Journalists must love Hamid Karzai. The former Afghan president is a straight shooter without a safety switch and you can always count on him for compelling sound bites. On the fourteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks this year, Karzai did not disappoint and made the startling confession that Al-Qaeda "is for me a myth."
"I do not know if Al-Qaeda existed and I don't know if they exist," he said. Without care for the global consequences of such a statement, not least for the relatives of the 92,000 Afghans dead since 2001, Karzai continued: "I have not seen them and I've not had any report that would indicate that al-Qaeda is operating in Afghanistan." Here, of course, he is being deceitful but we will get to that in a minute.
The real question is whether Karzai is a simple loudmouth or does he know more about 9/11 than he lets on? The Bush administration after all handpicked him to lead the interim Afghan government in 2004. Also, while fighting alongside the anti-Taliban militia in Uruzgan province during the American invasion, Karzai was privy to a ground situation untouched by coverups.
"Is it not curious, though, that Karzai doubts the one entity whose presence in Afghanistan installed him to the Kabul throne?"
Nevertheless, this is not the first time Karzai has hinted that Al-Qaeda was a figment of the Bush-Cheney imagination, if not a total conspiracy. In a 2012 interview with NBC, Karzai claimed "I don't even know if Al-Qaida exists as an organization" as he blasted NATO and America for Afghan "insecurity." Is it not curious, though, that Karzai doubts the one entity whose presence in Afghanistan installed him to the Kabul throne?
What Karzai knows is important now because 9/11 "truthers" are gaining traction in America. Shunned by the establishment-run mainstream media, these conspiracy theorists including pilots, architects and structural engineers have taken to social media and the internet to prove that 9/11 was an inside job. Part of their case rests on the novice nature of the hijacking pilots, the sudden collapse of the unaffected World Trade Center Building 7, and the minimal damage caused to the Pentagon from the Flight 77 crash.
Getting back to Karzai's original statement, for him to say that he had "not had any report" about Al-Qaeda is plain wrong. Most recently, in April 2013, the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung quoted Karzai saying that the Taliban could open a political office in Qatar if they broke all ties with Al-Qaeda.
"For a fictitious group, Al-Qaeda was on the lips of Karzai and his officials an awful lot when it offered political mileage."
Earlier, in May 2008, after an assassination attempt on Karzai, then Afghan spymaster Amrullah Saleh confidently told the press that, "Al Qaeda's role and involvement in the attack is very clear." Rewind now to June 2006, and Karzai beseeched the international community to help him track down Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda's number two. "We in Afghanistan want him arrested and put before justice," Karzai thundered then. For a fictitious group, Al-Qaeda was on the lips of Karzai and his officials an awful lot when it offered political mileage.
Though initially fêted by Washington, the rise of Barack Obama signaled Karzai's slide from American favor. Even as a presidential nominee, Obama thought little of him. On a July 2008 trip to Afghanistan, Obama met the Governor of Nangarhar province Gul Agha Sherzai first, hoping to help him topple Karzai in the 2009 election. Karzai, however, was a canny operator. He knew America could not abandon Afghanistan without it looking like another Vietnam, and continued to lampoon its failing military efforts with impunity.
Karzai's corrosive tongue did have one silver lining for the White House. America could unleash him on Pakistan to keep its allegedly double-dealing ally in check. Karzai, an ardent Pashtun nationalist and pro-India to boot, became openly hostile towards Afghanistan's eastern neighbor for its covert support of the Taliban. Egged on by Washington, Karzai made a habit of blaming Pakistan for every attack on Afghan soil.
"Those who are working in the name of Daesh [inside Afghanistan] are definitely Pakistani militia forces."
This habit did not die out with his presidency. Only a few weeks back, Karzai informed Al-Jazeera that, "Those who are working in the name of Daesh [inside Afghanistan] are definitely Pakistani militia forces." He will also have gained satisfaction from the sea-change in Ghani-Islamabad relations. What began as the ping pong of mutual praise in November 2014 soon devolved into rhetoric from his successor that echoed the Karzai years.
Although he denies Al-Qaeda in public interviews, Karzai's intended audience is the White House. Think about it: If they knew that he knew the truth about 9/11 and could spill the beans, Karzai's free pass on the colossal graft cases against his corrupt rule makes sense. Even today, his political potency is considered superior to that of the reigning Afghan president.
In another time or place, especially after his "they have to work the way we ask them to work" snap at America in 2007, Karzai would have landed in prison for financial fraud immediately after leaving office. Yet, somehow, he retains both his freedom and political power. This is not a coincidence.