Over the past several months, a string of American officials and legislators have paraded to Afghanistan as supplicants, in hopes of convincing President Hamid Karzai to sign a bilateral security agreement. The agreement would effectively guarantee a U.S. military presence there beyond 2014. And while dozens of officials on both sides have signed off on it, Karzai — a man as impenetrable as the Hindu Kush — continues to withhold his approval.
We can only speculate on his motives for doing so. Is Karzai seeking a better deal for himself and his cronies? A better deal for Afghanistan? Does he genuinely believe it better for the country to go it alone without the U.S.? Has he completely lost touch with reality? Whatever the reasons behind his stance, the solution is abundantly clear. Stop talking, and start treating Karzai like the lame duck he is.
The U.S. is expending significant effort to try to secure the deal with Karzai, despite the fact that Afghanistan's presidential elections have been slated for April 4. Assuming those elections go forward as scheduled, there will be a new person at the helm in Kabul this spring. The leading presidential candidates, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, are eminently reasonable men experienced in dealing with the West, and likely to represent a reprieve for Afghans frustrated by 10 years of Karzai's increasingly erratic leadership. Even if one of the other nine candidates prevails in what is likely to be a two-round election, the negotiating atmosphere is likely to improve. After all, it would be hard to get any worse.
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