Despite the assassination of his half-brother, it’s advantage President Hamid Karzai.
Afghanistan is the international military conflict of the greatest significance to Indian interests. Unfortunately, it’s also a war of remarkable fluidity. None of the players can credibly claim that the winds are blowing in their favour.
Over the past few months, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has experienced the free-flowing nature of the conflict more than anyone else.
At one point, on the backfoot as Pakistan leveraged the expectation of a US withdrawal, Mr Karzai began negotiating what were feared would be ‘surrender terms’ with the Taliban and Islamabad. But the Abbottabad raid and the subsequent collapse of US-Pakistan relations gave him a sudden fillip.
The subsequent US announcement of troop withdrawal turned out to be a positive one — it undermined the US’s dependence on supplies coming from Pakistan, emphasised the need for more funds and support for Afghanistan’s security forces, and still left 70,000 US troops behind.
Importantly, it indicated a shift in US policy under which the war’s crossfires turned increasingly against Pakistan — with the barrel projecting from Afghan soil.
Then came this week’s assassination of his half-brother and closest political confidant, Ahmed Wali Karzai. Wali Karzai carried out the dirty deeds that the president was unable to check. In the rough-and-tumble of Afghan politics, such actions were necessary to the Afghan ruler’s survival.
The half-brother was seen as a thorn in Pakistan’s side and accused, by Islamabad, of supporting insurgencies on their own soil. He handled Kandahar, the capital of ‘Talibanistan’ in southern Afghanistan — a task for which it will be difficult to find a successor.
The West’s initial commentary about Wali Karzai was vituperative. And it’s the change in his relations with the US, with his acceptance of Washington’s demand for more inclusive governance and a greater American willingness to marry military action with his political direction, that indicated how things had begun to swing in Mr Karzai’s favour.
A shift completely in keeping with India’s own interests in the region.
What can be said with certainty is that the Afghan war has ceased to be about creating a modern Afghanistan. Rather, it’s now a slow grinding conflict in which the various sides are seeking to tire each other into submission.
The US, seen as the most skittish player, seems to have found a new desire to stay on because of Pakistan’s dismal domestic situation. This has changed the dynamic in a way that Islamabad can do little about — unless it corrects its many internal ailments.
And that seems the most unlikely development of the AfPak turmoil. Which is why the advantage, even after the assassination, lies with Mr Karzai.