Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Damned If We Do ...you know the rest
It really makes my day to start it reading some clear-headed story. This morning that arrived in the form of a first-person account by one Sarah Chayes of the cancerous state of corruption in Afghanistan.
Chayes has been over there for five years. She went there as a radio reporter with NPR and wound up staying to help with reconstruction. Apparently she now runs a small co-op that makes skin care products for export to North America.
In Chayes opinion, Afghanistan is going down the toilet, not just due to the Taliban but also due to rampant, debilitating, corrosive government corruption.
Those who've read my earlier posts will realize this is a topic I've been harping about since I began this blog. Government corruption undermines any counter-insurgency effort, the very thing NATO is struggling to achieve right now in Afghanistan. We've gone out on a limb to battle the Taliban only to find government corruption is sawing off the branch behind us.
Let me explain. A cornerstone strategy of guerrilla warfare is to drive a wedge between the people and their government. The essence of terror attacks is to make the populace very afraid. This makes their government appear weak and unable (or unwilling) to protect them from the terrorists. These people then get angry at their government for leaving them vulnerable while, by default, they come to see the guerrillas as the outfit that is strong and entitled to demand their loyalty.
This is what Canadian forces are fighting against and dying to prevent. It's as simple as that. We want to hold the Taliban at bay so that the Afghan people can feel secure enough to want to support their government, Karzai and Company.
Unfortunately, while we're fighting and dying to keep this government alive, the government officials themselves are doing the guerrillas' work for them. Government corruption is driving its own wedge between the people and the Karzai regime. The people are afraid not only of the terrorists but of the government's soldiers and police who shake them down and abuse them. These corrupt officials, like the drug lords and the warlords are the Taliban's best friends.
Just who are the good guys? Well, surely the late Safia Ama Jan was one of them, right? Safia gained fame as a provincial director of Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs who was gunned down by the Taliban. Just last week, Laura Bush released an official, White House statement in tribute: "American women stand with the women of Afghanistan, and with leaders like Safia Ama Jan. We are proud to support them in their efforts to build Afghanistan's new democracy... " Maybe this was all propaganda, designed to get us at home to support "the misson."
According to Ms. Chayes, Safia Ama Jan wasn't all that she was hyped up to be:
"..She used her office to monopolize money earmarked for Kandahar women, pocketing much of it and using the rest to favour exclusively the members of her own ethnic group. Afghans currently dread interaction wth officials like Safie Ama Jan. Bribes are extracted for the least administrative task; soldiers manhandle people or shake them down; principals steal humanitarian assistance earmarked for their students."
Oh dear, this is what we're fighting to uphold?
Ms. Chayes calls on Stephen Harper to put Hamid Karzai on notice that he must clean up his government and speak harshly to Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf also. She then recommends that Little Stevie have a few blunt words with his pal, Shrub. Good luck. I understand her frustration, her sense of the need for action, but what's the point?
Only a couple of days ago George Bush boldly pronounced Afghanistan as a great achievement. He's already being pilloried for the astonishing mess he made of Iraq. Think he wants to make that same admission about Afghanistan? Not hardly.
Besides, as I've noted time and again, what could Karzai do about this if he wanted to? Sweet Fanny Adams, that's what. Can he have his corrupt police force arrest themselves? Can he have his corrupt army take up arms against themselves? Can he place his warlords in irons (no, forget that one, he's already made them provincial police chiefs).
What NATO has taken on is a lot different than what we were given to understand. We were told we were there to defend the Afghan people and their democratic government. It turns out we can't defend the Afghan people against their own government which, itself, is failing. We're defending what is little more than a power vacuum and, ultimately, that is indefensible.
Ms. Chayes described the situation when she arrived in Afghanistan in December, 2001:
"..it seemed that U.S. officials were ushering discredited warlords into positions of power, though the Afghan people wanted nothing of them, and gave President Hamid Karzai a resounding mandate to expel them from the body politic. In 2002 and 2003, the U.S. government prevented Mr. Karzai from moving against these warlords, and then he, discouraged, gave up trying. The result is a government that is devoured by corruption, with offices up for sale, and officials whose entire motivation is to extract money and favours from their countrymen."
The Karzai government was set up to fail by Bush's insane rush to get at Iraq. It wasn't that Bush wanted Karzai to fail but he didn't care enough to prevent it. His neglect was enough to doom this experiment almost from the start.
How is this going to play out? It's anybody's guess. Do you think the NATO nations are willing to raise yet another army, one to do battle with the corrupt army and police officials as well as the warlords and drug lords? That's not going to happen and yet not amputating the gangrenous limbs of Karzai's government means that its death is just a matter of time.
One thing about power vacuums is that they always get filled but usually not without an awful lot of spilled blood in the process. Corruption begat the alienation of the Afghan people from Karzai which begat the power vacuum in the Pashtun south which begat the resurgence of the Taliban.
I'm beginning to have doubts that the NATO alliance is going to be able to survive this. That may be the lasting legacy of Afghanistan.
If you're interested in some of my previous posts on this topic, have a look at these:
21 August - Bush having second thoughts about democracy for Iraq
22 August - Reality check - the real picture on the ground in Afghanistan
24 August - Democratic Deficit - troubles plaguing the Karzai government
2 September - On to Islamabad
6 September - Into the Arms of the Taliban
7 September - Just What Are We Fighting For?
8 September - Another Day, Another Dollar, Another Gordo
12 September - When Fighting Shadows
12 September - Eating Soup With a Knife
14 September - Mystery of Panjwai
17 September - Okay We Won, Let's Go Home
18 & 19 September - Not Your Granddad's War I & II
20 September - Voices of Afghanistan
23 September - Bagful of Hot Air
23 September - Operation Medusa
27 September - Just Asking, That's All
30 September - There's Reality and Then There's Reality