Afghan President Hamid Karzai threw U.S. observers for a loop over the weekend, announcing that his country would join Syria and Venezuela in supporting Russia’s Crimea invasion annexation:
Citing “the free will of the Crimean people,” the office of President Hamid Karzai said, “we respect the decision the people of Crimea took through a recent referendum that considers Crimea as part of the Russian Federation.”…
Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said that the Russian annexation of Crimea was a “legitimate move” and that the palace statement represented Afghanistan’s official recognition of the new borders.
“Afghanistan always respects the free will of the nations on deciding their future,” he wrote in an email. He did not elaborate.
Never mind the fact that Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up a communist regime, and was sent packing by many of the same jihadists who’ve fought U.S.-led troops over there.
By way of speculation, the New York Times notes that the Crimea situation could have a historical resonance with some Afghans, who believe the British partitioning of its colonies cut them off from many of their countrymen, who now live south of the border with Pakistan—a border Afghanistan has long been loath to accept.
That’s a generous assumption: It’s not as if Karzai’s about to annex the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan anytime soon, especially since the latter is a nuclear-armed military power. But there’s still plenty of upside for the Afghan president.
Since the U.S. first bungled its Taliban overthrow in Afghanistan and its regime change in Iraq, many of Afghanistan’s almost-neighbors in the post-Soviet space have re-oriented themselves toward Russia, going with the scary great power they know rather than the superpower from over yonder. There are plenty of reasons for this—including that term political scientists use all the time, “balancing”—but it probably helped that in the Bush Doctrine era of regime topplings, Vladimir Putin has signaled to dictators across Eurasia that Russia will help prop them, if they play ball.
That could be Karzai’s game. And it could be that after more than a decade of war, Afghans have transferred their historical antipathies from the Russians to the good ol’ U.S. of A.
But even if the move angered most Afghans, who might still remember the wounds they suffered at the hands of the Russians, it could still look like a smart play to Karzai. After all, so many factions in his own country are already trying to kill him; what’s alienating a few more, if he gets protection for his regime from the gangster on the block? We made him, and he’s learned how to survive quite well.