Hamid Karzai has been acting even more obnoxiously and erratically than usual of late. He has tried to kick U.S. Special Forces out of Wardak Province, a Taliban-infested area south of Kabul, and he has tried to renege on an agreement over the transfer of an American-run detention facility to Afghan custody. Even worse, Karzai's claims that the Taliban and the United States are colluding against his country have forced Gen. Joe Dunford, the top U.S. military commander, to issue an alert to his troops warning them that they face an elevated risk of attack.
All of this highlights the importance of Afghanistan picking a better leader in the next presidential election, scheduled for April 2014. It is vitally important that this balloting, unlike previous elections, not be marred by fraud. U.S. forces need to start planning now to ensure a free and fair election.
But securing the vote is only the beginning of the problem. For it is perfectly possible that even a free election can bring to power a weak leader who, like Karzai, will tolerate massive corruption. If that were to happen it would be a disaster, because the ineffectiveness of the existing government is a prime recruiting tool for the Taliban. Unless Afghans elect a better president there is little chance that the massive American investment in Afghanistan, designed to safeguard the country from a return to power by the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies, will pay off.