As we near the date of withdrawal for U.S. combat forces in Afghanistan, the debate about the country's largest neighbor has shifted. No longer are American analysts worried about Chinese investments free-riding on U.S. and NATO stability efforts. Now, the hope is that China's massive state-owned enterprises (SOEs) will pour more funds into Afghanistan in the hope that foreign direct investment will shore up a centralized government and provide opportunities for all to make money instead of war. But, Chinese companies face many of the same uncertainties that U.S. forces and contractors have contended with for a decade.
Much has been written about the controversies and delays at the site of China's largest investment in the country: the gargantuan copper mine at Mes Aynak. Both company officials and local observers indicate that the SOE leading the project, China Metallurgical Group Corporation, is biding its time, waiting to assess the post-withdrawal security situation.
What could be far more significant in the long run, however, are Chinese plans for oil and gas investment in the north of the country. These have the potential to link Afghanistan into China's growing pipeline network in Central Asia, providing the infrastructure-led regional integration that U.S. officials have been touting for years. Nearby Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have grown wealthy and centralized partly due to Chinese energy investment. Could the same be true for Afghanistan in the future?
First, the oil has to come out of the ground. Afghan Minister of Mines Wahidullah Shahrani announced at last month's Mines and Money conference in Hong Kong that Beijing's flagship China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) will very soon start oil production at its three concessions in northern Sar-e-Pul province. But, back in October, Shahrani announced the very same news. On the ground observers, independent consultants and this Reuters article confirmed that extraction actually began in the Fall and was ramped up in January. Perhaps this is just a question of wording. There could also be some confusion amongst journalists about what constitutes "extraction" and "commercial production".
However, there seems to be lack of clarity on exactly how much crude is coming out of the ground, where it will be refined and what sort of reserves CNPC is sitting on. Back in October Shahrani mentioned a production rate of 1950 barrels per day (bpd), whereas his latest comments indicate initial output of 5000 bpd, with plans for 25,000 bpd by the end of the year. This is a significant discrepancy. Last year, CNPC officials were discussing estimates closer to 2000 bpd, a figure corroborated by representatives of Watan Oil and Gas, CNPC's Afghan partner in the project.
It also seems that there is now some uncertainty about which of Afghanistan's northern neighbors will refine the oil, which according to CNPC and the Ministry is to be re-imported in the form of various petroleum products, such as gasoline and kerosene, for Afghan consumption. That said, CNPC has confirmed on numerous occasions that the crude is already being trucked in convoys across the border with Turkmenistan to be refined there. As Erica Downs mentions in her excellent, in-depth report on China's investments in Afghanistan, CNPC's oil extraction project in Sar-e-Pul is an extension of its mammoth operations in eastern Turkmenistan, from where the Central Asia-China natural gas pipeline extends all the way to Beijing, Shanghai and China's other east coast urban centers.
The three concessions that CNPC received in Afghanistan: the Kashkari, Bazarkhami and Zamarudsa oil blocks are part of the vast Amu Darya basin, the oil and natural gas reserves of which are thought to stretch from southeastern Turkmenistan to southern Tajikistan and across northern Afghanistan. In fact, this is the very same territory through which CNPC is planning to build a new natural gas pipeline to bring Turkmen resources to Xinjiang through northern Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The TATC project, as it has been labeled, would serve as an alternative route to the Central Asia-China pipeline, so that Chinese consumers are not dependent on Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan as transit countries. Given CNPC's plans for a massive 65 billion cubic meters of gas annually to be imported from Turkmenistan, there will almost certainly be a need for another line.
In the past, CNPC has discussed the possibility of pipelines from Iran or other parts of the Gulf connecting to its Central Asian network, potentially through northern Afghanistan. CNPC recently abandoned its plans to develop part of Iran's gigantic South Pars gas field, but it is actively looking for new extractive opportunities in the country, despite international sanctions. If it already has infrastructure threaded through northern Afghanistan, it would be logical for CNPC to use the same provinces in which it is extracting oil as a thoroughfare for Gulf gas going to China.
In the face of these wide-ranging plans, Afghanistan's Ministry of Mines may be trying to keep its options open. Philadelphia-based chemical company FMC Corporation announced an agreement in late December to build a refinery in Jowzjan province, not far from CNPC's operations. FMC's plans call for processing oil extracted not only by CNPC, but also that expected to be produced in another section of the Amu Darya basin by a consortium made up of Dubai-based Dragon Oil, Kuwait Energy and Turkish Petroleum. Their blocks, Sanduqli and Mazer-e-Sharif, were only awarded in December and consortium representatives say that negotiations with the Ministry are ongoing. Afghan press reports claim a three year deal has been signed between CNPC and FMC, but no CNPC representatives were able to confirm that. So far, plans call for refining 60 bpd, so either way, CNPC will almost certainly continue to use its Turkmen connection to bring the crude to market.
The Afghan government consistently casts China's energy development plans as part of the post-withdrawal economic development strategy, and even the U.S. embassy in Kabul has partnered with the Chinese on low-key capacity-building projects. In the specific Afghan context, this may very well be the case, but when one zooms out to see that CNPC's operations in Afghanistan are just one piece of an immense energy network being developed by Chinese firms across Eurasia, it becomes clear that China's energy plans for Afghanistan ought to be monitored much more closely in the years to come. If the Central Asian experience provides any lessons, Chinese energy investment might provide medium-term prosperity at the expense of long-term sovereignty.
Dr. Alexandros Petersen is author of The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West, and Advisor to the European Energy Security Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His current research is available at www.chinaincentralasia.com.
On March 19, Pakistan's government gave a briefing to the country's top military officials.
The topic of this high-level meeting was not the Taliban's takeover of the Tirah Valley, fresh tensions with Afghanistan, or other urgent national security matters. Rather, the briefing-delivered by the commerce secretary to the army, air force, and navy chiefs-was about tightening trade ties with India.
This issue has been a priority for Pakistan's civilian and military leadership alike since November 2011, when Pakistan announced its intention to extend Most-Favored Nation status to India (New Delhi granted this privilege to Islamabad in 1996). The decision was rooted in the realization that the potential benefits of a formal trade relationship with India-lower prices and variety for consumers; bigger export markets for producers; more employment for the masses; and greater revenues (currently lost to smuggling and other informal trade) for the government-were too immense to pass up.
Since then, both countries have continued to give strong indications that they intend to make their trade relationship a close and formal one. Last year, Pakistan abolished its positive list of goods that could be imported from India, and replaced it with a shorter negative list of items that couldn't be imported. The two capitals also launched a new integrated checkpoint at the Attari-Wagah border crossing (which serves the only land route for Pakistan-India trade), and concluded a landmark visa agreement that loosens travel restrictions.
This year, even after political relations took a plunge following a series of deadly exchanges along the Line of Control in January, the desire for trade cooperation remains strong. In recent weeks, each nation's ambassador to Washington has publicly affirmed-one at Harvard, the other at CSIS-the imperative of a strong trade relationship. Just days ago, Islamabad's envoy to New Delhi assured an audience of Indian and Pakistani businessmen that "we want trade normalization and there is a roadmap for that."
However, despite these encouraging signs, trade normalization remains a work in progress. Pakistan had pledged to phase out its negative list by the end of last year-thereby bringing the two countries closer to a fully operational MFN regime-yet today it remains in place.
So why the holdup?
One commonly cited explanation is the resistance of Pakistan's powerful agricultural interests, who fear the consequences of heavily subsidized, cheap food products coursing into Pakistan-particularly those, such as bananas and oranges, which Pakistani farmers already produce in abundance. Predictably, last November, the president of the Basmati Growers Association warned that his members faced "economic suicide." And the head of Farmers Associates Pakistan (a lobby group) threatened to literally block Indian agricultural products from entering Pakistan.
However, a new Wilson Center report on Pakistan-India trade, edited by Robert M. Hathaway and myself, presents a more complex picture. Some food producers actually relish the prospect of acquiring foodstuffs from India, because they believe such products will be of higher-quality then their own, and hence generate greater profits. Another surprising source of support is the textile industry, which believes it can capture major shares of the Indian market. Pakistani home textile and bed ware manufacturers have already explored joint venture options with Indian partners.
There is, however, strident opposition from other sectors. The pharmaceutical industry fears that India's surfeit of raw materials and large economies of scale will marginalize Pakistani products, while the chemical/synthetic fibers sector worries that India will dump its large fiber surplus in Pakistani markets. Our report also highlights opposition within the automobile industry. Manufacturers are anxious that Indian car parts will flood Pakistani markets and devastate local industry, and fear that Pakistani parts exports will suffer because Indian car makers prefer domestically manufactured parts. Islamabad has given in to the car industry's protectionist proclivities; the sector has nearly 400 items on the 1,209-item negative list-far more than any other sector.
Another likely reason for the MFN delay is politics. Security and territorial disputes have a historic habit of contaminating Pakistan-India trade relations at the most inopportune of times. In 1965, the two countries went to war over Kashmir, bringing an abrupt end to a promising period of commercial ties (in the preceding 18 years, the two nations had concluded 14 trade facilitation agreements). Banks in both countries were seized as enemy properties, and customs officials at the Wagah border crossing were the war's first civilian prisoners of war.
Nearly 50 years later, a more subtle dynamic is at play. Last June, an Indian government official lamented that momentum for trade normalization had slowed because Islamabad was linking trade to progress on the territorial issues of Siachen and Sir Creek. It's a lament that highlights a major obstacle to Pakistan-India trade normalization-because it exposes a major disconnect in each country's motivations for pursuing normalization.
Back in April 2012, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar proclaimed that trade normalization would "put in place the conditions that will enable Pakistan to better pursue its principled positions" on territorial issues. Some observers, however, believe that New Delhi sees stronger commercial relations as an end in themselves. India-at least up to now-has demonstrated no interest in making the territorial concessions that Pakistan hopes closer trade ties will bring about. Islamabad likely understands this disconnect, and is hesitant to consummate MFN because it fears that the Pakistani public would, in time, perceive the move as a sacrificing of political and territorial issues for purely material gain.
Our report, drawing on the views of its eight contributors, offers 15 recommendations aimed at addressing these challenges to normalization. Several suggest how to get Pakistanis to embrace trade as a good thing in of itself. For example, Pakistan's media-a powerful influence on public opinion-should amplify the advantages of bilateral trade by spotlighting the positive sentiments of consumers and producers. Other recommendations focus on how to keep political/territorial issues from sabotaging trade ties. Both sides should remain committed to the Composite Dialogue-a formal process of ongoing bilateral talks that began in 2004 and encompass a wide range of topics, including territorial issues. Additionally, trade should be divorced from developments within the security realm. This means that New Delhi should not impose punitive trade measures or close its borders if Pakistan-based terrorists attack India.
The report also underscores the imperative of acting quickly to cement trade normalization-because global economic developments make doing so a virtual necessity. Rich-country trading partners of India and Pakistan are facing economic slowdowns, and Europe's financial crisis is contributing to diminished exports. Now is therefore the ideal time for India and Pakistan to more robustly tap into each other's markets. To that end, our recommendations call for the implementation of trade-facilitation measures that accelerate the path to normalization.
These include loosening transit restrictions (India and Pakistan restrict each other's ability to use the other's territory to reach third countries); enhancing trade route efficiency (this can be done by improving the quality of roads and railways, and by removing restrictions on the type and size of trucks and train cars); and establishing new private oversight institutions-including a dispute resolution mechanism-to guide the bilateral economic relationship. The emphasis here should be tackling non-tariff barriers (from long waiting times at border crossings to rejections of bank-issued letters of credit) that make many exporters-especially Pakistani-reluctant to pursue cross-border trade.
In recent days, Islamabad has refused to provide a timeframe for completing trade normalization, other than some vague assurances that the negative list will be phased out after this spring's elections. According to Pakistani insiders, such statements are genuine. All political parties in Pakistan fully endorse trade normalization, argue these observers, and whatever the composition of the next government, it will be determined to move forward.
For the sake of regional peace, let's hope so. A new National Intelligence Council study contends that trade may be the only way to keep South Asia peaceful over the next 20 years-because it's the most realistic strategy to dramatically boost employment in Pakistan, and thereby to reduce the prospects for youth radicalization and a new generation of militants who terrorize both Pakistan and India.
So while trade normalization has great potential payoffs for India and Pakistan, it also matters immensely for the rest of us. In the words of one of our report's contributors, "the entire world has a stake in peace in South Asia."
Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @michaelkugelman
The series of trade facilitating measures enacted by India and Pakistan starting in November 2011 were undoubtedly the first steps toward creating new trading opportunities that could lead to a quantum leap in bilateral trade between the two countries. Trade potential between India and Pakistan is estimated to be $19.8 billion (U.S.), which is 10 times larger than the current $1.97 billion in trade. Of this, India's export potential accounts for $16 billion and its import potential accounts for $3.8 billion. The potential in India's mineral fuels is another $10.7 billion, of which export potential accounts for $9.4 billion and import potential $1.3 billion.
The items with the largest export potential include cellular phones, cotton, vehicle components, polypropylene, xylene, tea, textured yarn, synthetic fiber, and polyethylene. The items with largest import potential include jewelry, medical instruments and appliances, cotton, tubes and pipes of iron and steel, polyethylene terephthalate, copper waste and scrap, structures and parts of structures, terephthalic acid and its salts, medicines, and sports equipment.
In a major move towards normalizing trade relations, Pakistan's transition from a positive list to a negative list in March 2012 (except for road-based trade, for which Pakistan continues to maintain a positive list of only 137 items) was perhaps the most significant step toward unleashing bilateral trade potential. Under the positive list approach, Pakistan imported from India a specified list of items. The negative list specifies the banned list rather than the permitted list of imports, allowing a much greater flow of goods from India.
India and Pakistan also maintain sensitive lists as members of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement. While negative lists specify items that are completely banned from trade, sensitive lists consist of items on which trade is permitted but tariff concessions are not allowed. As in any trade liberalization process, there will be both winners and losers. The negative and sensitive lists indicate sectors in which countries want to protect domestic industry from each other's imports.
A substantial proportion of India's export potential to Pakistan - 58 percent - is in products that are on Pakistan's negative or sensitive lists, applicable to India under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). Similarly, 32 percent of India's import potential from Pakistan is in items on the sensitive list for Pakistan applicable under SAFTA. Further, Pakistan's negative list indicates that the automobile and component industry is the largest sector that enjoys protection from Indian imports.
On the other hand, agricultural items, for which resistance to liberalization is building up in Pakistan, are unlikely to have any impact as this sector has already been liberalized. Pakistan's sensitive list indicates that textiles account for 24 percent of the items on the list, but this sector accounts for only 3 percent of India's export potential of items on Pakistan's list. India's sensitive list indicates that the textiles sector is protected the most-a sector in which Pakistan enjoys a comparative advantage. Most of the items on the sensitive list are fabrics, which if allowed at preferential (lower) tariffs into India will compete with large firms (rather than small firms) in India that produce comparable quality. Even though these firms are likely to oppose liberalization, there is no rationale to protect large firms.
India's sensitive list under SAFTA applicable to Pakistan indicates that the textiles sector is protected the most (accounting for 22 percent of India's import potential) - a sector in which Pakistan enjoys a comparative advantage. It can be inferred that while Pakistan considers its automobile sector as the most vulnerable, India fears competition in the textile sector.
To realize the untapped trade potential between the two countries, several physical and regulatory impediments need to be addressed. Expansion of physical infrastructure at the land borders, amendment of transport protocols to allow seamless transportation without the requirement of transshipment of cargo (the transfer of goods from one country's truck to the other country's truck at the land borders because Indian and Pakistani trucks cannot operate in each other's territory),and dismantling of the road-based positive list are measures that could bring about a substantial reduction in the transaction costs of trading between the two countries.
Non-tariff barriers have been a key issue for Pakistani business people trying to access the Indian market. While there are genuine non-tariff barriers related to the complexity of regulatory procedures, non-transparent regulations, port restrictions, and problems related to recognition of standards and valuation of goods, these are not discriminatory and are being addressed in India's ongoing reform process. It is more difficult to address "perceived" barriers that business people face in entering each other's markets. Business people fear entering these markets as they are not sure their goods will be welcomed. This is more so in the consumer goods market segment. However, there is evidence that some businesses have made a bold entry with their country labels and have not met much resistance. Exhibitions and fairs are an effective way of dealing with these perceived barriers.
For deeper and stronger trade linkages it is important that there are foreign investment flows between the two countries. Businessmen from both countries are reluctant to invest as they fear the consequences of a possible political event. If a bilateral investment treaty is put in place it could improve business confidence. In the meantime, businessmen in both countries have suggested allowing joint ownership of manufacturing facilities located in the respective countries. Thus, investors can enter into joint ventures without physically locating in each other's territory. This could be the first step for entry until legal systems can be altered to safeguard investments, and there is an improvement in investors' confidence.
A key determinant of realization of trade potential is the liberalization of visas. The revised visa regime expected to become operational soon provides only an incremental improvement over the existing system as it introduces measures to ease travel of tourists, pilgrims, elderly and children. The business visa is also more liberal for certain categories. As security is a key concern, information technology-driven systems should be made to screen visa applications and physical movement of people.
India and Pakistan need to engage with each other to understand each other's regulatory regimes. As new businessmen enter the economy it is important to have forums that would bring buyers and sellers together. The business communities must create multilevel channels of communication that can reduce misconceptions, bridge the information gap, and generate a significant change in the business environment of the two countries. This could help in realizing the untapped trade potential between the two countries.
Nisha Taneja is a professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations in New Delhi.
During a recent trip to the region, Secretary of State John Kerry decided not to visit Pakistan out of respect for the country's ongoing electoral processes. He made the right choice.
The United States has repeatedly found itself in the middle of Pakistan's domestic politics, a problem partially of its own making. In 2006, the United States tried to broker a power-sharing deal between exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and then-President Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf, who unceremoniously took power in a bloodless coup against the Nawaz Sharif government in 1999, desperately needed domestic and international legitimization of his presidency. Bhutto - the popular scion of a political family from Sindh - could offer the domestic portion of that by participating in national elections that would be sure to put her back into office as Prime Minister. An increasingly unpopular Musharraf could stay on as president.
While U.S. mediation was warranted to some extent on account of the high stakes involved in the "global war on terror," the result was disastrous. After months of secretive meetings with a coterie of high-level American officials and informal representatives, Bhutto returned to Pakistan from exile in Dubai only to be assassinated by the Pakistani Taliban ten weeks later. Ever since, the United States has in some way been blamed for her death and the circumstances following it, most notably the election of Bhutto's widow, Asif Ali Zardari, as President of Pakistan.
If Secretary Kerry had visited Pakistan, he would have inevitably signaled de facto American support for the incumbent Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and co-chairman Zardari, who remains President until September. Zardari and the PPP would have relished such attention given their dismal electoral chances, but the United States did not take the bait.
Maneuvers to elicit U.S. support for legitimacy within Pakistan are not new tactics for Pakistani politicians. Since his self-initiated exile in 2008, Musharraf has diligently sought U.S. government support to anoint his return to Pakistani politics. After all, if the United States did this for Bhutto in 2006, then why not for him - the secular, U.S.-leaning, cosmopolitan general turned statesman who enjoys an occasional scotch?
Musharraf should get credit for trying. He lobbied hard within U.S. political circles, with his Philadelphia-based office regularly releasing photographs and announcements of his meetings with members of Congress. In a slightly disingenuous move in 2011, his office even released a photograph of Musharraf with Vice President Joe Biden at a football game, suggesting the meeting was planned. The Vice President's office quickly covered its bases by clarifying that it was a chance encounter with "no substantive conversation."
In reality, Musharraf tried many times to get meetings at the State Department and White House but failed. Don't look for the United States to change track now that Musharraf is back in Pakistan. U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Rick Olson recently said of his return: "I don't see this as a terribly large or significant event...he doesn't have a great deal of support." The White House later chimed in to say Musharraf's return was "an internal matter." And recall that just the week before, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland clarified in a morning briefing that the United States "has no favorites among Pakistani politicians and we are looking forward to work with whoever is elected on May 11." An unnamed senior State Department official was even blunter, saying the United States "did not want to lead anyone to conclude anything about where" U.S. interests may lie."
It is now clearer than ever before that the United States does not want to get involved in Pakistan's domestic politics. Letting political affairs run their course is the best thing the United States - or any other country, individual or institution - can do. Given negative Pakistani public and government perceptions of the United States, it is extremely unlikely that the United States could effectively achieve its objectives if it chose to get more involved.
No doubt America will find another way to sustain stable and friendly relations with the Pakistani government - too much is at stake. Until the end of 2014, the United States will remain heavily dependent on the Pakistani military's cooperation in keeping NATO supply routes from Afghanistan through Pakistan open. Longer term challenges of Pakistan-based Al Qaeda members and affiliates, as well as Pakistan's nuclear program, demand the United States has a more normalized relationship with Islamabad. Time will tell if the United States can truly go cold turkey on getting involved in Pakistani politics to advance its own interests.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is a South Asia analyst at the Eurasia Group and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan at the White House National Security Council from 2010-2011.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s latest vague and controversial anti-U.S. remarks were puzzling to many people both inside and outside Afghanistan, as they implied that the United States is inadvertently colluding with the Taliban. Despite the fact that he later accused the media of misinterpreting his comments and tried to clarify his remarks during a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Kabul, his comments generated a lot of noise, confusion, and varied interpretations by political commentators.
The most popular interpretations explained that Karzai’s bizarre remarks were likely aimed at cementing his patriotic image. Others believed his comments were attempts to rebuild his legacy as he nears the end of his term in office. Some speculated that they were a result of “bad advice” from his political cronies.
All of these interpretations may have shades of truth to them, yet there is another unnoticed nuance to Karzai’s remarks. Karzai is displaying his influence over the U.S. because of two important matters: peace talks with the Taliban and the 2014 presidential elections.
With regard to the peace talks, Karzai wants to take the lead on the process, undermine any existing secret negotiation channels that have excluded him, and at a minimum, reduce Kabul’s dependence on Pakistan’s cooperation for the success of any future peace talks. Having felt excluded from the “secret channels” allegedly opened by the United States to hold negotiations with the Taliban, Karzai also wants the Taliban to know that approaching the Americans for peace talks will end up nowhere if his government is not involved.
To be able to dominate the political landscape, Karzai needed to showcase his power and authority to the Taliban and counter the militants’ long-running accusations that he is a “powerless” “puppet” of the Americans and that he does not have authority over major decisions in the country So he staged the recent political drama by ratcheting up his demands on the transfer of the Parwan Detention Facility from the U.S. military to the Afghan government and the expulsion of U.S. Special Forces from parts of Wardak province. He also stepped up his anti-U.S. rhetoric to ensure his demands were met despite widespread opposition from influential political and social groups in the country. To add weight to his demands, he even involved the Council of Religious Scholars, a body widely considered to be a tool for advancing Karzai’s personal political goals. While he achieved both demands, it was a political gamble that brought Afghan-U.S. relations to their lowest point in the last decade. Yet for Karzai, the end result was that he managed to display his authority and influence over a major international player, though it has yet to produce any breakthroughs in terms of holding direct talks with the Taliban.
The second issue on Karzai’s mind is the 2014 presidential election. He is constitutionally barred from running for another term, and the Afghan president knows well that his survival and his family’s and clan’s statuses in post-2014 Afghanistan depend on whomever becomes the next leader of the country. Karzai’s anti-U.S. rhetoric and what it achieved will reinforce his position as a “Kingmaker” in the upcoming elections. This is likely to mobilize powerbrokers around him and make it easier for his handpicked candidate to win the election because in Afghanistan, the perception of power is more important than actual power.
For Karzai, having a handpicked successor who ensures the continuation of his and his family’s interest and political survival is more a matter of necessity than choice. This is because, in the incredible tale of Afghan history, many rulers of the country and their families have either been brutally killed or have faced permanent exile in foreign lands. This unfortunate historical precedent has become even more prominent as five out of nine Afghan leaders and their immediate families have been murdered since the Communist revolution in 1978. For Karzai, the stakes are even higher if he loses power or if he becomes politically irrelevant. After all, members of the Karzai family and tribe have enjoyed incredible riches and political domination of southern Afghanistan over the last 12 years, sometimes at the cost of other tribes and political rivals. Since 2001, his relatives and tribe have ruled the south of the country–where Afghan kings have historically hailed from–more like the Sopranos of Kandahar than the Kennedys of Afghanistan.
With the Afghan election date fast approaching, the United States should expect more such erratic statements from Karzai. But they should also understand that Karzai’s anti-U.S. statements neither reflect nor speak for the wider Afghan public view of the United States. In fact, Karzai was taken aback by the harsh criticism he faced from majority in the country, including members of his own government. This backlash stemmed from the anxiety that has gripped the country over the widespread belief that a premature withdrawal of the U.S.-led NATO troops will mark the beginning of a civil war in the country. Many Afghans see their leader’s frantic and bizarre statements as not only damaging to the national interests of the country, but also further throwing the country into the arms of Afghanistan’s two rapacious neighbors: Pakistan and Iran.
Najib Sharifi is the Director of Afghanistan New Generation Organization—a youth empowerment body based in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Ahmad Shafi is an Afghan journalist and a former NPR producer.