Strange Bedfellows in Kabul

Afghan President Hamid Karzai may have a lot of explaining to do concerning his choice of running mate for the upcoming Afghan elections when he meets with President Barack Obama today. Considering the growing popular skepticism (.pdf) in America about the Afghanistan War, one would think that Karzai would have made things easier for his Washington supporters with a more attractive choice.

Instead he’s picked Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a former warlord and protégé of murdered Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Massoud, who has also been accused of drug smuggling, gun running and kidnapping. Kai Eide, the senior U.N. envoy in Kabul, apparently begged Karzai to reconsider, but Karzai remained adamant, so the decision will now fall to the Afghan people.

Karzai, taking Tip O’Neill’s famous dictum that “all politics is local” to heart, obviously believes that Mohammad Fahim’s popularity and support in the Afghan Tajik community outweighs the criticism he’s already gotten from the U.N. and organizations like Human Rights Watch, whose Brad Adams called Fahim’s nomination “insulting [to] the country.”

Whatever reasons Karzai has for choosing Fahim, give him credit for letting bygones be bygone. Steve Coll, in Ghost Wars, tells a fascinating tale of an earlier encounter between the two men in 1994, during the civil war, when Fahim was the head of security for Ahmed Massoud and Karzai was a lowly deputy foreign minister in the government.

According to Coll, Fahim suspected Karzai of being in league with the Pakistani intelligence services. Karzai, the royal-born Pashtun, was arrested at his home and driven to a downtown interrogation center where he was allegedly beaten in the presence of the thuggish Tajik Fahim. By a twist of fate, a rocket slammed into the center allowing Karzai to scramble out of the rubble and slide on to a bus to Jalalabad. He then went into a seven-year exile in Pakistan.

If true, this is a subject that Karzai and Fahim will likely be avoiding when discussing the good old days. It also suggests that Karzai has a lot of confidence in his personal security detail.