmatic invectives betraying his contempt for Afghanistan and its people.

    It is a shame that Pakistan only produces pseudo intellectuals that pontificate as the mouthpiece of the establishment dominated by his ethnic group, which panders to the English medium jingoists.

    Asad Rahim Khan writes like an orientalist but without being a subject matter expert, merely regurgitating western scholarship.

    Hamid Karzai will continue to live in Afghanistan and play an influential role as an elder statesman.

    The author is the only one crying here because he simply cannot stomach an assertive and confident Afghanistan.

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  • Azarakhsh
    Oct 4, 2014 - 6:46AM

    This guy just read Afghanistan For Dummies and now he feels entitled to comment on it.

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  • Azarakhsh
    Oct 4, 2014 - 7:03AM

    You should be crying because Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah will be worse than Hamid Karzai.

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  • Pindi
    Oct 6, 2014 - 10:39PM

    ‘Would someone please cry for Karzai?’
    Looking at the comments, it sort of feels like the usual Kabul satraps do. Good riddance.

    Recommend

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