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 Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
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 he will win re-election in August.
A revised role for Karzai has emerged from the White House review of Afghanistan and Pakistan ordered by US President Barack Obama when he took office. It is to be unveiled at a special conference at The Hague next Tuesday.
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.
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-Qaeda and the Taliban, rather than the more ambitious aim of the Bush administration of trying to create a European-style democracy.
The proposal for an alternative chief executive, which originated with the US, is backed by Europeans.
“There needs to be a deconcentration of power,” one senior European official said. “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.”
No names have emerged for the new role but the US holds in high regard the reformist Interior Minister Mohammed Hanif Atmar.
Meanwhile, Taliban fighters ambushed a police vehicle in southern Afghanistan yesterday, killing eight policemen, a senior official said. The ambush took place in the village of Rabat in Kandahar Province on the border with Pakistan.
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