This past weekend was an eventful one for Afghanistan. On Saturday, July 7, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in Kabul that Afghanistan had been accepted into the group of "NATO's most important allies." Among the group's other 14 hand-picked members are Israel, Egypt and Australia. Admission into the "club" means Afghanistan will be able to count on long-term financial and military aid from the US.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai was grateful for Washington's gesture. But his speech surprised both friend and foe of the country. Two days earlier, he had accused Washington and the West of meddling in the domestic politics of his country. He even spoke of a propaganda campaign from the West against the Afghan government.
During the joint press conference with Hillary Clinton, Karzai did not mention a word about his previous speech, instead presenting himself as a flexible and versatile politician. But what Kabul needs in these times of turmoil, in which the very existence of the country is in jeopardy, is anything but a moody leader. Afghans are afraid of what the future has in store; many fear that the country will be swallowed up by chaos and civil war after NATO forces leave the country by the end of 2014.
Such issues cannot be taken lightly. President Hamid Karzai has to explain very clearly which states are to be counted as friends of his country and which are enemies. Should he not recognize the West and the US as true friends of Afghanistan, he must name the reasons for that. If not, they are just empty, pointless words.
President Hamid Karzai must also find clear words for domestic politics - for example in terms of fighting corruption. At the Tokyo Donors' Conference, he vowed yet again that he would fight corruption, albeit without naming any concrete plans. The world community vowed to support Afghanistan for the next four years with 16 billion US dollars (12 billion euros). Germany alone will be giving around 430 million euros (530 dollars) - annually.
But this time, like always, a condition was set: good governance in Kabul. But also this time, like in the past, there will not be any revolutionary reforms in Afghanistan. Both the international community and President Karzai know that.
The Afghan president is too weak to fight the corruption in his country. The government's top positions are filled with powerful warlords and their cronies. These warlords have personal armies and some of them have great ties to the US. Among them are the two vice presidents, a number of ministers, many governors, and also Hamid Karzai's brother.
It is not the president, but the warlords who have the most important positions in government. In other words, even if the president wanted to, he would be powerless to implement reforms and thus go against the will of the warlords, who have a tight grip on his government.
But the warlords are not much interested in the rule of law or law-abiding officials. They see their power and their illegally procured riches in danger in an Afghanistan that is governed by the rule of law. They would like to preserve the facade of democracy - but not more. Because Afghanistan's "democracy" is good for business - it brings billions of dollars of financial aid to the country. The international community knows about what is going on. And they have now for years.
Defeating the warlords
Against this backdrop, any criticism coming from the West or from the US has no consequences. Politicians from the West know that criticism directed at Kabul is simultaneously criticism directed at their own Afghanistan policies, which is too strongly focused on the use of military force to fight the Taliban. No one wants to rock the boat to the point of tipping - especially not now, when it has already been decided that international troops will leave by the end of 2014.
The billions in aid most recently promised for Afghanistan should get the country through a few more years and keep it stable until the withdrawal is complete. But what will happen after that? Will Afghanistan be devoured by chaos? Will the Taliban and al Qaeda soon gain the upper hand? If so, the West's politics regarding Afghanistan will have been in vain. This cannot happen; the people of Afghanistan, but also the people of other countries, whose tax money and soldiers have been sacrificed to support Afghanistan, must not be disappointed.
The US and its allies still have great influence in Afghanistan. They, together with President Hamid Karzai, should use the next few years to break the power of the warlords and the Taliban. Should the people of Afghanistan ever actually be able to experience what it means to be equal before the law, then the decisions made this past weekend can be seen as a success. If not, the wrong people will continue to benefit from financial aid and partnerships with Afghanistan.
Author: Ratbil Shamel / sb
Editor: Gregg Benzow