The U.S. & Karzai: What Kind of "Partnership"?

By Larry Everest  

On December 14, 2009, a routine meeting took place in Kabul, Afghanistan between Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, and other U.S. officials. A December 16, 2009 cable from Eikenberry on the meeting said: "Karzai said Ismail Khan was still his choice for Minister of Energy, claiming that Secretary Clinton 'agreed to a compromise' after Karzai promised to keep Atmar [interior minister] and appoint competent deputy ministers under Khan.
 
Ambassador Eikenberry countered that Secretary Clinton did not endorse Khan—underscoring that the United States has indicated that Energy and Water is a key U.S. development priority, and that our policy was not to invest in ministries not competently led. Eikenberry added that during his Congressional testimony, all members of the U.S. Congress expressed great concern over the long-term costs of Afghanistan, especially during the current financial crisis."1
 
This is from one of many secret State Department cables from Afghanistan recently published by WikiLeaks. Because these cables are written by U.S. government officials to other officials (reflecting their mind-sets, worldviews, perhaps internal arguments, and other factors), they should not be taken at face value—they both reveal and conceal the truth. But many of the leaked cables concerning Karzai—who was put into power by the U.S. after the U.S. invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 2001—can provide a window into the larger reality of the U.S. relationship with the Afghan government and Karzai's role.
 
With this in mind, let's look at what's being described in the above quote. First, Karzai seems to feel compelled to discuss "his choices" for various ministries with the U.S. ambassador (and such discussions are also described in other cables). Then to justify his choice he argues that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already approved it.
 
In response, Ambassador Eikenberry essentially tells Karzai he is either mistaken or lying because "Secretary Clinton did not endorse Khan." Eikenberry then basically threatens Karzai, telling him the U.S. might cut off funding because it will not invest money "in ministries not competently led," and because America's Congress was concerned about U.S. spending in Afghanistan.
 
We are told the U.S.-Afghan relationship is a "partnership" between two sovereign, independent states working together to further their "shared interests." After WikiLeaks published the State Department cables, Eikenberry issued a statement saying: "The U.S. is absolutely committed to building and strengthening a long-term partnership with the Afghan people and the Afghan government. Our shared goals do not change based on the release of purported diplomatic reporting from the past."2
 
But cables published by WikiLeaks tell a different story. Some of these cables describe Eikenberry micro-managing the actions of whichever candidate won Afghanistan's August 20, 2009 presidential election in which Karzai ran against Abdullah Abdullah. On August 31, 2009, Ambassador Eikenberry met with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. The results of the election had not yet been determined. Yet Eikenberry laid out a detailed series of proposals for which ministers the winner should appoint, what plans should be announced, even the inauguration speech that should be given. Eikenberry warned: "[B]oth leading candidates should understand we are paying close attention to their conduct in this interim period before the certification of the vote, and that their conduct will impact their relationship with the international community ...
Secondly, the next President shoudl [sic] understand that we will scrutinize closely his ministerial appointments for competence and commitment to good governance."3
 
As a thought experiment, imagine if Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S. (or any other official from another country) demanded a say in the U.S. president's cabinet picks. Imagine this official telling the U.S. president that his/her country was paying close attention to the actions of the president's cabinet choices, implying that if the picks were not to the foreign country's liking, it would jeopardize the U.S.'s relationship with the "international community." And imagine if another country told Obama it would continue to "scrutinize closely his ministerial appointments for competence and commitment to good governance."
 
Who Calls the Shots for the Afghan Military?
 
The power of any state rests on its control of its military and police power. And it is evident from a number of WikiLeaked cables that the U.S. is calling the shots in the formation of an Afghan army, and that this army will be completely reliant on the U.S. for most, if not all, of its funding and weaponry. The fact that Afghanistan has to rely on the U.S. to provide weapons and military funding gives the U.S. a lot of direct control over the Afghan army—including controlling how it will operate.
At the December 14, 2009 meeting between Karzai, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, and other U.S. officials (cited at the beginning of this article), Karzai agreed to a key U.S. demand: making sure the Afghan military obtains "sufficient security force recruits and training." Karzai and his Defense Minister then asked for heavier, more advanced weapons for the Afghan military.4
 
Here it is important to note that other State Department cables as well as military war logs reveal the enormous—and largely unreported—levels of violence and brutality being unleashed on the Afghan people, and the murderous attacks that are routinely carried out by U.S., NATO and Afghan forces against the people. So expanding the power of the Afghan military, which the U.S. considers crucial to its military strategy, means expanding the violence being inflicted on the Afghan people. (See "U.S. Raids: High Tech Terror in Afghanistan," Revolution #221, January 9, 2011; "Made in America: The Gardez Massacre," Revolution #197, April 4, 2010.)
 
The cable describing the December 14 meeting then describes how U.S. Admiral Mullen refused Karzai's and Wardak's [defense minister] requests, saying "the United States would continue to equip the Afghan forces for counter-insurgency operations since the territorial defense was not currently a priority, especially considering the U.S. strategic defense relationship with Afghanistan." When Wardak argued Afghanistan needed heavy weapons to defend itself and for such counter-insurgency, Mullen told him "heavy weaponry was not needed at present." In short, it was the U.S. deciding what role the Afghan military would play and which weapons it would get, based on U.S. strategy and interests.
 
There are other examples of how the U.S. is calling the shots (literally), with regard to the Afghan military—making it clear who is in charge. Military reports published by WikiLeaks in July 2010 show that "The Central Intelligence Agency has expanded paramilitary operations inside Afghanistan. The units launch ambushes, order airstrikes and conduct night raids. From 2001 to 2008, the C.I.A. paid the budget of Afghanistan's spy agency and ran it as a virtual subsidiary."5
 
One cable reports on a meeting between Eikenberry and defeated presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, during which Abdullah claimed that Karzai "asked his Defense Minister 'Your ANA [Afghan National Army] can manage without the Americans, can't it?' but the answer was 'We get 400,000 liters of petrol a day from them; without them, we'd end our operations in two days.'"6
 
After a February 6, 2009 night raid in Zabul province, a February 12 State Department cable reported that local Afghan officials and elders "questioned the legality of the operations under the Afghan constitution," adding: "Note: Article 38 of the Constitution stipulates, 'No one, including the state, shall have the right to enter a personal residence or search it without the owners permission or by order of an authoritative court, except in situations and methods delineated by law.'"7
 
This is an example of how the Afghan Constitution is trumped by whatever the U.S. decides is necessary. And there are numerous other examples, many revealed in these cables, of how the U.S. routinely violates this article of Afghanistan's Constitution.
 
Who and What Goals Does Karzai Serve?
 
The nature of the relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan, and the need to conceal the real nature of this relationship, are dictated and defined by the reasons the U.S. is in Afghanistan in the first place.
The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was not launched in 2001 to liberate the Afghan people, but to strengthen the U.S.'s imperial grip on the strategically crucial Middle East-Central Asian regions. In Afghanistan, this included striking al-Qaeda and overthrowing the Taliban regime (to weaken Islamist movements regionally), and installing an Afghan regime suitable for U.S. aims, one of which was increasing its permanent military presence in the heart of Central Asia. These continue to be core U.S. objectives.
 
However, the U.S. rulers understand they cannot achieve those objectives without a subordinate—but functioning—Afghan government with a certain degree of legitimacy and credibility among the Afghan people. So the U.S. and its allies have gone to great lengths to orchestrate the cobbling together of what is portrayed as an independent regime.
 
So what kind of "partnership" do the U.S. and the Karzai regime have? A "partnership" in which the U.S. dictates who is in the Afghan government and who's not, what it does, and what it doesn't do. A "partnership" to continue the brutal U.S. occupation and war in Afghanistan.
The client, puppet government that Karzai is the president of would not last a day without the economic, political and military backing from the U.S. Karzai is in power not because he has some mandate from the Afghan people. He's in power because the U.S. put him there. Karzai and his government continue to serve the larger strategic objectives of U.S. imperialism—which are all about the extension and preservation of empire. And what this means for the masses of Afghan people is a horror of U.S. bombs from the sky, massacres, continued enforcement of reactionary, feudal traditions, night raids, round-ups and extreme torture.
 
This article first appeared in Revolution.
 
Footnotes
1. "US embassy cables: Cables say Obama's troop reductions were a military recommendation," Guardian UK, December 2, 2010. [back]
2. "US embassy cables: Afghan's finance minister warns leaked cables will damage relations with US," Guardian UK, December 4, 2010. [back]
3. "US embassy cables: 'We are not just another imperialist force' in Afghanistan," Guardian UK, December 2, 2010. [back]
4. See Footnote #1. December 16, 2009 cable continues: "Karzai inquired whether ANSF expansion would include only an increase in training, or also an increase in more sophisticated military equipment for Afghan internal defense." Then Defense Minister "Wardak further noted that more heavy weapons were need for the ANA over time to increase their capability to defend themselves, and could also be used to fight the Taliban." [back]
5. "View Is Bleaker Than Official Portrayal of War in Afghanistan," New York Times, July 25, 2010. [back]
6. "US embassy cables: Karzai asks defence minister: 'Can you manage without the US?'" Guardian UK, December 2, 2010. [back]
7. "US embassy cables: Afghan tribal elders threaten to 'fight Nato like the Soviets,'" Guardian UK, December 3, 2010; "U.S. Raids: High Tech Terror in Afghanistan," Revolution #221, January 9, 2011.
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