Afghanistan’s Catch-22: if not Karzai, then Who??

June 7, 2004

After I had vented out all my anger at Karzai’s backroom deal (previous post) it suddently hit me that “If not Karzai, then who? who are Mr. Karzai’s rivals and other potential presidential candidates?” And then I realized how far deep in mud we the people of Afghanistan are stuck: Karzai is our best bet. Under the circumstances, Karzai is the best candidate to vote for.
I will try to explain why. Given that on the one hand we have this president -who by far seems to have the upper hand in the upcoming elections- but to make up for it has flirted with a streak of ethnically narrow-minded policies; succombing to warlords; making distinctions such as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban and embracing the good (which in itself would not be a horrendous thing if it did not point again to how desperately he wants to involve his ethnic Pashtoon constituency unproportionately in the new government; firing the planning minister -which he was not legally allowed to under the Bonn accords-; and as the accusation goes, taking more of his instructions from the US envoy to Afghanistan than the people of Afghanistan and their representativs.
Pretty un-tempting ha?
Wait till you hear who is challenging him: the runners up include an Mujahideen commander -Haji Muhaqqiq that for all the promises of reconciliating the nation and unifying it still has a stained background and would be utterly unacceptable to all non-Hazara ethnicities. His election -a far and unrealistic prospect at any rate- might spark an even more violent reaction from the ethnic Pashtoons and the religious fanatics -Muhaqqiq is a Hazara and belongs to the religious minority Shia sect of Islam- in the South and East of the country. His credentials at running the affairs of the government were put to test when he was still head of the planning ministry and it can be safely said that he is a far cry from a trained and educated beaurocrat. And for all that matters, one would think he has gotten on the ticket with the knowledge that he is bound to lose; but he hopes to play the Afghan politics version of the Vermot Governor Howard Dean- serve as a nat on the consciousness of those in power, bring issues to the surface that would otherwise go unnoticed, and for the first time in Afghanistan’s long history of ethnic marginalization against the Hazaras put the ethnicity’s name on the electoral ballot… At any rate, Mr. Muhaqqiq’s ticket is unappealing to majority of the people of Afghanistan and his hopes of winning thin; and all the better for it one would think, given his poor credentials and his past involvements.
Another name that has come up lately as a competitor in the upcoming elections is that of ex-Communist party member, ex-Masood loyalist, and poet-author in exile Mr. Latif Pidram hailing from le pays de DeGaulle. His seems a voice for moderation and reason, and frankly I have not been able to dig up enough shady things about his past -yet. His past communist connections are as heart-warming (communism was a-la-mode back in the day in Afghanistan and all who got involved in it were not brainwashed KGB agents but included some very progressive intellects like Mr. Pidram) as it is bound to wash down his hopes of election amid the phobia and hatred for the defeated ideology in the Afghan society. Then comes his connections with Masood -now elevated to the honorary ‘hero of the nation’ status but none the less boasting a very criminal trackrecord in years following Jihad when his troops got ahold of Kabul and cleansed some of its Hazara-populated neighborhoods in the capital’s west. That may reduce his hopes of getting elected among this ethnicity’s members, notwithstanding that a person of Mr. Pidram’s consciousness would have certainly condemned the atrocities had his party loyalty allowed. And then one is not sure that for all his intellectual aura and life in the west, he may have picked a streak of Monsiour Le Pen’s nationalistic fever -afterall he is from Afghanistan and in this country you will find few who are so utterly ‘unloyal’ to their own ethnicity as to think outside its immediate bounds and work for the interest of the wider country… we may not have to wait for long to hear of Mr. Pidram’s agenda as he starts campaigning for September…
Then comes the female hopeful Dr. Masooda Jalal. Somewhat of a radical myself, and far too influenced by western feminism -I know, what a terrible thing to be in Afghanistan!- I would have certainly voted for this woman. But I would have done so with the sure certainty that an overwhelming majority of the country would not. Unfortunately for Dr. Jalal, but that sort of thing is a little premature given Afghanistan’s traditionalistic society…
That leaves us with a few more who follow in the dusty road behind, and you can be sure that in a divided country like Afghanistan surprises like India are not within the bounds of probability.
So… back again to Mr. Karzai who holds the front so far and is bound to do so until September; that is if he does not do anything else to alienate other ethnic groups. If I get a personal moment with him sometimes soon -a not so probable thing, but I am hoping to get to meet him this weekend- I would assure him that he can be Afghanistan’s John Kerry largely because of his electibility amid a row of not so attractive alternatives if he does not blow it, and if he assures the people that he would do what he looked like doing in the beginning of his administration and not the tapering down second part of it…