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February 12th, 2010 at 10:58 am

Abdul Salam Zaeef on Hamid Karzai

ZaeefReuters recently joined the New York Review of Books, the Sunday Times of London, and others in praising Abdul Salam Zaeef’s memoir My Life with the Taliban. (The editors of the book have also been speaking in England about the book and will be coming to the United States in the next few days. Click here for information about upcoming U.S. events.)

In the book Zaeef (pictured here) recounts joining the jihad against the Soviets and describes his time with the Taliban, first as a civil servant and then as a minister. Zaeef served as ambassador to Pakistan at the time of 9/11, and his testimony sheds light on the “phony war” that preceded the U.S.-led intervention. Additionally, Zaeef writes about the years he spent as a prisoner in Guantanamo.

As the reviews point out, Zaeef’s book provides rare insight into the Taliban perspective on recent Afghan history. Below Zaeef describes his misgiving about Afghan president Hamid Karzai and the difficulty of achieving peace in Afghanistan. (To read the full excerpt click here):

Even though Karzai talks incessantly about peace and stability, he is a very long way away from bringing them into being. He has damaged his own standing with the people through false propaganda and empty promises. I do not know whether or not he understands this. He is imprisoned within a circle of people that keeps him far from the truth, and the information he seems to get is very weak and often has nothing to do with reality. But he relies on this information, and it results in inappropriate action. Karzai has very few friends who can help him to shoulder the burden. There is no one to help him keep his good name, to accept his ways as their own. He has no one with whom to share the good and the bad. The way he came into power at the hands of foreign sponsors weakened his position from the very beginning. He has very few smart advisers who can give him clear, tough direction, in the light of Afghan culture. He also finds himself between the tiger and the precipice—he wakes up every day not knowing which way to go. And finally, he cannot differentiate between friend and enemy, because he did not come to power in the way he should have, through slow, difficult steps. That way he would have made true friends, honest friends. But when you are in power, everyone is your friend, and it is difficult to tell the difference between real friends and false ones.

There are other reasons too, and they will not have a positive impact on Afghanistan’s future.

When I talked with Karzai for a long time, and studied him, I began to compare him with Mullah Mohammad Omar Akhund. First, Mullah Saheb gave everybody who visited him enough time to empty their hearts. He listened, he was patient, and he did not react in anger. Any visitor could tell that he was thinking very deeply about what he was saying. Karzai is the opposite. He does all the talking, and gives little time to his visitor. The truth is that by listening you can understand an issue, while if you talk a lot you might say something that you will later regret.

Second, if Amir ul-Mu’mineen promised something, he did it. Third, Karzai likes to show off and pretend that he knows a lot, while you never felt that with Amir ul-Mu’mineen. There were many of these similarities and differences between the two men.

Karzai is trying to find a solution, and one can feel that he is not a cruel man. He would not consider killing someone or throwing him in jail. But he is responsible for the cruelties of his guests. He could condemn those actions, but he is caught up in politics. He loves power, and wants to stay where he is. He also wants peace.

But those who helped him get that power are also very important to him. It is very hard to maintain a balance between two opposites. I do not know how aware he is of his deficiencies, but I can see that he is important in his job right now. He can play a crucial role. But Afghanistan’s problems are going on above his head. He is just a pawn in the hands of the main player.

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