Lasting nearly two hours, my off-the-record conversation with Karzai was vigorous, and at times I strongly pushed back, reminding him of his past commitments and his professed support for such ideals such as transparent democracy—ideals that he had stressed in numerous earlier interviews with me and others. But this time he rejected every argument. By the end of our talk, it was quite clear to me that his views on global events, on the future course of NATO’s military surge in southern Afghanistan, and on nation building efforts throughout his country have undergone a sea change. His single overriding aim now is making peace with the Taliban and ending the war—and he is convinced it will help resolve all the other problems he faces, such as corruption, bad governance, and the lack of an administration.
Karzai’s new outlook is the most dramatic political shift he has undergone in the twenty-six years that I have known him. Although it is partly fueled by conspiracy theories, it is also based on nine years of ever growing frustration with the West.
He no longer supports the war on terrorism as defined by Washington and says that the current military surge in the south by the United States and its NATO allies is unhelpful because it relies on body counts of dead Taliban as a measure of progress against the insurgency, which to many would be a throwback to Vietnam and a contradiction of Petraeus’s new counterinsurgency theory to win over the people. In particular he wants an immediate end to the night raids conducted by US Special Operations forces—a demand that has put him in direct conflict with US commander General David Petraeus. According to Karzai, these raids—which in the last three months have killed or captured 368 mid-level Taliban leaders and killed 968 foot soldiers—are counterproductive because they antagonize the civilian population. Indeed, no one knows how many civilians are included in the casualty figures, which are provided by the US military.