[OUTLOOK] Karzai’s dilemma

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[OUTLOOK] Karzai’s dilemma

Suppose you are Hamid Karzai. You are the president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, elected in October 2004 by the first-ever popular vote in the history of Afghanistan.
You were originally a member of the mujahideen, or the national alliance that fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during the 1980s.
You currently receive strong support from Western countries, including the United States.
More fundamentally, the fervent hope of the Afghan people to end the civil war got you elected president. You cannot let your people down. You must end the war that’s been going on in your homeland for some 30 years.
Recently, however, Taliban insurgents have taken over several parts of the country, and the entire nation has fallen into war. The Taliban took power in 1996 with the support of Pakistan with a vision for creating what they saw as an ideal Islamic country.
They still dream of establishing this kind of society. Their goal is to recapture power and to that end they will not hesitate to kidnap or murder innocent people.
This is the group you are at war with. Despite being derided as the “mayor of Kabul,” a way of implying that your authority outside the capital city of Kabul is limited, you throw yourself into efforts to establish peace.
In the midst of this, 23 Koreans were kidnapped by Taliban fighters who know no rules and no pity. Two of the hostages, Bae Hyeong-gyu and Shim Sung-min, were killed. It has become a heartbreaking tragedy.
The Taliban is giving you no room to negotiate. They have demanded the release of rebel prisoners and are threatening to kill the rest of the hostages if your government doesn’t comply. The Korean government, desperate for the return of the 21 remaining hostages, is pressuring you to make a deal with the rebels.
The Korean government reminds you that after all, you swapped a rebel prisoner for the release of an Italian journalist who was kidnapped in March. At the time, you made it clear that this was going to be a “one-time deal,” but the Koreans seem to have forgotten that part.
You now sorely regret having succumbed to the Taliban threat in March. It seems to have encouraged them to kidnap more locals and foreigners.
As president, you cannot ignore public sentiment. At the time of the March incident, the cruelly beheaded body of an Afghan journalist who had been with the kidnapped Italian had been found. The public was livid.
“Why do you, who turned a blind eye when an Afghan national was kidnapped, listen to the Taliban’s demands when a foreigner is kidnapped?” Afghans said. You had to bear the brunt of your people’s anger.
The reason you had to comply, however, was because Italy had threatened to withdraw some 2,000 of its soldiers from the country if you didn’t. If Italy withdrew its troops, the faint hope of ending the civil war would have grown even dimmer.
Korea, too, is threatening to withdraw its troops and is asking you to release the rebel prisoners in return for the hostages. Roh Moo-hyun, your Korean counterpart, even held an official news conference three days after the kidnapping in which he seemed to reconfirm the withdrawal of the Korean troops within the year.
The Koreans are very sly with their offers. They have promised economic aid if you only comply with the Taliban demand of releasing rebel prisoners in return for the hostages. However, they do not mention a word about helping to end the civil war. What good would economic aid do when the country has fallen into the hands of the Taliban?
Moreover, the Korean media portrays you, the chief of a sovereign country, as the head of a puppet government that the United States has set up. The Korean media has gone beyond calling for the United States to act and now blames the U.S. government for what has happened. They seem to have forgotten that Afghanistan has a government of its own.
You don’t feel as if the Dong-eui and the Dasan, the Korean troops in your country, are playing a particularly crucial part in the resolution of the civil war. After all, they have not set foot outside the U.S. base in Bagram, and the situation in Afghanistan is too serious to attach much importance to these stationary and inactive troops.
If the Koreans so desperately want the deal, they should offer to help oust the Taliban in return. Only then would you feel any incentive to consider the release of major rebel prisoners.
What you truly want is peace in Afghanistan. It’s not about money. May President Roh understand your desperate wish.

Lee Chul-hee
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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