The Duck of Minerva

Monday Morning Linkage

18 March 2013

sitting ducksGood mornin’ duck fans! Let’s start the week by revisiting last week’s firestorm in …


  • Hamid Karzai has become a bewildering enigma for many Americans as he launched yet another verbal tirade against the US last week.  This time he recklessly accused the US of colluding with the Taliban.  The NY Times speculates that Karzai is keen to shape his legacy given the ultimate fate of Mohammed Najibullah and many other Afghan leaders who came before him.  This is certainly plausible, but hardly the whole story.  Unfortunately, the article also condescendingly implies that the Afghan head of state simply “does not understand” that his government is totally dependent on international funding.  Karzai understands; everyone in Afghanistan knows who is paying the bills.
  • President Karzai’s accusation that the Americans are currently colluding with the Taliban is extremely implausible and completely unsubstantiated.  However, me thinks some Americans doth protest too much.  Beneath all of the American outrage and bluster, it is important to remember that the US engaged and supported the Taliban regime after they took Kabul in 1996.  Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush sought to work with the Taliban.  Bush even invited the Taliban to his Texas ranch in 1997.  The US was perfectly aware of the Taliban’s treatment of women and their general abuse of human rights from early 1996.  Moreover, in recent years the US has negotiated with representatives of “the” Taliban (as if the Taliban were still just one organization) without involving Karzai – although there is no evidence that the US is currently negotiating with Taliban members as Karzai claims.

  • For those who are not following the news in Afghanistan carefully, the origins of the latest rough patch with Karzai is actually about America reneging on its verbal promise to turn over three dozen suspected Taliban members to Afghan authorities.  In January, Karzai had verbally agreed to grant legal immunity to US forces after 2014, in exchange for these prisoners.  However, the Americans wanted to add a provision that Karzai could never release the prisoners, who have never been tried or convicted of any crime and against whom the US refuses to hand over any evidence.  Karzai naturally took offense at the American’s inscrutable inability to comprehend the meaning of the word sovereignty.  US claims about the prisoners’ high security risk is probably not without some merit.  But such claims will be irrelevant once full sovereign authority is transferred – which it will sooner or later.  It is obvious that Karzai is mainly interested in these individuals as a bargain chip in his own negotiations with the Taliban, but if the US wants to respect sovereignty this is simply a reality they will have to contend with.
  • Beyond the issue of the suspected Taliban prisoners is the issue of what US forces will be doing in Afghanistan after 2014.  In addition to still carrying out night raids and disappearances which are widely unpopular in Afghanistan, the US intends to continue to arm and train not only the ANA and ANP, but also local militias.  Anyone familiar with the history of Soviet trained militias which began in 1983 during the Karmal administration and continued during Najibullah’s tenure will understand why this is a bad idea.  Those unfamiliar with ancient history can simply read up on the quarrelsome and predatory Afghan Military Forces (the predecessor to the ANA.  The AMF designation began in 2001 and officially outlawed by the end of 2002) to get a rough understanding of why most Afghans would oppose these plans.  On the issue of local militias, Karzai is completely correct — the current crop of American and ISAF commanders either don’t know or don’t care what mischief they are brewing and it is an awful idea to create private militias in Afghanistan.
  • Dr. Zinat Karzai, the first lady of Afghanistan, also gave a rare interview to the BBC.  It is clear that the long shadow of Queen Soraya is part of the reason that we hear and see so little of Afghanistan’s First Lady.
  • C. Christine Fair had a few choice words for the COINdinistas (e.g. Petraeus, McChrystal, Kilcullen, Jones, Exum, and the Kagans) who are now trying to explain “what went wrong” in Afghanistan.
  • The Neo-Taliban are becoming not only more sophisticated in their attacks, they are filming their exploits from multiple camera angles to improve their YouTube footage, as demonstrated from this video of the recent massive attack in Wardak province – one day after President Karzai ordered US forces to leave: