Disclaimer: This article was first published elsewhere and is republished here with recommendation and full permission of the author.
By Mushtaq Rahim
Hamid Karzai, the Ex-president of Afghanistan, left the elite chair of presidency of Afghanistan after enjoying the hot seat for a period of almost 13 years. A decade and three years long time of the outgone president saw him pull Afghanistan out of destruction of two-decade long war and he left at a time where Afghanistan is preparing to transit from in-conflict and post-conflict phase to stability and economic prosperity.
No one can deny the progress achieved by the Ex-president. His achievements make even his diehard antagonists approve of him. His departure has left a lot of people say “we will miss you”. This makes him one of the few leaders of Afghan history having public backing even while departing the helm of power in a country where blood has been shed for change on the throne. However, Mr. Karzai misses out to be counted among the great Afghan leaders’ list which has very few names on it. There are so many “Ifs” that stopped him from joining the prestigious group. Though it is fully understandable that every “If” can be denied by a “But” and as such a number of questionable actions can be justified. Yet; history will record those “Ifs”, forgetting “Buts” and as such Mr. Karzai could be remembered as a good leader, but certainly not a great one.
Here is a list of top-five reasons that place him short of becoming one of the greats of the Afghan history:
- Elimination of Warlordism-Opportunities lost
Besides many other ills, the decades long Afghan conflict established strong elite of warlords in the country. The group continued fighting for power, resources and influence throughout the conflict resulting in serious damages to Afghan social fabric and physical infrastructure. The group continued to remain in power and maintain positions of influence even after collapse of Taliban and emergence of Karzai regime.
President Karzai, however, had a chance to help Afghan people get rid of the warlords. The public was hoping to leave the civil war era and proceed to a new phase of their history. The popular public demand was elimination of the notorious faces from the scene, while a few voiced for implementation of transitional justice in the country.
However, instead of elimination of the detested personalities and, ideally, implementation of transitional justice, the Ex-President continued to monopolize them for his political gains. He offered senior positions to a large number of them in the Government, allowed them to prosper politically and economically and at times used one to cripple another in favor of Mr. Karzai. Some of them even faced situations where they had to flee the country due to the given circumstance, yet; Ex-president paved way for their return to a position of influence.
As a result, he has left a legacy of warlordism to flourish and influence fortunes of the nation. The group remains to influence political processes in their favor and as such continue to dominate power circles. Adding to the agony, the former warlords have now started introducing their more polished faces in the shape of their new generation. Hence, the notorious remittent of Afghan conflict will continue to rule Afghans reminding them of the ugly past.
- Blockage of political system development
A review of Afghan political system reveals the unfortunate fact that even after introduction of a thorough democracy since establishment of the interim government of Mr. Karzai in 2002, the country continues to struggle for political party based system. A few that had emerged from guerrilla war against the communist regimes during 1980s have also lost its ground and has been in the process of breaking up. The recent elections reveal that people running for provincial councils as well as parliament, and even presidency, are mostly based on their personal influence and not on political agenda or ideology. Consequently, there is lack of political visioning and public mobilization around a political agenda.
While there can be a number of reasons behind lack of emergence of political parties, one main reason has been Mr. Karzai’s effort to dismantle already present and emerging political parties. As monopolizing personalities was his main weapon to hunt his opposer and bring people around him for serving his own political interests, he caused breakups within political parties, did not support establishment and emergence of new ones and focused his political affairs around personalities rather than political ideologies.
As a result, Afghanistan is faced with a big political gap. The absence of political agendas, visions halt public political mobilization. Also, political accountability is missing from the Afghan politics and new generation of grassroots level political leadership is not emerging. Particularly, there is no political opposition to the government limiting oversight of Government actions.