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Politics in Afghanistan: Karzai Folds

Posted by Derrick Crowe on October 20th, 2009

Note: Derrick Crowe is the Afghanistan blog fellow for Brave New Foundation / The Seminal. Learn how the war in Afghanistan undermines U.S. security: watch Rethink Afghanistan (Part Six), & visit http://rethinkafghanistan.com/blog.

According to the New York Times and CNN, Senator John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry have prevailed upon Afghan President Hamid Karzai to concede that he did not win 50 percent in the initial presidential vote, which would pave the way for a runoff. (In fact, about a quarter of the votes counted in the initial balloting were fraudulent, and a third of Karzai’s were bogus.)

But that’s where things get tricky: the law (you know, the law that remains after Karzai stayed in the presidency long after the Afghan constitution required him to vacate) requires the runoff be held within two weeks of the certification of the election results. However, the reason Karzai purportedly had to stay in office beyond his constitutional term in the first place was the inability of Afghan officials to set up an election process within the security situation in the time allotted, and it’s not exactly gotten easier to do so in the interim. It will be extremely difficult to set up a runoff in two weeks, and many have indicated that they would not participate in a runoff after risking their lives defying the Taliban the first time. And, the longer this drags out, the closer we get to winter, which would shut down any possibility of a nationwide election.

Here’s what Abdullah had to say:

Abdullah told CNN on Monday he was prepared to participate in a runoff, but said “the door is open” to other alternatives.

“There are some practical questions ahead,” Abdullah told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, citing winter, the security situation “and other realities on the ground.”

If the election were not held by early November, winter weather would make voting impossible in some areas and force a delay until spring of 2010, according to Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad.

Such a delay, he warned, would be a “recipe for disaster” that would create confusion in Afghanistan and heighten tension between the United States and Karzai’s government.

The solution proffered by the Obama administration is to have Abdullah concede the runoff as soon as it’s announced in exchange for the placement of some of his key supporters in positions in a sort of unity government. For his part, Abdullah seems to be telegraphing his willingness to do so, something in which he previously indicated no interest. Abdullah’s switch on this could be  a way out of the potential constitutional death spiral I wrote about several weeks ago, but that’s only if this goes down in the best of all possible ways. If Abdullah balks, then the runoff must proceed, tentatively scheduled for November 7th. Steve Hynd’s post describes the difficulties of that scenario.

In the best case scenario, we’ll have an Afghan partner* that’s a “unity government” of warlords and drug lords. Good deal. I know I’m excited.

[*Even that generous description of the Afghan contribution to the effort seems to put paid to the notion that we are in a supporting role of a legitimate government fighting off an insurgency. We're not. And if we're not, we're occupying/pacifying, plain and simple.]

Charting a course through the post election tangle, though, does not weed out the bad answers given to basic questions about the ongoing military enterprise in Afghanistan. Today’s STRATFOR’s article makes much the same point I made a few days ago: we can play in the Afghan sandbox all day and not move toward a world without al-Qaida. STRATFOR:

If the strategic objective of the war in Afghanistan is to cut the legs out from under al Qaeda and deny these foreign jihadists sanctuary, then what of the sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal belt where high-value al Qaeda targets are believed to be located? Pakistan is fighting its share of jihadists according to its own rules; the United States cannot realistically expect Islamabad to fulfill its end of the bargain in containing al Qaeda. The primary U.S. targets in this war are on the wrong side of the border, and in areas where U.S. forces are not free to operate. The American interest in Afghanistan is to defeat al Qaeda and prevent the emergence of follow-on jihadist forces. The problem is that regardless of how secure Afghanistan is, jihadist forces can (to varying degrees) train and plan in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia — or even Cleveland for that matter. Securing Afghanistan is thus not necessarily a precondition for defeating al Qaeda.

Not only is a hugely expensive COIN effort in Afghanistan not sufficient to defeat al-Qaida, but it’s not even necessary. Thus, an Afghanistan-centric anti-al-Qaida policy is nonsense. It’s worse than useless; the monstrous human and opportunity costs mean it’s actually self-destructive.

As important as the Afghan elections are to the future of that country, getting them right isn’t sufficient to correct the bad assumptions driving the destructive, militarized policy in Afghanistan. It’s time to drop the silly idea that war helps anyone, and charge our policymakers with finding civilian solutions to a political problem. Sign Rethink Afghanistan’s petition for civilian solutions.

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