Kandahar MP Malalai Ishaq Zai snorts derisively when asked if she thinks the Kandahar effort is likely to go better than in rural Marjah. The mother of eight lived in virtual captivity in her home during seven years of Taliban rule in the 1990s, which started in Kandahar. She then emerged, at the age of 38, to run a school and a women’s organization before becoming the only woman elected to parliament from the region in the 2005 elections.
Ms. Zai, an outspoken Karzai critic, says the US has coddled corrupt local officials close to Karzai's government.
Zai says that the president, a Kandahar native, is more concerned with his own position and that of his family than in permanently ousting the Taliban. Many locals charge his half-brother, Kandahar power broker Ahmed Wali Karzai, is involved in smuggling and corruption.
“For him, it’s all about preserving his presidency and his position, not what the people of Kandahar need,” she says, echoing the concerns of many of his critics in Kabul. “The US presence in Kandahar can give is a little security, but if they don’t focus on the corrupt and powerful, they won’t win.”
She says it appears unlikely at the moment that the US will clip Wali Karzai’s wings, since he’s both deeply involved in US military contracts here and protected by his older brother, the man the US is counting on to lead Afghanistan to a more stable future.
Zai and others, from former presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah to US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, have also been concerned that the US has not sufficiently curbed Pakistan's support for the Taliban, some of whose leaders are believed to be based in Pakistan – allegedly with cover from the Pakistani intelligence services.