Connect to share and comment

Afghans in for a "wild spring"

Attempts by Hamid Karzai to stay in power have many observers worried.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai talks to media after meeting with local elders March 7, 2010 in the southern province of Helmand. (Dusan Vranic-Pool/Getty Images)

Update: In a surprise visit to Afghanistan Sunday, U.S. President Barack Obama met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and demanded Afghan authorities follow through on promises to improve anticorruption efforts and to enforce the rule of law.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Hopes of democracy are gradually fading in Afghanistan, say foreign and domestic observers. President Hamid Karzai is now so focused on his own status that he is ready to sacrifice any pretense of fair play to perpetuate himself and his family at the center of the power.

Just as worrying, in the eyes of many, is the fact that the international community that backs his administration with troops and treasure seems to be allowing Karzai free rein in the name of stabilization and expediency.

“Karzai is totally focused on staying in power,” said one Western official. This was echoed by sources within the presidential palace, where close advisers are becoming increasingly concerned that the president is spinning his own version of an executive coup.

Over the past several months, the Afghan president has taken several steps designed to cement his position at the expense of the other branches of government. The end game say insiders, may be a bid to amend the constitution to allow Karzai to remain in power indefinitely.

Coming up in late April in Kabul is Karzai’s much-vaunted Peace Jirga, in which up to 1,500 hand-picked delegates will discuss the president’s appeal for reconciliation with the insurgency.

One possible scenario, according to a long-time observer of Afghan politics, is that Karzai could use the event to declare a state of emergency, followed by a Constitutional Loya Jirga, or Grand Council, that could change the law in any way that the president deems fit.

“Things could get wild this spring,” said the political expert.

During the Parliament’s winter recess, Karzai issued a decree unilaterally “amending” the law that will govern parliamentary elections slated for September. He has toughened up the requirements for running for office, along the way neutering the one body that stood up to the egregious fraud perpetrated in his name during last year’s presidential poll — the Electoral Complaints Commission.

Formerly ECC commissioners were drawn from various institutions — three internationals and two Afghans. Under the new law, five commissioners will be Afghan. Few doubt that they will be chosen for their pliability by Karzai himself.

“It’s a disaster,” said one former ECC member, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Kai Eide, the former U.N. special representative in Afghanistan, negotiated a “compromise” in the last days before his departure in early March. Karzai has agreed to accept two internationals on the ECC, as a concession to Afghanistan’s “transitional” status.

“This was not due to international pressure,” said presidential spokesman Siyamak Herawi.

But while the Afghan and international media were busy celebrating Karzai’s “reversal,” experts were not so sure. The addition of two internationals does not necessarily mean the subtraction of two Afghans, they say.