Karzai’s Choice*

President Karzai is famous for his penchant to sidestep thorny issues and controversial decisions. Whenever possible, the rule of the presidential thumb has been to leave alone those decisions that could potentially antagonize allies or enemies -or anybody under the sun. (Well, save for Pakistan.) Such enviable political savviness has endeared Mr. Karzai with a motley crew that includes a large, cross-ethnic mass of Afghanistan’s population, a divided West separated by a gulf as big as the Atlantic ocean, and Afghanistan’s worlords who were sworn enemies of each other just a few years back.

If Mr. Karzai were to have his own show on primetime television in America, it would be called “Everybody Loves Hamid.”

Alas, easy times always come to an end. And for Mr. Karzai, the time of reckoning seems to have arrived. After the infamous “Amnesty Bill” (officially christened the “National Reconciliation Law”) swept through both the lower and upper houses of Afghanistan’s parliament with uncharacteristic efficiency, the onus is now on the president to decide whether he signs the bill into law or not. And Mr. Karzai’s preferred course of action in matters as inflammatory as this (that is, to steer clear of the entire damn thing) seems just not to be an option here.

Not signing the bill into law would amount to, well, not signing the bill into law. However spun, the undeniable fact will remain that Mr. Karzai sided with the people against the warlords. And of all people, Mr. Karzai knows best that he owes the initial honeymoon period of his presidency to the appeased pacifism of his warlord friends. He knows better than to antagonize them now with the country already in bad shape for a number of other reasons.

On the other hand, the president cannot simply sign the bill into law either. I am tempted to say that it goes against his principles, but we all know that politicians and leaders rarely afford the luxury of keeping lofty principles. The more immediate concern is that it goes against his electorate’s preferences. Besides, while the West has been understanding in the past of Mr. Karzai’s wheeler-dealer politics and appeasement of the warlords, something this big cannot be simply swept under the rug.

The grapevine has it that Mr. Karzai has now tasked his team of legal aides to find technical grounds on which he could send the bill back to the parliament and thereby buy time. In the meantime, both proponents and opponents of the law have made their cases with demonstrations and rallies, most notably the recent commemoration of Afshar massacres of ’92 (which this writer and family barely escaped) and a subsequent rally under the Jihad banner in support of the warlords.

Damned if he does, damned if he does not, Mr. Karzai faces the most important decision of his term, and one that is bound leave a lasting impact on his legacy as a president, and on Afghanistan’s history.

——

Inspired by the title of William Styron’s novel “Sophie’s Choice,” now an idiom: “A ‘Sophie’s Choice’ is a tragic choice between two unbearable options.” (def. from Wikipedia)

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4 Responses to Karzai’s Choice*

  1. […] Hamid Karzai is facing the biggest choice of his term as Afghanistan’s president in deciding whether or not to sign into law amnesty bill that recently passed through legislature. Nathan […]

  2. Q says:

    Glad to see your back to posting. What I thought was interesting was the announcements by several Islamic jurists in Kabul and Afg that announced the bill was un-islamic. I was wondering if that was taken as a political preemptive step, to try to swing public sentiment towards the bill. But, given the resurgence and what not, I was left wondering if that is the best tactic, i.e. implicitly calling a lotta warlords un-islamic.

  3. safrang says:

    Thanks Q for regularly checking with this blog. I am glad you did not wait on me to update -because then I would have missed the two good reads you posted recently. Safrang is a work of fits and starts.
    I personally think that the best course of action now is to not disturb the status quo. Things are already fragile as they are and the house of cards can hardly take another rattle. Yet those who are strongly opinionated and invested in this matter (victims and warlords alike) find this the best of times to pressure Karzai, because once extricated from this quandary, he can take a bolder decision either way (more likely against the warlords), which gives their campaigning a kind of urgency. I wonder if you will spend another housebound Friday sometimes soon as there is talk in the air of another upcoming rally (now that the first one failed.)

  4. Q says:

    Saf,
    Thanks. And yeah, after a few days, I figured I shouldn’t wait for you, especially since I realized it would be foolish for someone to wait for me as a reason to post when I’m in a non-posting stretch.

    I largely agree with you on not disturbing the status quo. But the status quo has been incredibly frustrating on so many fronts, even in my work as the status quo seeps downwards and permeates a lot of the GoA. But, in the end, as long as things work, or rather keep working, that is more than enough, progression can be (and should be) a long term goal if one’s more realistic about this place and these times.

    I really do wish the Parliment just left the topic alone, and it was just saved for another day. The energy really could have been expended on much more useful things, and take “energy” in a literal sense there too.

    So far, no word on more protests/riots for this coming friday, and none this last. But the weeks incidents don’t bode well.

    By the way, I think you have my email address now via your webpage, right? I’ll be back in DC in about a month. We should really get together. If you have my email, drop me a line so we can work that out, if you’re up for it…q

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