Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Will voters in your town believe Karzai is worth dying for?
In his inauguration speech on Thursday, Afghan president Hamid Karzai promised to combat corruption and appoint competent ministers, heading off the growing chorus of criticism from the West that his government is crooked and inept. Unsurprisingly, the Western dignitaries in the audience declared that they liked what they heard.
We predicted ahead of time that we would hear positive words about Karzai this week. After all, Western governments need to convince their own voters back home that the veteran Afghan leader’s government is worth sending their sons and daughters to die for. This autumn’s election debacle made Karzai look bad – a U.N.-backed probe found that nearly a third of votes cast for him were fake — but now that’s all over and the West needs him to look as reliable as possible.
A “very strong, substantial statement,” declared British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
“Let’s encourage and support the president,” said EU envoy Ettore Sequi.
Well, that’s what they said when the cameras were rolling. Behind the scenes the message was: Karzai’s speech was fine, but it’s just a speech.
“We’ve heard all of these sentiments before. If you compare his last inauguration to this inauguration, you’ll see there’s almost a 90 percent overlap,” was how one Western official in Kabul put it.
President Barack Obama, who is still considering whether to send tens of thousands of extra troops to join the 68,000 Americans and 40,000 NATO allies in Afghanistan, has a hard sell to his own Democratic party. If the inauguration means it is now time to be nice to Karzai, nobody told Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat speaker of the House of Representatives. She let Karzai have it with both barrels.
“The president of Afghanistan has proven to be an unworthy partner,” she told NPR’s Morning Edition. “How can we ask the American people to pay a big price in lives and limbs and also in dollars if we don’t have a connection to reliable partner?”
[Above: Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai inspects the guard of honour on his arrival at the presidential palace for his inauguration in Kabul November 19, 2009. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen]