February 6th, 2014
07:45 AM ET

Karzai's not-so-crazy end game

By Fareed Zakaria

Is Hamid Karzai crazy? on the face of it, the Afghan President has said lots of odd, inflammatory and contradictory things. Over the past year, he has criticized the U.S., wondered whether its presence in Afghanistan has done any good at all, refused to sign an Afghanistan-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?

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 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 barricade. For good measure, they did the same to his brother.

That year was a gruesome replay of an earlier piece of Afghan history that Karzai also knows well.

Read the TIME column

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Topics: Afghanistan • Time

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. matslats

    Fareed you seem incapable of seeing things from the CIA's point of view. Karzai is losing value as an old asset. He knows they won't protect him any more – they didn't protect his brother. Maybe he feels remorse for selling his country to the Americans?

    February 6, 2014 at 8:25 am | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well said, matslats. Hamid Karzai should never sign that idiotic agree with the U.S. and NATO, allowing these people to keep troops in Afghanistan well after this year. 15,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan is 15,000 too many!

      February 6, 2014 at 7:21 pm | Reply
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    February 6, 2014 at 10:42 am | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    Hamid Karzai's "endgame" is "not-so-crazy" after all. If he played it well enough to appease the Taliban, he might avoid suffering the same fate as Shah Shuja in 1842 or Mohammad Najibullah in 1996.
    So far he has refused to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US, saying he would leave it to his successor. The presidential election is set for April, provided that it is not going to be disrupted, like the killings of Abdullah Abdullah's aides a few days ago. Abdullah, Karzai's rival in the 2009 election, supports the signing of the agreement, as well as members of the loya jirga, which Karzai summoned for the purpose and most Afghans.
    Karzai wll remain president till a new one is elected. The Taliban have all interests to disrupt the election, which might even take place beyond 2014, after the departure of the Western forces. No doubt Karzai is a narcissist and underestimates his abilities. He thought he might go down in Afghan history as father of the nation by holding secret reconciliation talks with the Taliban, in order to forge national unity. Either he is naive or he is striking a deal with the devil.

    February 6, 2014 at 11:29 am | Reply
  4. Justin

    Karzai is merely covering his tail. He can't talk 'tough' now that his body guard is going away. He knows that once coalition forces leave, he's on the Taliban's top ten list.

    February 6, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  5. Isaac

    Sadly, after expendind huge amounts of blood and treasure we will end worse off than when we started.
    This is the downside of electing a moron for President: G W Bush's created the disaster, but he is innocent by reason of profund stupidity.
    I don't like Obama but I have to pity him for the inheritance – I don't think Abe Lincoln could sort it out!

    February 25, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Reply
    • Marcel

      Well, in the "good old days" the CIA would have eliminated Karzai a long time ago. Karzai knows he cannot survive the Taliban; we'll find him in a few years with "his" millions of CIA dollars in London, in a big mansion behind big gates (remember Thieu, Vietnam?). Concerning Obama, I do not pity him, he had other choices than stay there for 5 years and more. I didn't think he would be worse than Bush, and yet….

      February 25, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  6. Scott Adkins

    In the end, it comes down to the same problem as beset us in Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, and Iraq. A simple and yet profound lack of political will do what whatever is necessary for absolute victory. We play war for awhile, get tired of the cost in blood and treasure. Then, we withdraw and call it "peace with honor" or victory.

    It is neither, and it is disgraceful.

    Unless and until we are MORE committed to absolute victory than are our enemies, this pattern will continue to repeat itself over and over again.

    February 26, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Reply

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