Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s has accused the USA and Taliban of colluding to convince Afghans that foreign forces were needed to maintain peace in the country  beyond next year, when most foreign combat troops are due to leave. President Karzai’s remarks are being given significance because of the presence in the country of US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, on his first visit to Afghanistan after taking office. While Secretary Hagel is primarily there to meet the US troops stationed there, he is also supposed to take up the issue of US troop levels, after the withdrawal, with President Karzai. President Karzai should not be surprised if his remarks, made on Sunday at an International Women’s Day function in Kabul, fail to convince anyone of his nationalist credentials, or that the Taliban are collaborators. He should also not be surprised if he earns a reputation for inconsistency, for he had earlier argued for the USA to retain as many troops as possible after the formal withdrawal. He made this demand in the knowledge that, without the support of American troops, his regime would not last. The Taliban have a certain repute in the Afghan population precisely because of the resistance they have shown to foreign occupation. Though President Karzai will not change this, his remarks do indicate he is struggling to escape the collaborationist label that bedevils him.

Another reason why President Karzai is trying this is probably to get a better negotiating position with the USA. At the same time, the statement is yet more evidence that the USA itself has not reached a consensus on this issue. However, it does not show directly the reality that cannot be ignored about the Afghan situation, no matter how much the USA and President Karzai try: Afghanistan will remain unstable as long as the USA maintains any troops there.

Pakistan, which is not just Afghanistan’s neighbour but also shares with it a whole web of ethnic and cultural linkages and has an inherent interest in Afghanistan achieving the kind of stability that US occupation cannot provide. It should use the opening provided by President Karzai, no matter how narrow, in order to persuade the USA that it will have to leave the area if it hopes for the region to experience the kind of stability that the US occupation is now depriving it of.