More great reporting from Dexter Filkins. This confrontation between Karzai and his intelligence minisiter Amrullah Saleh–widely seen among the Americans as among the most competent members of Karzai government–has been the talk of Kabul and Washington this past week. My sources say that the confrontation got very hot, a major screaming match. My sources also say that Karzai’s insane accusation, that the U.S. conspired to launch rockets at his peace jirga, was more an outburst of unhinged fury than evidence of core paranoia. The real concern here is that the Karzai government may be splitting back into the same old Afghan factions: north versus south, Pashtuns versus the Northern Alliance.
There is also an India versus Pakistan dimension here. The Pakistanis, who have significant influence over the Afghan Taliban, have been demanding that Saleh be sacked; they consider him an Indian agent (he was active in the Northern Alliance, which received support from India). Saleh was able to remain in his job, despite serious disagreements with Karzai, in part because he had the strong backing of the CIA. Karzai’s willingness to sack him, or let him resign, could well be a sign that Karzai is tilting toward Pakistan, which would be crucial if there is to be a rapprochment with the Taliban.
This is only the tip of a very distressing iceberg (or, given the locale, the leading edge of a blinding sandstorm). I’ll have more on it in my print column this week.