Afghanistan’s other front

Afghanistan’s other front

Allegations of ballot-stuffing in the presidential election in Afghanistan last month are now so widespread that a recount is necessary, and perhaps even a runoff. Yet this electoral chicanery pales in comparison to the systemic, day-to-day corruption within the administration of President Hamid Karzai, who has claimed victory in the election. Without a concerted campaign to fight this pervasive venality, all our efforts there, including the sending of additional troops, will be in vain.

I have just returned from Afghanistan, where I spent seven months as a special adviser to NATO’s director of communications. On listening tours across the country, we left behind the official procession of armored S.U.V.’s, bristling guns and imposing flak jackets that too often encumber coalition forces when they arrive in local villages. Dressed in civilian clothes and driven in ordinary cars, we were able to move around in a manner less likely to intimidate and more likely to elicit candor.

The recurring complaint I heard from Afghans centered on the untenable encroachment of government corruption into their daily lives — the homeowner who has to pay a bribe to get connected to the sewage system, the defendant who tenders payment to a judge for a favorable verdict. People were so incensed with the current government’s misdeeds that I often heard the disturbing refrain: “If Karzai is re-elected, then I am going to join the Taliban.” [continued…]

Can we bribe our way to victory?

…the unlikely figure of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., raised the key issue of the day. He began his questioning of Adm. Mullen by asking whether the Taliban had any tanks. No, Mullen replied. Graham then asked how many airplanes they have. None, the admiral answered, perhaps wondering where this line of inquiry was going.

Then Graham zeroed in. If that’s the case, he asked, how is it that the Taliban are gaining ground? The problem isn’t the Taliban, it’s the Afghan government, isn’t that right?

Mullen agreed. The problem, he said, “is clearly the lack of legitimacy of the government.”

Graham pushed the matter. “We could send a million troops, and that wouldn’t restore legitimacy in the government?” he asked.

Mullen replied, “That is correct.”

A few minutes later, under questioning from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Mullen elaborated: “The Afghan government needs to have some legitimacy in the eyes of the people. The core issue is the corruption. … It’s been a way of life for some time, and it’s just got to change. That threat is every bit as significant as the Taliban.” [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Fred Kaplan’s proposal — that the US government can “legitimize” an Afghan government by heavily bribing its officials — is, I imagine he would say, “counter-intuitive”. I’d call it stupid. It presupposes that everyone is bribable — everyone has their price. That certainly applies to those who are already corrupt, but I see no reason to view all Afghans as corruptable. On the contrary, those who have the strongest allegiance to their country or their tribe are least likely to have any interest in doing the bidding of an American paymaster.

Maybe the real solution requires that the Americans have the humility to accept that homegrown solutions are ultimately the only ones that take root.

Call for an Afghan surge

America’s top military officer endorsed sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, a shift in Pentagon rhetoric that heralds a potential deepening of involvement in the Afghan war despite flagging support from the public and top Democrats in Congress. [continued…]

Afghan recount presents huge task

One out of every seven ballots in last month’s Afghan presidential elections — and possibly many more — will be examined as part of a huge recount and fraud audit that may force the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, into a runoff, Afghan election officials said Tuesday.

A United Nations-backed commission serving as the ultimate arbiter of the election ordered the recount from around 10 percent of the country’s polling stations because of suspected fraud, the head of the panel said Tuesday, though the number of actual votes covered by the order is much higher, numbers from a top Afghan election official showed.

The Aug. 20 ballot was racked by egregious voting fraud and ballot stuffing, international and Afghan election observers have said, throwing Afghanistan into an electoral crisis even as the Taliban gains ground in the rugged countryside. [continued…]

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