For his part, as the Economist noted this week, Karzai has made fools of all the Western officials who sternly admonished him to begin a new era of transparent democracy, seizing control of the Electoral Complaints Commission to dismiss its independent members. Like the Queen of Hearts, Karzai has literally lost his marbles, according to our sources in the presidential palace. Or, as U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry more diplomatically phrased it in his leaked cable, his behavior has become "erratic." He hasn't started shouting "off with their heads" yet, but the legitimacy thing is toast. Only the massive public relations exercise in Marjah kept Karzai's kleptocracy out of the media spotlight in February.
The military and political madness of the AfPak Wonderland has entered a new chapter of folly with the detention of a few Taliban mullahs in Pakistan, most notably Mullah Baradar, once the military strategist of the Quetta Shura, the primary Taliban leadership council headed by Mullah Omar. Like the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon in Alice in Wonderland, this has the Washington establishment dancing the whacked-out Lobster-Quadrille: Instant Afghanistan experts at the White House and pundits at august Beltway institutions like the Brookings Institution are absurdly calling the detentions a "sea change" in Pakistani behavior.
In fact, it is no such
thing. Pakistan has not abandoned overnight its 50-year worship of the totem of
"strategic depth," its cornerstone belief that it must control
Afghanistan, or its marriage to the Taliban, and anyone who believes that is
indulging in magical thinking. What has happened is, in fact, a purge by
Taliban hard-liners of men perceived to be insufficiently reliable, either
ethnically or politically, or both. It is well-known that there had been a
schism in the Quetta Shura for months, with hard-liner and former Gitmo
prisoner Mullah Zakir (aka Abdullah Ghulam Rasoul) coming out on top over
Mullah Baradar. Baradar sheltered fellow Popalzai Hamid Karzai in 2001 and
possibly saved his life after an errant U.S. bomb in Uruzgan province killed
several men on the Special Forces team that was escorting him. Baradar later
became a confidant of the president's brother,
paid CIA informer Ahmed Wali Karzai, and met occasionally with the president himself
in the tangled web of Afghan politics.
The core Ghilzai
leadership of the Taliban had long suspected Baradar of being too willing to
negotiate and too partial to his kinsmen in making field appointments. Indeed,
this suspicion led to the creation of the Quetta Shura's Accountability Council
in late 2009, whose job apparently included removing many of Baradar's excessively
Durrani and Karlani appointments.
This explains why when Mullah Zakir, the hard-line military chief of the Quetta Shura along with Baradar, was detained near Peshawar two weeks after Baradar was detained, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) - Pakistan's powerful military spy service -- released him immediately. Meanwhile, all of the other lesser figures currently in detention (including Abdul Kabir, aka Mullah Abdul Kahir Osmani, the RC East regional commander; Mullah Abdul Rauf Aliza, an Alizai Durrani, former Gitmo prisoner, and Taliban military chief for northern Afghanistan; and Mullah Ahmed Jan Akhundzada, former shadow governor of Uruzgan province and Ishaqzai Durrani) are known moderates and allies of Baradar.
In other words, the Quetta Shura has used the ISI, its loyal and steadfast patron, to take out its trash. Those few mullahs suspected of being amenable to discussions with the infidel enemy and thus ideologically impure have now been removed from the jihad. This is not cooperation against the Taliban by an allied state; it is collusion with the Taliban by an enemy state. Pakistan is in fact following its own perceived strategic interests, which do not coincide with those of the United States. Pakistan has masterfully plied the Western establishment with an LSD-laced "drink me" cocktail of its own, convincing everyone that it is a frail and fragile Humpty-Dumpty that must not be pushed too hard, lest the nuclear egg fall off the wall. This is nonsense. In fact, what is needed against Pakistan's military leaders is a lever more powerful than "strategic depth" to force them into compliance and make them stop sheltering al Qaeda, destabilizing Afghanistan, and killing hundreds of Americans by proxy.
Unfortunately, in this AfPak Wonderland, there does not appear to be any magic mushroom to get back to normal. Instead, Afghanistan and Pakistan policy is trapped in an endless loop in a mad policy world operating under its own consistent internal illogic. Unlike Alice, the handful of Afghan analysts in the United States who actually understand what is happening cannot wake up or break through the corporate media noise. Far worse, thousands of brave U.S. Marines and soldiers are caught up in this deadly political croquet game where IEDs, not hedgehogs, are the game balls. The Duchess's baby really has turned into a pig, and there seems to be no way out of this increasingly insane rabbit hole.