Afghan Puppets Galore
by Charles Lemos, Mon Mar 23, 2009 at 04:18:13 AM EDT
Hamid Karzai recently angrily remarked that "Afghanistan will never be a puppet state." It seems that the President of Afghanistan is in for a hard shock. The UK Guardian is reporting that the Obama Administration intends to install a rival Prime Minister to counterbalance the growing corruption and perceived ineptitude of the Karzai government in Afghanistan in an attempt to bypass it and to more effectively channel resources.
The creation of a new chief executive or prime ministerial role is aimed at bypassing Karzai. In a further dilution of his power, it is proposed that money be diverted from the Kabul government to the provinces. Many US and European officials have become disillusioned with the extent of the corruption and incompetence in the Karzai government, but most now believe there are no credible alternatives, and predict the Afghan president will win re-election in August.
A revised role for Karzai has emerged from the White House review of Afghanistan and Pakistan ordered by Barack Obama when he became president. It is to be unveiled at a special conference on Afghanistan at The Hague on March 31.
As well as watering down Karzai's personal authority by installing a senior official at the president's side capable of playing a more efficient executive role, the US and Europeans are seeking to channel resources to the provinces rather than to central government in Kabul.
A diplomat with knowledge of the review said: "Karzai is not delivering. If we are going to support his government, it has to be run properly to ensure the levels of corruption decrease, not increase. The levels of corruption are frightening."
Several factors do not bode well for the Karzai government's rather precarious and tenuous hold on the reins of power even though he is expected to win re-election come August. The Karzai government is increasingly unpopular in Kabul and throughout the country, despite its attempts to build support with various giveaway programs and foreign financed development projects. The problem for the Karzai government is that it is widely seen as corrupt both in and outside Afghanistan. It bears reminding that last year then Senator Joe Biden, now Vice President Biden, stormed out of a dinner with President Karzai after the Afghan President dismissed the charges of corruption as propaganda. It is curious but Vice President Biden is reported among those in the Administration arguing for a "minimalist" approach in Afghanistan.
In terms of corruption, it is the Afghan National Police, which is composed largely of former mujahedin, that pose a major problem. Over the past six and a half years, police academies have been established in all of Afghanistan's main provinces. International trainers from the United States, Britain, and Germany have been working with the Afghan police to improve their performance but they remain poorly trained and poorly paid. In a country with a $4 billion opium poppy trade, that's a recipe for disaster.
Governance experts estimate that 90% of Afghan policemen derive a substantial portion of their income from bribes. Graft extends from low-level police officers, who make $100 a month and take bribes to be able to afford food and rent, to the highest level of government officials, experts say. Top officials, from the defense minister to Karzai's brothers to the former attorney general, have been accused of corruption. Among those running for President in August elections is Ramzan Bashardost, a former Planning Minister and current member of Parliament. "In the Afghan administration now, money is the law," said Bashardost. "When you have money here, you can do anything. Afghanistan is the only country in the world where corruption is legal."
Neither the Karzai government nor the corruption problem in Afghanistan were broached during the 60 Minutes interview with Steve Kroft. Here's the portion of the transcript concerning Afghanistan:
Speaking of which. Yeah.
What-- what should that mission be?
Making sure that al Qaeda cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests and our allies. That's our number one priority. And in service of that priority there may be a whole host of things that we need to do. We may need to build up-- economic capacity in Afghanistan. We may need to-- improve our diplomatic efforts in Pakistan.
We may need to bring a more regional-- diplomatic approach to bear. We may need to coordinate more effectively with our allies. But we can't lose sight of what our central mission is. The same mission that we had when we went in after 9/11. And that is these folks can project-- violence against the United States' citizens. And that is something that we cannot tolerate.
But what we can't do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems. . So what we're looking for is a comprehensive strategy. And there's gotta be an exit strategy. There-- there's gotta be a sense that this is not perpetual drift.
Afghanistan has proven to be very hard to govern. This should not come as news to anybody (LAUGHTER) given its history.
As the graveyards of empire. And there are people now who are concerned. We need to be careful what we're getting ourselves into in Afghanistan. Because we have come to be looked upon there by-- by people in Afghanistan, and even people now in Pakistan--
-as another foreign power coming in, trying to take over the region.
I'm very mindful of that. And so is my national security team. So's the Pentagon.
Afghanistan is not going to be easy in many ways. And this is not my assessment. This is the assessment of-- commanders on the ground.
Is Iraq was actually easier than Afghanistan. It's easier terrain. You've got a-- much better educated population, infrastructure to build off of. You don't have some of the same destabilizing border-- issues that you have between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And so this is going to be a tough nut to crack. But-- it is not acceptable for us to simply sit back and let safe havens of terrorists plan and plot.
According to the Guardian, the Obama Administration is expected "to focus in public on overall strategy rather than the details, and, given its sensitivity, to skate over Karzai's new role."
The Guardian adds that while the proposal for an alternative chief executive originated with the US, the idea is backed by Europeans. "There needs to be a deconcentration of power," said one senior European official. "We need someone next to Karzai, a sort of chief executive, who can get things done, who will be reliable for us and accountable to the Afghan people."
It is hard to not see this move as the installation of a puppet government. The other aspect of the plan is a de-centralization effort aimed at bypassing the central government in Kabul altogether. Money will be directed more to the officials who run Afghanistan outside the capital - the 34 provincial governors and 396 district governors. "The point on which we insist is that the time is now for a new division of responsibilities, between central power and local power," the senior European official said.
One has to wonder if some of that money is aiming at buying off the Taliban. On Sunday in the Washington Post, Jim Hoagland quoted U.S. intelligence estimates that "only 5 percent of the Taliban are 'hard core'ideologues sympathetic to al-Qaeda, and Petraeus wants a significant outreach by provincial Afghan officials and the U.S. officers who work with them to the 'recoverable' Taliban."
Mr. Hoagland also wrote:
While the administration this week begins a well-publicized Afghan "rollout" -- D.C.-speak for a coordinated but segmented sales job of a new initiative to Congress, the media and diplomats of other nations -- Holbrooke will be in Brussels to brief NATO allies privately on the strategic review ordered by Obama.
Then the president crosses the Atlantic to address three leadership summits, including NATO meetings in France and Germany April 3-4. Obama should be wise enough to avoid making a major issue of seeking new European troop commitments to Afghanistan. He will not want an air of confrontation to hover over a 60th anniversary gathering that will also celebrate France's formally rejoining the alliance's military structure after a 43-year absence.
Instead, Obama plans to ask the Europeans to shoulder more of the financial and police-training burdens in Afghanistan as the U.S. increases its military presence and shifts its counterinsurgency tactics to give greater protection to Afghan civilians and the 38,000 American troops already there.
According to U.S. and foreign officials, Petraeus -- the regional commander for the Afghan and Iraqi theaters -- persuaded the president last month that sending 17,000 new soldiers to Afghanistan will enable U.S. and allied commanders to reduce their reliance on the airstrikes and special forces' raids that have inflicted growing civilian casualties and provoked bitter outbursts from President Hamid Karzai.
Why do I get the feeling that the Washington Post is already in war propaganda mode? Well this morning, Jackson Diehl has his combat boots on with an article entitled Critical Mass:
To most eyes in Washington, Afghanistan has been looking worse by the week -- casualties this year are more than double what they were at this point in 2008. But U.S. commanders here, in Kabul and in Kandahar spoke confidently about reversing the war's momentum when I and several other journalists met with them over the last several days during a tour organized by the staff of commanding Gen. David D. McKiernan. "It's a war, and in a war, mass matters," said Brigadier Gen. Mark A. Milley, the deputy commander for the sector including Wardak province. "Over time this will work -- it has worked over and over again through history."
The commanders are upbeat in part because for the first time in seven years they believe they are getting enough resources. Though the Bush administration articulated lofty goals, it "undersourced this campaign from the beginning," said a senior officer in Kabul. Oddly, the Obama administration appears likely to meet most or all of McKiernan's requests for troops, civilian experts and aid even as it talks down those expectations.
But what leads me to conclude that the Guardian's story is accurate is this line:
In Wardak, as in southern Afghanistan, U.S. forces are embracing local leaders while quietly sidestepping President Hamid Karzai -- whose relations with American military leaders and diplomats have grown toxic. Wardak Gov. Mohammed Halim Fidai is an English-speaking former refugee who has spent much of his career working for U.S.-funded NGOs and has enthusiastically embraced the new strategy.
It seems that we are to have a large number of Afghan puppets.
If this concerns you, then please join the chorus of progressive voices aimed at Get Afghanistan Right. An urgent and robust public debate on the goals of our presence there and the strategies best suited to achieving them is in the national interest.