After dodging bombs from the Republicans over his appointment as defense secretary to replace outbound Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel is now dodging bombs from President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.
Just prior to their first scheduled meeting Karzai released a statement blaming the U.S. for "colluding" with the Taliban to create unrest as a pretext to extend foreign military presence. While this accusation might sound utterly far-fetched to most Americans, Karzai's statement appeals to a deep seated suspicion of foreign involvement in the Middle East. Given the larger historical context of foreign powers using unrest as an excuse to maintain their military presence in areas deemed essential to national security, however far-fetched it may seem, Karzai's comment is likely not just hot air to many Afghans.
The history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is complicated. It began before the creation of the Islamic-fundamentalist Taliban militia in the mountains of Pakistan near its Afghan border in 1994. Many of the Taliban members were religious students at fundamentalist schools in Pakistan attended by the formerly CIA-funded and trained mujahideen who had been used as pawns to help draw in and then fight off the former Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The 1980s saw a greater portion of U.S. military funds poured into Afghanistan — $3 billion over the decade — than was spent on all other covert operations the U.S. conducted in the 1980s combined. Unfortunately, when the Cold War finally ended, the rebuilding and de-militarization of Afghanistan was not a top priority for the U.S.
Out of the resulting power vacuum emerged the Taliban regime, which in its early years was recognized by the United States despite it's oppressive and violent treatment of women and harsh enforcement of strict Islamic values, including a dress code. After the Al-Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S. treated the Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda as one and the same. According to researchers based in Afghanistan, this closed the doors to any negotiation between the official government in Afghanistan and the insurgent groups within the country.
Now, given the timeline for the removal of U.S. troops following the near 12 year war in Afghanistan, the Obama administration has encouraged the development of a dialogue between the Taliban and the official government under Karzai in Afghanistan. So far since 2010 there have been several meetings between influential political groups in Afghanistan albeit none of which have been considered official peace talks.
Despite the political burn of Karzai's statements, in a quote from the L.A. Times, Director of the American Institute for Afghanistan Studies in Kabul Omar Sharifi indicated that Karzai was frustrated at the slow pace of peace negotiations with the Taliban and Pakistan, placing blame on the U.S. as a result.
Sharifi stated, "He sees his biggest legacy as finding a compromise with Pakistan and the Taliban, and now that all of this is suddenly in deadlock and nothing is happening, he starts to blame the U.S."
The reflex to blame foreign influence is in part a result of the history of meddling in the region, and the use of a variety of insurgent and political groups as pawns in the international relations chess game.
While the comment is most certainly a political blunder, it is not appearing out of thin air, but occurring within a context the U.S. would do well to keep in mind. Now, Karzai's mercurial mouth makes him akin to the boy who cried wolf, but everyone is the boy who cried wolf, until something is wiki-leaked or documents are unclassified. In 1979 Iran, the student-led takeover of the U.S. embassy recovered embarrassingly little; no covert plots to overthrow the government, and almost no real intelligence of significance on the ground. One could argue however that the lack of intelligence in that case was something of a fluke — undoubtedly a stroke of good luck for those captured — given the next two decades of CIA activity in Afghanistan, and Latin America, as well as past U.S. involvement around the globe both prior to and during the Cold War.