One of his neighbours described him as “super fun to hang around with”. Family members of the 16 Afghans massacred by US Army Staff Sgt Robert Bales aren’t likely to agree with that. Or other adjectives like “nice”, “normal”, “loving” that have been applied to him by various people who knew him. Just like Toulouse terrorist Mohammed Merah’s lawyer thought of him as “polite and sweet”. Somehow every psycho always seems to have lived around people who wanted to make him Neighbour of the Year.
Whatever madness seized him, Bales did manage to accomplish something that Washington’s army of experts hadn’t quite managed — a sort of consensus on where to go in Afghanistan. The answer being: out.
While the minority that wants America to persist in Afghanistan is still correct, the Obama administration has been erecting ‘exit’ signs for far too long to reverse. That process began with a speech by the American president in late 2009, simultaneously satisfying the US Army’s urge for a surge, while also pledging premature withdrawal from Afghanistan. His Afghan policy was apparently crafted by the same folk who planned Kim Kardashian’s wedding.
All that the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and other ISI-trained terrorists needed was patience. That’s paid off.
The Taliban, meanwhile, set up a diplomatic office in Qatar, possibly so it could be close to Al Jazeera for its publicity needs. And while the Obama administration dreamt of the Afghan President Hamid Karzai regime and the Taliban agreeing to share power in Kabul — sort of like Rick Santorum and Ricky Martin forming a coalition — the latter nixed that idea.
The Taliban issues a lot of statements online. One of the recent ones pertains to the “declaration of suspension of dialogue by Islamic Emirate”. Exactly why they even pretended to want to talk is unclear since most of their postings about the Karzai government used phrases like “stooge regime”, “soldiers of the hireling”, “minions” and “invaders along with their local puppets”. That language echoes the statements released by party apparatchiks at the Soviet Kremlin. Perhaps the guys who write statements for the Taliban are the same who create official news releases for North Korea, and provide breaking news headlines like this recent one: ‘Spring tree-planting brisk in DPRK’.
Recent events in Afghan-istan, headlined by Staff Sgt Bales, are allowing the Obama administration to head for the departure gates earlier than expected. Karzai laments about the American and Taliban “demons”, his two-horned dilemma.
US Marines were disarmed before being addressed by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who had flown in to Afghanistan after the Bales incident. The Americans, led by their president, were still in full apology mode, as Major General Mark Gurganus noted in the aftermath to the Bales bloodbath: “We’ve had zero incidents.” Unfortunately, as Panetta was arriving, an Afghan interpreter set himself and his veh-icle, a stolen pickup, afire on the runway ramp. As the Long War Journal pointed out, the actual target was Gurganus hims-elf, waiting to receive Panetta. However, a Pentagon spokesman wasn’t so sure, as he issued this masterly statement: “For reasons that are totally unknown to us at this time, our personnel discovered that he was ablaze.” The interpreter that is, not Gurganus.
An accelerated timeline for departing Afghanistan is convenient in an election year or even when America may need to refocus its energies on Iran.
Karzai’s predecessor, Mohammed Najibullah, stayed put after the Soviets exited. His family escaped to south Delhi. Ultimately though, as the Taliban captured Kabul, he was dragged from a UN compound, castrated, killed and strung up from a traffic light.
That sort of history is likely to make someone like Karzai highly strung. A specialised American force left behind in Afghanistan may help Karzai survive. He’s trying to help himself by attempting to appear a nationalist, or translated into Afghanspeak, anti-American. But he’s probably still checking if there are enough blank visa pages in his passport.
(Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years)
The views expressed by the author are personal