Monday, November 2, 2009

Where Does Afghanistan Go From Here?

As late as two days ago requests for observers to go monitor the Afghanistan run-off election were passing my email inbox; now President Karzai's challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, has dropped out, cancelling the run-off and handing Karzai a second term he was likely to have won anyway. Wow. Where does that leave the government of Afghanistan?
Weak and corrupt to be sure, but that's nothing new. News broke last week that Karzai's brother Amed Wali, he of the rapidly growing wallet and probably drug and warlord ties, has been on the CIA payroll for years. Abdullah said he dropped out because he didn't have confidence the run-off would be any less corrupt than the first election. That's fair, but I also think Abdullah was unprepared to actually lead Afghanistan. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is said to be attempting to negotiate a place for Abdullah in the government, but I'm not holding my breath.
The run-off was supposed to be another chance to establish some semblance of credibility in the Afghan government. With Karzai still in power without even having to stuff ballot boxes it weakens the U.S. position. We are stuck saying "please be less corrupt and actually try to govern" much like we were stuck for long periods of time asking the Pakistani government to pretty please attack those pesky terrorists hiding in their country.
All of this makes things more difficult for President Obama's still-debating Afghanistan team. I'd still be debating too, as I have talked to and heard from many smart people who disagree strongly on the best course of action. It's another obstacle in a difficult swamp we are negotiating. It's clear that those calling for a rushed decision, like Dick Cheney, were wrong. We need a well-reasoned strategy to allow us to withdraw as soon as possible (even if that is a few years away) and leave behind as little chaos as possible.

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