By Habib Sangar
Yesterday marked the 14th anniversary of 9/11- the deadliest terror attack on American soil that killed nearly 3,000 people in a single day. The commemoration of this day came this year in a time when after nearly a decade and half of war against terror, Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan President, who had been installed by the Americans and guarded for years by American bodyguards at his own request to protect him, has doubted the very existence of Al Qaeda and has called it a “myth,” instead of a reality. Karzai’s provocative remarks come in a critical time when Afghanistan is undergoing financial, political, and socioeconomic turmoil, the situation which is believed to be the outcome of the failures he himself made and the opportunities missed over 13 years of his tenure as head of State.
9/11 changed Afghanistan into a totally different place than it was under the Taliban. In comparison to the Taliban’s era, life has significantly improved for the Afghans in many ways. Nearly around 10 million students, 3.5 million of which are girls, are currently enrolled in schools. Human capital, namely among the young generation, has unprecedentedly gone up. Health care, women rights, socioeconomic opportunities for the people, which all in part contribute to a longer life-expectancy span, has improved significantly.
Despite all positive changes that occurred over the last 14 years, there are still persistent and daunting challenges that are entirely inherited by the current administration from Karzai’s incompetent leadership style. The current type of unique government in Afghanistan — Government of National Unity — is the outcome of a disputed and controversial election, which was conducted and organized by the appointees chosen and installed by President Karzai himself. Not only did he fail to ensure and facilitate transparent and legitimate elections, it is widely believed that he intentionally tried to either support the failure of the elections or bring an administration that would be worse than the one he ruled over. On such result is the increasing unemployment rate and steady decline in economic growth, which are among major reasons for thousands of Afghans leaving the country and risking their lives to pursue a better future in European countries.
But the ongoing situation — some people would even call it a crisis — was neither born overnight nor in span of a year. No matter who (nor how) would be elected as president, this current situation was defiantly expected to come to pass. In comparison to the current Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, President Karzai had no vision nor long-term economic goals that would economically and politically enable Afghanistan to adjust itself with the huge transition that it’s currently undergoing.
Karzai’s rhetoric of America’s involvement in Afghanistan in the War against Terror is not something new, nor surprising. The dramatic shift in his viewpoint emerged shortly after President Obama was sworn in as the newly elected US president and reinstated his position of bringing an end to the “blank check” — the type of assistance that Obama believed was delivered to Karzai’s administration by his predecessor, President George W. Bush.
Furthermore, the 2009 disputed and fraudulent election was among the main reasons that contributed to President Karzai’s anger and frustration, for which he blamed the US Administration, especially Richard Holbrooke and Peter Galbraith to oust him either by his main rival Abdullah Abdullah or through the forming of a new administration under Ashraf Ghani or Dr. Ali Ahmad Jalali.
According to an account by Afghanistan Analysts Network, in 1994 when the Taliban were emerging as a resistance force to bring an end to the authority of the warlords and the cruelty they were committing all over Afghanistan, Karzai with the intention of gaining power and influence among the group had supported the movement and lobbied among western embassies in Islamabad to support them. However, his position changed soon after the Taliban refused to appoint him as their representative in the United Nations.
As head of Transitional State of Afghanistan while addressing the joint session of US Congress, Karzai listed the achievements made under his leadership and mentioned the close relationship and partnership between the United States and Afghanistan. Indeed, Karzai said that Afghanistan would have not made any progress without the support of the United States. With the sacrifices made by the American men women in uniform, Karzai stated, the Afghan people became liberated from the oppression and brutality of Al Qaeda and their affiliates.
Denying the facts of the existence of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan before 9/11 is similar to the very popular Afghan proverb of “trying to hide the sun with a finger.” In a recent interview with Aljazeera Network, Karzai not only contradicted his previous stance and viewpoint, he, however, questioned the ultimate sacrifices and price that Afghans and the international community have paid together in the fight against terror.
The difference in viewpoint with the United States, especially with the President Obama Administration’s approach in the fight against terror and dealing with Pakistan might reflect, to some extent, the grievances of Afghan people in regard to Pakistan’s double standard policy in fighting terror. But publicly criticizing the United States in such a tone will undermine the efforts, sacrifices, and resources the International community and Afghan people have paid for the liberation of Afghanistan from Al Qaeda and its remnants.
As Afghanistan is heavily dependent on international aid and will continue to be for many years to come, bringing peace and stability — both in economic terms and security — would not be possible without the assistance and support of the International community. Afghans, especially our leaders, should not blame others for the mistakes that we, the Afghans, have played a role in. Afghanistan, under President Karzai’s leadership, was named one of the most corrupt countries on earth. There is no doubt that he helped bring unity among the Afghan people, but his approach of reaching this goal constantly violated the main principles of democracy and institutional reforms. Warlords and drug traffickers gained more power and assets under his watch; they even became politically and economically empowered to the extent that today they pose a great danger for the survival of this shaky government. The current Afghan government, under President Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah, has yet clean even half of the mess that President Karzai and his team made during his 13 years in office.
*Habib Sangar is Former Director of Afghanistan Parliamentary Institute and graduate alumni of Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, United States. He can be followed at https://twitter.com/h_sangar