Mixed legacy for Karzai as Afghan president

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghans go to the polls next weekend to choose a new president, and that in itself may one day be considered Hamid Karzai’s greatest achievement.

There has been no shortage of criticism of Karzai in recent years. His mercurial behavior and inability or unwillingness to tackle corruption in his government have been well documented.

But in a nation hardened by decades of war, the fact that he is stepping down as president in the first democratic transfer of power ever is no small matter. It is made possible by a constitution that Karzai helped draft and that prohibits him from serving a third five-year term.

The April 5 election “is a historical marker that will in many ways determine I think not only how he’s seen in history if he achieves that but will also be a very important indicator about the future of this country,” U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham said last week.

Cunningham said the differences between Karzai and his former American backers will most likely be relegated to a mere historical footnote. Karzai has refused to sign a security pact with the U.S. that would allow thousands of foreign forces to remain here after the end of 2014. Despite overwhelming public support for the deal, he left the decision to his successor. Many believe Karzai simply did not want to be remembered as the president who permitted foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan.

Karzai inherited a broken country when the Americans and their allies chose him more than 12 years ago as a leader they hoped could cross ethnic lines, embrace former enemies and bring Afghans together. As he prepares to leave office, Afghanistan has made great strides yet remains hobbled by a resilient Taliban insurgency and fears of a return to civil war.

In many parts of the country, women have more opportunities, schools have opened and nascent governmental institutions are functioning. After five years of oppressive Taliban rule, people are allowed to express their views in public.

“This is one of his greatest legacies. We are here and we can say whatever we want and we can say it to him,” said Saima Khogyani, one of 69 women lawmakers in parliament. “Whether he does what we ask is something else, but he listens.”

But widespread corruption, poor governance and stubborn poverty foster support for the Taliban, who control vast rural sections of southern and eastern Afghanistan. The militants have not only shown little interest in peace but have stepped up attacks aimed at disrupting the elections.

Critics fault Karzai for employing former warlords linked to massive abuses. Karzai’s defenders say he was hamstrung because the U.S.-led coalition enlisted those warlords to fight the Taliban, empowering them.

Many remember the Karzai of the 1980s, when he lived in Pakistan as the former Soviet Union bombed his homeland, napalm laying waste to the countryside. He would talk of the Afghanistan of his childhood — ruby red pomegranate orchards as far as the eye could see, tribal elders passing through his family home outside the southern city of Kandahar, his father, a Popalzai tribal elder, dispensing wisdom and making decisions with a single sweep of his hand.

“What he understood as democracy was what his father practiced in Kandahar, traditional (ethnic) Pashtun back and forth, (use of) jirgas,” as a tool of governance, said Afghan journalist Ahmad Rashid. “I think it is his memories of his father and his past and how ruling and governing was done in the 60s when he was a child that has had just a huge impact on him.”

Shortly after the Taliban seized power in Kabul in 1996, Karzai became a matchmaker of sorts, shuttling between Afghanistan’s disparate anti-Taliban groups trying to unite them under a single umbrella.

After the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, Karzai led a small band of men into southern Afghanistan to take on the Taliban regime. The Taliban eventually surrendered not to the Americans but to Karzai, seeking his guarantees of safe passage.

Karzai was still in the mountains in Uruzgan province when he was reached by satellite telephone and told that his lifelong dream would come true: He would be the president of Afghanistan. He was to head a government cobbled together in Bonn, Germany, a collection of warlords-turned-politicians who brought with them their weapons and their militias.

Afghanistan, which was a monarchy until 1973, has had other heads of state but none has been democratically elected.

“There were other possible leaders, but Karzai’s role in opposing the Taliban, his personal and family sacrifices, and his role in the war set him apart,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, who served as President George W. Bush’s special representative to Afghanistan.

To many Afghan officials and foreign observers, Khalilzad was Afghanistan’s de-facto ruler in those initial months after the Taliban’s collapse. He lived at the palace, crafted alliances and took center stage organizing the traditional grand councils or loya jirgas that would eventually approve Afghanistan’s constitution.

“In the early days he (Karzai) was very much obligated to the Americans, in their lap as it were,” said Rashid. “Khalilzad was almost running the country. It took some time for him to emerge.”

Khalilzad and Rashid agreed that Karzai’s greatest contribution was his ability to cross ethnic lines, make deals with former enemies and hold the country together.

“Karzai helped communities overcome past divisions, uniting the minority groups with the non-Taliban Pashtuns,” said Khalilzad. “He enabled all communities to come together and overcome, to a large extent, the conflicts of the past. He has not put people in jail because they oppose him. He allowed freedom of expression. State structures have been restored, though unevenly.”

His leadership was affirmed in a 2004 election, although his re-election in 2009 was tainted by allegations of massive ballot box stuffing. With that in mind, some candidates have raised fears about fraud and government interference in the upcoming elections. Relentless insurgent violence also could keep jittery voters from the polling stations.

Time and distance have caused memories to fade, occasionally shining an unfairly harsh light on Karzai’s performance, said Paula Newberg, a former special adviser to the United States in Afghanistan.

“It’s sometimes hard to remember how isolated Afghanistan was in 2001,” said Newberg, a government professor at University of Texas. “Afghanistan from 1996 to mid-2001 was a place where free speech was absent, women were hidden, food was scarce, and health care almost non-existent. Afghans themselves had little opportunity to improve their lives in Afghanistan, and large numbers were leaving the country for any place that would have them.”

The list of challenges Karzai faced over the years was daunting, said Newberg.

“President Karzai’s tenure in office could not have been anything but challenging,” she said. “He came to office with the high expectations of others and great optimism among many Afghans and foreigners alike.”

He wowed the West with his impeccable English. Even the creative force behind Gucci, Tom Ford, anointed Karzai, resplendent in his long green and purple striped coat and signature karakul hat, “the choicest man on the planet.”

But the presence of more than 130,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, a spike in deaths of civilians by errant bombings and a coterie of “yes” men by Karzai’s side caused the relationship to sour. He began angering Washington with belligerent statements, sometimes accusing the U.S. of being in cahoots with the Taliban and more recently calling the Taliban “our brothers” as he sought to bring them into a peace process.

Karzai resented the United States for not taking the fight to Pakistan, where he believed the war should have been fought instead of in Afghanistan. And his friends say he never forgave many world leaders for what he felt was their deeply insulting criticism of the disputed 2009 election.

“He disagreed with the United States about the source of the war,” Khalilzad said in an email. “Also, he was treated personally in a way that violated his sense of honor.”


Associated Press writer Kim Gamel contributed to this report. Kathy Gannon is AP Special Regional Correspondent for Afghanistan and Pakistan and can be followed on www.twitter.com/kathygannon

NSPCA Gets Kittens From LA
Man killed during road-rage incident
Las Vegas police are looking for two men involved in the shooting death of a man outside a 7-Eleven story at Bonanza Road and Maryland Parkway on Nov. 12, 2018. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hosts Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ
The 4th Annual Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ is held in celebration of Veterans Day at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Medical Center in North Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wildfires in Southern California
Wildfires hit Ventura County, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dedication of Nevada's Battle Born memorial
The state of Nevada on Friday dedicated its Battle Born memorial honoring 895 state residents who have died in America’s wars.
Las Vegas police and Sunrise Children's Hospital hope to prevent infant deaths
The Metropolitan Police Department and Sunrise Children's Hospital held a press conference to get the message out on preventable infant deaths attributed to "co-sleeping" and other unsafe sleeping habits. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
No serious injuries after car hits tree in south Las Vegas
One person reported minor injuries but wasn’t hospitalized after a Wednesday morning crash in the south valley.
Nellis Air Force Base keeps airmen fed
Nellis Air Force Bass airmen have delicious and healthy food items, and a variety of dining facilities to choose from. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Las Vegas police determined that a suspicious package found Monday morning at a central valley post office was not a threat.
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Police evacuated the area around the Garside Station post office early Monday morning near Oakey and Decatur boulevards.
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
Las Vegas family shares flu warning
Carlo and Brenda Occhipinti lost their son, Carlo Jr., or “Junior,” to the flu last year.
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Stadust Raceway
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show "Bonanza," and the actor's passion for auto racing at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas during the 1960s. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)
Project Neon 85 percent complete
On Wednesday morning Oct. 31, Interstate 15 northbound lane restrictions were removed opening up Exit 41 to Charleston Blvd. On Thursday Nov. 1, Interstate 15 southbound lane restrictions were removed. The new southbound off-ramp to Sahara Ave. and Highland Dr. also opened Thursday, November 1. With Project Neon 85% finished the flow of traffic on Interstate 15 has substantially diminished. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Girl killed after jumping from bridge onto 215 Beltway in Henderson
Eastbound lanes of the 215 Beltway are shut down by the Nevada Highway Patrol after a female juvenile jumped from the 215 overpass at Stephanie and was struck by a FedEx tractor trailer. Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Vegas88s
Kristallnacht story
An interview with 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alexander Kuechel who survived seven concentration camps and didn’t leave Germany until after World War II was over. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 dead in central Las Vegas crash
An early Wednesday morning crash left at least one person dead and another injured. The crash was reported just around 3 a.m. at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash, one of which caught fire. Debris was scattered across the intersection as police combed the area as they investigated the scene. Flamingo is blocked in both directions between Swenson and Cambridge Street. Northbound Swenson is blocked at the intersection.
Richard Knoeppel named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year
Richard Knoeppel, an architecture design instructor at the Advanced technologies Academy, named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mojave Poppy Bees
(Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology) Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list.
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like