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Paranoia in Kabul

Hamid Karzai and his enemies.

Feb 24, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 23 • By DAVID DEVOSS
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Ironically, Karzai’s 11th-hour xenophobia may be his ticket to a longer life. In a country where the future is uncertain and the present problematic, the past looms large. “Hamid Karzai can’t afford to be seen as anybody’s puppet,” says Marvin Weinbaum, a former analyst with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research who is a scholar in residence at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. “He knows the story of Shah Shuja.”

That 19th-century Afghan emir hitched his wagon to the British Empire. It seemed a safe bet until the British were expelled from the country in the First Afghan War. Rudyard Kipling’s “The Young British Soldier” vividly describes what befell the British on their retreat from Kabul: When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains .  .  . Alas, no poet lingered to record the gruesome fate of Shah Shuja.

Today, campaign posters are going up across Afghanistan. Each contains the name, photo, and political affiliation of a candidate for president. Many also have a small portrait in one corner. It shows the face of Mohammed Daoud Khan, the president of Afghanistan who traveled to Moscow in 1977 and bluntly told Leonid Brezhnev to stop interfering in Afghan affairs. “You will not dictate how Afghanistan is governed,” he reportedly told the Soviet general secretary. “Afghanistan is a free country.”

The following year, Afghan Communists beholden to Moscow assassinated Daoud. His image lives on as a symbol of Afghan independence from foreign powers. Defenders of Karzai’s recent behavior insist he’s just trying to emulate Daoud. Perhaps so. But Hamid Karzai should remember that the truest test of a patriot is the ability to distinguish between friend and foe. 

David DeVoss covered the assassination of Mohammed Daoud, two subsequent presidential assassinations, and
the 1979 Soviet invasion. More recently, he has worked on economic development projects in Afghanistan.

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