US Will Appoint Afghan 'Prime Minister' to Bypass Hamid Karzai

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The Guardian/UK

US Will Appoint Afghan 'Prime Minister' to Bypass Hamid Karzai

White House plans new executive role to challenge corrupt government in Kabul

by
Julian Borger in Brussels and Ewen MacAskill in Washington

Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaks during a joint press conference at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. The US and its European allies are ­preparing to plant a high-profile figure in the heart of the Kabul government in a direct challenge to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, the Guardian has learned.Karzai said Wednesday he would decide "soon" whether to run for re-election in August, based on his concern for stability in his fragile nation. (AFP/Shah Marai)

The US and its European allies are ­preparing to plant a
high-profile figure in the heart of the Kabul government in a direct
challenge to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, the Guardian has
learned.

The creation of a new chief executive or prime
ministerial role is aimed at bypassing Karzai. In a further dilution of
his power, it is proposed that money be diverted from the Kabul
government to the provinces. Many US and European officials have become
disillusioned with the extent of the corruption and incompetence in the
Karzai government, but most now believe there are no credible
alternatives, and predict the Afghan president will win re-election in
August.

A revised role for Karzai has emerged from the White House review of Afghanistan and Pakistan ordered by Barack Obama when he became president. It isto be unveiled at a special conference on Afghanistan at The Hague on March 31.

As
well as watering down Karzai's personal authority by installing a
senior official at the president's side capable of playing a more
efficient executive role, the US and Europeans are seeking to channel
resources to the provinces rather than to central government in Kabul.

A
diplomat with knowledge of the review said: "Karzai is not delivering.
If we are going to support his government, it has to be run properly to
ensure the levels of corruption decrease, not increase. The levels of
corruption are frightening."

Another diplomat said alternatives
to Karzai had been explored and discarded: "No one could be sure that
someone else would not turn out to be 10 times worse. It is not a great
position."

The idea of a more dependable figure working alongside
Karzai is one of the proposals to emerge from the White House review,
completed last week. Obama, locked away at the presidental retreat Camp
David, was due to make a final decision this weekend.

Obama is
expected to focus in public on overall strategy rather than the
details, and, given its sensitivity, to skate over ­Karzai's new role.
The main recommendation is for the Afghanistan objectives to be scaled
back, and for Obama to sell the war to the US public as one to ensure
the country cannot again be a base for al-Qaida and the Taliban, rather
than the more ambitious aim of the Bush administration of trying to
create a European-style democracy in Central Asia.

Other
recommendations include: increasing the number of Afghan troops from
65,000 to 230,000 as well as expanding the 80,000-strong police force;
­sending more US and European civilians to build up Afghanistan's
infrastructure; and increased aid to Pakistan as part of a policy of
trying to persuade it to tackle al-Qaida and Taliban elements.

The
proposal for an alternative chief executive, which originated with the
US, is backed by Europeans. "There needs to be a deconcentration of
power," said one senior European official. "We need someone next to
Karzai, a sort of chief executive, who can get things done, who will be
reliable for us and accountable to the Afghan people."

Money and
power will flow less to the ministries in Kabul and far more to the
officials who run Afghanistan outside the capital - the 34 provincial
governors and 396 district governors. "The point on which we insist is
that the time is now for a new division of responsibilities, between
central power and local power," the senior European official said.

No
names have emerged for the new role but the US holds in high regard the
reformist interior minister appointed in October, Mohammed Hanif Atmar.

The
risk for the US is that the imposition of a technocrat alongside Karzai
would be viewed as colonialism, even though that figure would be an
Afghan. Karzai declared his intention last week to resist a dilution of
his power. Last week he accused an unnamed foreign government of trying
to weaken central government in Kabul.

"That is not their job," the Afghan president said. "Afghanistan will never be a puppet state."

The UK government has since 2007 advocated dropping plans to turn Afghanistan into a model, European-style state.

Richard
Holbrooke, the US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who will
implement the new policy, said it would represent a "vastly
restructured effort". At the weekend in Brussels, he was scathing about
the Bush administration's conduct of the counter-insurgency. "The
failures in the civilian side ... are so enormous we can at least hope
that if we get our act together ... we can do a lot better," he said.

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