x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Karzai needs the West more than he might think

Whenever the US military leaves for good, Afghans will need engaged allies to help it rebuild. This is something President Karzai, in Washington this week, would do well to remember.

American drones are still in the skies above Afghanistan, US troops are still on the ground and Afghan prisoners still languish in US-controlled prisons. What, then, could a spokesman for Hamid Karzai, the country's beleaguered president, have meant by suggesting "the world needs us more than we need them"? The security of Afghanistan is still in foreign hands. A recent report from the Pentagon argued that only one of the Afghan National Army's 23 brigades can operate without support from Nato. That outsourced security cuts both ways though. Mr Karzai has publicly attacked the US for not allowing Afghanistan to buy the weapons it needs to fight insurgents.

As Mr Karzai meets with American officials - he's scheduled to sit down with President Barack Obama on Friday - he will be speaking over the head of the US public to his audience back home. High on the agenda will be what happens after the US leaves in 2014. Will thousands of US troops remain? Ahead of the trip, the US let it be known that it would consider a so-called "zero option" of no troops left behind. America's military wants to stay in some capacity, but its leaders have grown tired of what is now its longest running war. Analysts, meanwhile, wonder if Afghanistan will not fragment without such security.

For Mr Karzai, going to Washington and pointing fingers will not solve Afghanistan's many woes. Not all of them are self-inflicted, by any means. The absolute destruction inflicted on what was, in 2001, an already desperately poor country, has left the country with hardly any functioning institutions. Corruption is rampant, partly because no one believes that Afghanistan can be made stable. Too many people inside Afghanistan and in next-door Pakistan believe that once US and Nato troops do leave, the country will be taken back by the Taliban.

But none of that will be solved by Mr Karzai making demands that the US is unlikely to meet. Yes, the US has brought destruction to Afghanistan and a loss of sovereignty. But Afghans, and Mr Karzai's administration in particular, also bear responsibility.

Mr Karzai's seems to believe his role is to get rid of the Americans and give the country back to Afghans. In fact, his role is to make sure there is a stable country for Afghans to live in once the US leaves. Afghans will need engaged neighbours and allies long after the West goes home. Burning bridges at this late stage will only alienate the friends Mr Karzai has left.