Matthew Green of the FT, reporting from Kabul, suggests that Abdullah Abdullah may still be open to a post in Hamid Karzai’s cabinet. That outcome is not impossible given Afghanistan’s mercurial politics. But it seems to me unlikely, since Abdullah is accusing his rival in the country’s presidential contest, Hamid Karzai, of having attempted to steal the Aug. 20 election, and of running interference for corrupt members of the electoral commission. The reason Abdullah gave for pulling out of the race, that the elections were not going to be conducted transparently, is more of a thunderous condemnation than a coy offering of himself as a cabinet member. Still, Euronews also notes that Abdullah has not ruled out playing a role in a national unity government.
Abdullah’s withdrawal is not good news for the Obama administration, as I said yesterday, if they are planning a long-term, nation-building, counter-insurgency campaign. But for a targeted, small counter-terrorism campaign, the shape of the indigenous government is less important.
The fact is that Karzai was likely to win all along. That his government’s legitimacy has been wounded is bad for Washington. But Karzai never built the kind of power base that Nuri al-Maliki assembled in Iraq. Karzai only controls 30% of the country, while the Taliban and other anti-government guerrillas have altogether about 10-15%. Most of the country is under regional tribal leaders and warlords, who have not actively taken up arms against either Kabul or the foreign troops, but who do not want to be dominated by either.
Aljazeera English reports that the Afghan government wants to go forward with the election on Nov. 7, while the international community feels it would be dangerous and irresponsible to hold the elections when their outcome is a foregone conclusion.
The discussions about US troop force levels in Afghanistan takes place in the White House, the Pentagon, and the US Congress. But shouldn’t the elected Afghanistan parliament have a say? It was after all the Iraqi parliament that asserted itself in insisting that the Status of Forces Agreement contain a timetable for US withdrawal.
And what would the Afghan parliament say if it was given a say? It would be hard to know from reading the American press. But Azadi Radio in Dari Persian has an article on some of the debate among Afghan parliamentarians. Senator [Mahmood] Rashid [the article mistakenly gives his name as Ahmad] says that more US troops will actually make things in the country worse. He points out that many of the Taliban say that what motivates them to fight is the task of pushing foreign troops out of their country. Sending in a lot more US troops would therefore just stiffen the resistance.
Pir Sayyid Ibrahim Gailani said much the same thing. But he added that the next president of Afghanistan must take parliament’s views into account, and should call a conference of parliamentarians with Taliban and the Hizb-i Islami (of Gulbadin Hikmatyar) to settle the outstanding issues by negotiation instead of by sending in foreign troops.
The biographies of Rashid and Gailani can be found here. Both Rashid and Gailani had been associated with the Mujahidin or anti-Soviet guerrilla fighters, in fact Gailani had been a commander in Paktia in the 1980s. Both senators, in other words, know a great deal about the dynamics of Afghan tribes with foreign troops. Their voices should be heard in this debate. Indeed, Gailani’s insistence that parliament be brought into the task of finding a negotiated settlement with some of the guerrilla forces may be crucial.
See also Tom Engelhardt on Afghanistan as a bail-out state.
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