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Corruption, parliamentary deadlock… Karzai’s impeachment?

Photo credit: NY Times

When I opened my computer this morning and started puttering around my morning news routine: email >> Twitter >> now Google+ >> blogs >> Facebook… Facebook (double-take), I was surprised to find New York Time’s headline staring back at me. “Afghan Parliament debates impeachment of Hamid Karzai“. Could it be? President Hamid Karzai is now facing the very real possibility of impeachment?

My immediate reaction: Really? It’s finally happening.

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been nearly five years since my time in Afghanistan. Because of my time there, Afghanistan has always had a special place in my heart — and for my attention, but despite all the news reports that fly towards us from around the world, the true heart of the matter is always hard to gauge unless you’re on the ground. I haven’t been on the ground for nearly five years – so take my opinion with, you know as they say, salt. I’m certainly no analyst or expert.

So with that caveat out of the way – why “finally”?

When Hamid Karzai was first elected into power in 2004, the Afghan nation and the international communities had high hopes. He was the choice candidate for the west, with his iconic dress code and articulate diction, Karzai was famously commented on by then Gucci’s Tom Ford as “the most chic man in the world”. He was also Pashtun, a prominent Afghan tribe from the southern regions like Kandahar and Jalalabad – great as it was expected that he could make big strides in building greater bonds with those regions where the Taliban were known for having a stronghold. Afghanistan was on the brink of change. Progress, development, reconstruction – everyone was excited. Money was pouring in from the international community, and all eyes were watching – none more so than the local Afghan people so hopeful for the bright future ahead of them. Everyone had high hopes.

Fast forward two years to the first Parliamentary elections. Voter turn-out was a far cry from the extraordinary turn-out in 2004 – which was a reflection of voter disenchantment. Corruption was rampant in the country, and the Taliban was as active as ever. Stories of money being taken, but regions still left with no schools, hospitals, roads, or basic infrastructure… in some cases, projects would be started, but left abandoned – skeletal scars on the landscape. Reminders of empty promises. Where was Afghanistan’s reconstruction, progress, and development now? All eyes stayed on Karzai.

In more recent times, relations with the West have chilled since Karzai began to allow the rearmament of tribal leaders, and later swung from a supportive stance to opposition on the West’s “war on terror”. Allegations of corruption – which have most recently come to a head in the Kabul Bank scandal – have further eroded general trust of his leadership. And then – Karzai set up a special court system that has not been recognized by the country’s election authorities or the international community.

As the New York Times reports:

The dispute centers on the legality of a special court set up by President Karzai to adjudicate allegations of fraud by candidates who lost their seats or were disqualified in last September’s parliamentary elections. Two weeks ago the special court ruled that 62 members of the current Parliament should be replaced by those who brought challenges, many of whom are allies of the president.

What’s significant about this special court is that it overrides the democratic process that although not perfect, was still the process that established the ministers who were voted into power by Afghans in the Wolesi Jirga (lower parliamentary house). By establishing the special court, Karzai has blatantly demonstrated an attempt to secure his own sovereignty as President.

And now, he’s facing impeachment. Surprising? No. Will it actually happen? Only time will tell.

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