A friend still in a senior position in the FCO has informed me there will be no substantive British withdrawal from Afghanistan until 2015 at the earliest. According to a strategy paper classified Secret, carried out for the Cabinet overseas and defence committee, it is essential to retain Karzai in power until his term in office ends, to restore stability to the country. While that is official paper speak, my friend (who is not enamoured of this policy) says that the real thinking is that if Karzai falls from power after our withdrawal, we will be seen to have “Lost” the war, while the overriding aim in Whitehall and in Washington is to get out in circumstances in which we can claim victory.
The official judgement is that the loyalty of Afghan government forces is at best dubious, while they remain riven by ethnic dissension and still contain a huge over-representation of Tajiks and Uzbeks, especially at officer level. In the FCO’s view, Karzai would not last for days if NATO forces withdrew and indeed would flee very quickly rather than try to retain power. He is just not interested in being in Afghanistan without a US army to sustain his looting. That rather knocks on the head the various efforts we have made for a negotiated settlement, for which we regard Karzai remaining in power as an essential outcome.
Karzai’s predecessors as modern Afghan rulers installed by foreign invaders – Shah Shujah by the British and Dr Najibullah by the Soviets – were both murdered once their sponsors left.
The coalition government in the UK apparently believes that the sharp reduction in the casualty rate among UK forces has removed public pressure for an earlier withdrawal. The Obama administration has give firm assurances to Karzai that a high level US and NATO military occupation will remain in place until after the end of his term of office.