President Hamid Karzai’s decision to pull out of talks with the United States and the Taliban is yet another indication that he and his government are not viable long-term partners. His decision and his army’s continued ineffectiveness raise the possibility that the country could revert to a terrorist safe haven once U.S. forces withdraw next year.
Karzai pulled out of the talks when the Taliban spread images of a diplomatic office in Qatar, raising a Taliban flag and hanging a banner that read “Political Office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan." Karzai is reportedly angry that the Taliban is attempting to present itself as a government in exile as opposed to a small faction fighting against the legitimate Afghan government.
In a statement, Karzai blasted the Americans for not disclosing details on the office. He had long been concerned that the United States would bypass his office in the peace talks, dealing directly with the Taliban on their own. The office, and its public debut, apparently solidified these concerns.
“The way the Taliban office was opened in Qatar and the messages which were sent from it was in absolute contrast with all the guarantees that the United States of America had pledged,” he said.
Meanwhile, American negotiators arrived in Qatar, although it’s not clear whether they’ll start negotiations without the Afghan government.
But even if Karzai’s delegation were present, they don’t hold the cards. Recent reports indicate that the Afghan army has suffered steep losses during this year’s fighting season, showing it to be woefully unprepared to take over for American forces.
Karzai has also failed to show any meaningful control over the country. Once the United States leaves, the country is likely to revert to tribal rule, making Karzai irrelevant.
But Karzai’s latest action is yet another indication that he is not a viable partner. In March Karzai embarrassed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel while he was visiting by saying the Americans were aiding the Taliban to justify maintaining a presence in the country. At that time, I wrote:
“Two weeks ago, Karzai ordered U.S. troops out of Wardak, a strategically important province west of Kabul (the United States ignored the order, and operations continue there today). He has repeatedly criticized the U.S. withdrawal timeline. He has accused U.S. soldiers of harassing university students without offering proof. And whenever given the chance, he harshly criticizes the broader U.S. Afghan strategy.”
Now, you can add withdrawal from negotiations meant to curb violence in a country wrecked by it to this long list.
Email David here firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on Twitter @DavidCFrancis.