Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's Time to Bypass Karzai Altogether

Is that it?  Just the one cheque?

No army will be able to defend, for very long at least, a government as weak and corrupt as Hamid Karzai's.  It didn't work in Vietnam and it has even less chance of working in Afghanistan.

That's the view of the International Crisis Group too.   This is how they put it:

" U.S. plans to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by 2014 would lead to a collapse of the government in Kabul and serious security risks for the region.

U.S. military operations are now entering their tenth year and policymakers in Washington are looking for a way out. But the key to fighting the insurgency and bringing about the conditions for a political settlement in Afghanistan lies in improving security, justice and governance. 

" The exit strategy sounds fairly simple: try to pound the Taliban, build support by protecting civilians, lure disillusioned Taliban over to the government and create resilient security forces”, says Candace Rondeaux, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Afghanistan. “The problem is that none of this is working”. 

...An alluring narrative of a successful counter-insurgency campaign has begun to take shape, but the storyline does not match facts on the ground. While success is being measured in numbers of insurgents killed or captured, there is little proof that the operations have disrupted the insurgency’s momentum or increased stability. The Taliban are more active than ever and they still enjoy sanctuary and support in Pakistan.

...The neglect of governance, an anaemic legal system and weak rule of law lie at the root of these problems. Too little effort has been made to develop political institutions, local government and a functioning judiciary. Insurgents and criminal elements within the political elite have as a result been allowed to fill the vacuum left by the weak Afghan state.

That last line is telling.  We say we want the Taliban to take a place within the Afghan government but they're already there.   The bad guys are part of Afghanistan's political elite and that is doing nothing to stop the fighting.

The ICG is almost certainly right that the Afghan government we have crafted both in Kabul and in the provinces has a snowball's chance in Hell of surviving our departure.   What should also be obvious is that, without a viable, legitimate and honest government, the Afghan National Army really has nothing worth fighting to defend.

The problem is we can't start all over from scratch.  We have accepted the legitimacy of Karzai's government.  Karzai added an insurance policy by cutting deals with some particularly horrible warlords/drug lords.   The only force that could depose Karzai is our own but that would  put us at war with every side in Afghanistan.  We'd be fighting the Islamist fundamentalists in the south and the bandit warlords/drug lords everywhere else.   Unless America wants to bring back the draft and open a massive new line of credit with her foreign lenders, that isn't going to happen.

The worst part is, this is a mess of our own making.  Or rather it's a mess of the Bush administration's making.   They ran the Islamists out, at least as far as the Pakistan border and then they plopped Karzai in as top dog while wasting no time making preparations to move on down the road to topple Iraq.

I guess we can blame both Bushes for creating this mess.   When the Soviets quit Afghanistan in 1989, George H. W. Bush was the newly minted president.  Over the next four years he sat indifferent as Afhganistan descended into a vicious civil war among the victorious Afghan warlords.  By 1994 the Taliban established themselves as a major force by taking Kandahar with the backing of the Pakistani intelligence service.

Bush I turned his back, allowing Afghanistan to collapse into a radical Islamist tyranny where al Qaeda could flourish.   Bush II set out to topple the fundamentalist Taliban government and destroy al Qaeda and then, without finishing either job, like his father turned his back on Afghanistan.   That leaves us in 2010 facing the Herculean chore of undoing the damage caused by the Bush administration in 2003.   That would've been tough in 2003, it's nearly impossible in 2010.

Perhaps the only exit strategy that remains open to us now is in direct negotiations with the Taliban.  We'll never get a straight deal going through Karzai and he's shown us that again and again.  Perhaps if Karzai & Company realized we were willing to deal with the Talibs directly and cut them out they would finally see it in their own immediate, even urgent, interest to reform their rotten state.   However if we're not prepared to go that route, we'll probably be having this same discussion three years from now.   What would be the point of that?

We're looking for the exit but Hamid Karzai is blocking that door.

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