Champagne Nights in Kabul: The S&M Guide to the New Great Game

It’s a last-minute, two-day stopover – sounds innocuous enough.

But nothing is innocuous in this region. And so, a last-minute, two-day stopover has triggered a new game of intrigue - complete with the usual suspicions and false starts – in the region’s capitals.

Round one kicked off with the weekend announcement that Afghan President Hamid Karzai would stop by the Indian capital of New Delhi on Monday on his way to the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit in Bhutan.

Since Kabul International Airport does not feature direct Kabul-Thimpu flights to the Bhutanese capital, a stopover in New Delhi seems sensible and well...innocuous.

Aha! Wrong.

Afghanistan is the board-game on which Islamabad and New Delhi play out their mutually suspicious, mutually antagonistic interests. So, if an Afghan leader drops by one capital, you can be dead sure the other capital is bristling.

The vanity contest – again

I can’t believe it. They did it again. When will the Americans ever learn?

Senior Afghan officials have announced that the much-awaited peace jirga scheduled for May 2 has been postponed until after Afghan President Hamid Karzai returns from his Washington trip next month.

All very well. Except that once again, a senior US official had announced this important piece of information BEFORE the Afghan government.

At a briefing in Washington on Monday, April 22, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke rolled out the following dates at a press briefing. “President Karzai will be here [in Washington] May 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, and leave on the 14th,” Holbrooke told reporters before adding that the peace jirga is “now scheduled for May 20th”.

The US had jumped the gun again, irking Afghan officials who said they had not taken any decisions a peace jirga postponement nor did they set a new date until Wednesday.

The message is clear: guess who calls the shots in Kabul.