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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Is Hamid Karzai crazy? That’s what many Americans think and on the face of it, the Afghan President has said lots of odd, inflammatory and contradictory things.

Over the past year, he has wondered whether the American presence in Afghanistan has done any good at all, refused to sign an Afghan- U.S. security pact and called members of the Taliban his brothers.

This week the New York Times revealed that he has been conducting secret negotiations with the Taliban. What can he be thinking?

Well, maybe Karzai is looking at what happened to one of his predecessors. In 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. The President it had backed, Mohammad Najibullah, stayed in power, but within months a civil war broke out, forcing him eventually to seek refuge in a U.N. compound. In 1996 the Taliban rode into Kabul, captured Najibullah, denounced him as a foreign puppet, castrated him, dragged his body through the streets and then hung him from a traffic light. For good measure, they did the same to his brother.

Now, there are many important differences between the past and present, but Karzai is probably looking at the evolving geopolitical landscape. The U.S. has tired of its longest war, debating only the size of the small force it will leave behind, mostly for training purposes.

The Taliban continue to have many strongholds in significant parts of the country. Pakistan continues to support the Taliban from across the border support that is likely to expand as America withdraws and Islamabad seeks to fill that power vacuum.

So Karzai might be playing an erratic game of brinkmanship in his negotiations with Washington, but he might also be trying to navigate a post-American Afghanistan. While American troops might well remain and some American aid will continue, Afghanistan is going to look very different in 2015 than it does today.

Consider these facts from a highly intelligent forthcoming book, “War Front to Store Front,” by Paul Brinkley: In 2009, Afghanistan had a nominal GDP of $10 billion. Of that number, 60 percent was foreign aid, 30 percent was the cultivation of poppy and the production of raw heroin, all of which is informal and underground.

So that leaves 10 percent of the economy, $1 billion, of self- sustaining, legitimate economic activity. During the same year, the United States military spent $4 billion per month to protect a country with a real annual economic output of $1 billion.

“Kabul is a metaphor for the country,” Brinkley said to me. “It is a city sized for 500,000 people. It has grown to 8 million, who have been drawn to the city by the massive influx of foreign money, military and nonmilitary. But that money is going to slow down very significantly soon. What happens then?” he asks.

Brinkley worked for the Pentagon to start up build companies in Iraq and Afghanistan, fascinating experiences he recounts in the book, and he came to the conclusion that the single most important task in both countries was to create a self-sustaining economy, which the U.S. paid little attention to.

He is pessimistic about Afghanistan’s prospects, and he said the national mood there is worsening.

“Imagine living in a nation,” he writes, “In which your national government was totally dependent on charitable donations from other countries. “Would you respect that government? Would you not assume they were puppets of the international donors who were propping up the government?”

Hamid Karzai might be pondering just these questions as he plans his next crazy outburst.


Posted February 10, 2014 by tmusicfan in Politics, Quote of the Day

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