By Samim Arif*
Since President Ashraf Ghani took office in 2014, his predecessor, Hamid Karzai almost immediately began a political war against the newly sworn in Afghan leader.
Karzai, resenting Ghani’s positions, began a campaign that’s gone from subversion to outright rebellion against Ghani and his administration, aiming to end the presidents tenure before his term ends. Karzai has mainly opposed Ghani’s leniency with the United States now seeks to stir turmoil in the country’s government.
In July 2015, I wrote in Foreign Policy how Karzai begrudges the National Unity Government (NUG), and indirectly subverts Ghani’s administration. Two years ago, Karzai criticized Ghani’s friendly outreach to Pakistan, now he is criticizing Ghani for stalemating relations with Pakistan because of its deceitful policy toward Afghanistan. Those juggling views show that blaming Ghani for anything is merely the pretext of a power struggle.
Behind Karzai’s dissonance with the current government are his bitter relations with the U.S. Since the beginning of his term, Ghani has improved U.S.-Afghan diplomatic relations and built mutual trust between the two governments. Ghani’s leverage with the U.S. began to surface when President Donald Trump took a harsh stance against Pakistan’s behavior in his South Asia Policy, specifically warning against safe havens provided to Taliban and other terrorist organizations by Pakistan. The U.S. government is continuously pressuring Pakistan to revisit its policy of using means of terrorism and aggression in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Karzai has grown close ties with nations in the region wary of U.S. existence in Afghanistan. He has visited Russia multiple times after retiring from office. In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Karzai blamed the U.S. for colluding with IS in Afghanistan. He is feeding into Russia and Iran’s propaganda, that the U.S. wants to pave way for IS to penetrate into Central Asia and Iran’s border.
Karzai and his followers have recently launched a campaign and imprudently demand the president to summon a Loya Jirga to find solutions to the current security and governance challenges. Loya Jirga, meaning grand assembly, is a political tradition in Afghanistan going on for centuries. It is convened to settle major national issues. This pleas might have amassed support at the beginning of Ghani administration, because the state of government was fragile and Taliban and their patron, Pakistan were anticipating to usurp the nascent state any moment. But now that state of fragility has shifted despite the intensified conflagration of war.
Ghani has established major successes within first three years of office.
First, on the diplomatic front Ghani’s sagacity has enabled him to create a supra-Pakistan bloc with India and U.S. in South Asia without making China uncomfortable. His outreach to Gulf countries has also borne fruit for Afghanistan. Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia are financing major developmental projects in the country. Regional connectivity and expanding Afghanistan’s trade horizon was one of Ghani’s major selling campaign platforms; and he is making progress. With Chabahar port, air corridor with India, and major trade and energy agreements with Central Asia starting to take shape, Afghanistan no longer depends on Pakistan’s trade. Pakistan used to block Torkham pass in the east and Chaman on the south to pressure the Afghan government given Afghanistan complete dependence of Pakistan’s trade. But with Ghani’s successful trade diplomacy with Central Asian nations, the ball is Afghanistan’s court.
In the upcoming decade, Afghanistan’s leverage in the region will further increase with South Asia’s increasing needs to energy from Central Asia, and Central Asia’s need for market. Lapis Lazuli Transit and Transport Route agreement between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey is another major success that connects landlocked Afghanistan with Europe.
Ghani has also shown commitment to reform Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). One of the suggestions I proposed in my The Diplomat article earlier this year was to retire corrupt, old and incapable leadership. Ghani has recently announced that 56 army generals over the age of 65 are being retired. In September 2017, Ghani boldly said in an interview that he is adamant to rout controversial officers from the 1980s and 1990s, pointed at the former Mujahideen, from the ANSF. A police general on December 3 was sentenced to eight years in prison for neglect of duty. To prosecute and convict a brass of such rank is unprecedented since 2002.
While the current government is striking successes on many fronts, Karzai wants to weaken Ghani’s position in next presidential election with the backing of corrupt parliament members and sacked officials already suffering popularity among Afghans.
*Samim Arif is a Fulbright scholar and works at the Department of Sociology in Indiana University. His research area is governance, democracy and service delivery. He tweets @SamimArif.