Indian Decade

Obama Comes Calling

The US leader’s secretive trip to Afghanistan leaves much to the imagination.

(This is the third in a series of dispatches from India Decade blogger Sanjay Kumar, who is currently on assignment in Afghanistan.)

It’s not unusual to hear the noise of military helicopters and planes in the skies of Afghanistan. You can see numerous defence vehicles and planes that you’ve previously only heard about or read about in the newspapers. But on the evening of the 28th, helicopters criss-crossed the sky noisily. This was not like any other day.

‘Obama is in Kabul,’ a local contact in Kabul informed me over the phone. This explained all that irritating noise. For more than two hours, denizens of Kabul were the victims of a bombardment of sound. In between, I kept on trying to find out the whereabouts of Uncle Sam in Kabul through my limited sources, and what he’s discussing with the Afghan president. A presidential spokesperson refused to divulge any details until Obama was in Kabul and he reluctantly confirmed the presence of the august guest in the presidential palace.

It’s baffling to me why so much secrecy surrounded the visit of the world’s most powerful man to Afghanistan, or at least why the host seems not to have even known about his impending visit. Obama is the president of the world’s most powerful nation. Why does he need to arrive like the leader of an underground group or guerrilla organization? I could understand if Mullah Omar, or for that matter Osama bin Laden, visits a place unannounced and in the comfort of darkness. But why the president of the US of A? Maybe the American president didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the Taliban by openly defying them.

What surprised me more were the reports in the next day’s newspapers that even Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not aware of the visit until one hour before Obama landed. My driver, Nayeem, didn’t believe me when I told him this and asked a pertinent question: If America can’t trust a government that is virtually run and directed by it, how can it think of fighting in cooperation with the Afghan government against the Taliban?

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

In Afghanistan, trust is a real casualty in the 30-year-long war. No one wants to trust each other. All ethnic groups are so distrustful of each other that a united nation is difficult to visualize for at least a few more generations. Meanwhile, the so-called closest allies in the war against terror are not willing to trust the intentions of each other.

In this atmosphere it’s not difficult to imagine how seriously the Afghan people took what Obama said on his nocturnal trip and what Karzai promised in the one-on-one meeting with Obama in his heavily fortified presidential palace. But one thing that the people of Afghanistan have come to believe is that, for now at least, the presence of the noisy military aircraft is more certain than their future.