[R-G] US will appoint Afghan 'prime minister' to bypass Hamid Karzai
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Mon Mar 23 11:03:00 MDT 2009
US will appoint Afghan 'prime minister' to bypass Hamid Karzai
White House plans new executive role to challenge corrupt government
* Julian Borger in Brussels and Ewen MacAskill in Washington
* guardian.co.uk, Sunday 22 March 2009 20.15 GMT
Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a press conference at 10
Downing Street, London, July 19, 2005
Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Photograph: Pool/Reuters
The US and its European allies are preparing to plant a high-profile
figure in the heart of the Kabul government in a direct challenge to
the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, the Guardian has learned.
The creation of a new chief executive or prime ministerial role is
aimed at bypassing Karzai. In a further dilution of his power, it is
proposed that money be diverted from the Kabul government to the
provinces. Many US and European officials have become disillusioned
with the extent of the corruption and incompetence in the Karzai
government, but most now believe there are no credible alternatives,
and predict the Afghan president will win re-election in August.
President Karzai has failed to root out corruption and government
incompetence Link to this audio
A revised role for Karzai has emerged from the White House review of
Afghanistan and Pakistan ordered by Barack Obama when he became
president. It isto be unveiled at a special conference on Afghanistan
at The Hague on March 31.
As well as watering down Karzai's personal authority by installing a
senior official at the president's side capable of playing a more
efficient executive role, the US and Europeans are seeking to channel
resources to the provinces rather than to central government in Kabul.
A diplomat with knowledge of the review said: "Karzai is not
delivering. If we are going to support his government, it has to be
run properly to ensure the levels of corruption decrease, not
increase. The levels of corruption are frightening."
Another diplomat said alternatives to Karzai had been explored and
discarded: "No one could be sure that someone else would not turn out
to be 10 times worse. It is not a great position."
The idea of a more dependable figure working alongside Karzai is one
of the proposals to emerge from the White House review, completed last
week. Obama, locked away at the presidental retreat Camp David, was
due to make a final decision this weekend.
Obama is expected to focus in public on overall strategy rather than
the details, and, given its sensitivity, to skate over Karzai's new
role. The main recommendation is for the Afghanistan objectives to be
scaled back, and for Obama to sell the war to the US public as one to
ensure the country cannot again be a base for al-Qaida and the
Taliban, rather than the more ambitious aim of the Bush administration
of trying to create a European-style democracy in Central Asia.
Other recommendations include: increasing the number of Afghan troops
from 65,000 to 230,000 as well as expanding the 80,000-strong police
force; sending more US and European civilians to build up
Afghanistan's infrastructure; and increased aid to Pakistan as part of
a policy of trying to persuade it to tackle al-Qaida and Taliban
The proposal for an alternative chief executive, which originated with
the US, is backed by Europeans. "There needs to be a deconcentration
of power," said one senior European official. "We need someone next to
Karzai, a sort of chief executive, who can get things done, who will
be reliable for us and accountable to the Afghan people."
Money and power will flow less to the ministries in Kabul and far more
to the officials who run Afghanistan outside the capital – the 34
provincial governors and 396 district governors. "The point on which
we insist is that the time is now for a new division of
responsibilities, between central power and local power," the senior
European official said.
No names have emerged for the new role but the US holds in high regard
the reformist interior minister appointed in October, Mohammed Hanif
The risk for the US is that the imposition of a technocrat alongside
Karzai would be viewed as colonialism, even though that figure would
be an Afghan. Karzai declared his intention last week to resist a
dilution of his power. Last week he accused an unnamed foreign
government of trying to weaken central government in Kabul.
"That is not their job," the Afghan president said. "Afghanistan will
never be a puppet state."
The UK government has since 2007 advocated dropping plans to turn
Afghanistan into a model, European-style state.
Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who will
implement the new policy, said it would represent a "vastly
restructured effort". At the weekend in Brussels, he was scathing
about the Bush administration's conduct of the counter-insurgency.
"The failures in the civilian side ... are so enormous we can at least
hope that if we get our act together ... we can do a lot better," he
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