Karzai: Of course I'd side with Pakistan over America!

In a rather obvious bid for the media making the news rather than reporting on it, Declan Walsh of the Guardian notes that an interview on the Pakistani television network Geo slipped in a provocative question to Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Less than 24 hours after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left the country, Karzai was asked what he would do in the event of hostilities between Pakistan and the United States. His answer may not come as any great surprise, but will certainly raise a few hackles.

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has said he would side with Pakistan in the event of war with the US in a surprising political twist that is likely to disconcert his western allies.

“If there is war between Pakistan and America, we will stand by Pakistan,” Karzai said in a television interview. He put his hand on his heart and described Pakistan as a “brother” country.

The statement was widely interpreted as a rhetorical flourish rather than a significant offer of defence co-operation. Despite recent tension between Pakistan and the US, open warfare is a remote possibility.

Personally, I think Washington is going to try to sweep this one under the carpet and with good reason. Yes, it was a fairly rude thing to say, but Karzai is dancing on the head of an extremely unstable pin over there. He has internal critics from non-Pashtun groups who don’t want him getting too cozy with Pakistan, while having to deal with the fact that his country sits next door to a nuclear power. He’s under pressure to establish some sort of trade agreements with India, which just makes Pakistan furious. And from all sides he is accused of being a lap dog of the United States.

We’ve been making it increasingly clear that the U.S. forces will be packing up to leave in the next few years, and Karzai is obviously trying to find some sort of path for his own future which doesn’t wind up with him being dragged out of a hole and put up on a meat hook. He’ll probably say anything he feels he needs to say to secure his own future. James Joyner summed it up pretty well, I think.

Walsh frames it correctly, I think: Karzai was saying this for regional consumption and working to counter widely held perceptions that he’s an American stooge. Still, this is yet further evidence of the folly of pretending that we’re somehow going to turn Afghanistan into some sort of modern state or reliable partner. This is, sadly, as good as it’s likely to get any time soon.

It’s mostly a moot point, though. I seriously doubt we need to worry about open warfare between the United States and Pakistan any time soon.

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