Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Afghanistan Mafia State

Consistent readers of BadskiBlog have likely picked up on my general skepticism of our elected officials and the claims that they make. However, do not mistake me for an anarchist. I love the country we live in and I believe government serves a very important role in maintaining its greatness. Although I am hesitant towards any government encroachment of the freedoms we enjoy as American’s I strongly believe that the good ol’ US of A does a pretty damn good job of protecting it’s citizens freedoms from the dangers of lawlessness, crime, and corruption. I found this article on Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and his vow to clean his country of corruption.

It was no secret what the world wanted to hear from Hamid Karzai when Afghanistan’s president was sworn in for a second term on Thursday November 19th: a commitment to get tough on corruption. Visiting Kabul for the inauguration, Hillary Clinton, America’s secretary of state, said Mr Karzai had a “window of opportunity” to show tangible results. American officials say he has just six months to tackle what one calls “Afghanistan’s mafia state”.

In his inauguration speech, he said ministers in his administration must be “competent and just”. But heeding Western concerns about their behaviour does not come naturally to Mr Karzai. He has been in a combative mood since the West’s much-resented demand that he accept that his re-election was marred by massive vote-rigging. In a recent American television interview he batted back questions about corruption in his government with his oft-repeated line that foreign donors must clean their own act up and stop development funds from being wasted. Such wastage, however, is at least lawful, unlike the Afghan government’s practice of selling jobs to officials who then repay themselves through extortion. Nor is it akin to the impunity the well-connected enjoy.

We focus so much on the war fighter in our conflict in Afghanistan. We focus on our battle against the Taliban. I would argue that they are not our greatest challenge. If you watched the documentaries I recommended on a previous BadskiBlog post you would see that the Taliban are merely players in a much more complicated problem. In fact our, and I use the term loosely, “strategy” in Afghanistan is now engaging the people of Afghanistan in an effort to rebuild their nation and align them with US interests. We are tasking our war fighters to protect the local population, to get the local population to trust us, to get the locals to continue their daily life, and in theory to reject Islamic extremists that hide amongst them. However, this article illustrates a fundamental problem with this strategy. How are we supposed to empower a 19 year old army private to win over the local population when we are supporting a corrupt government that is seen by the people as completely inadequate in representing and protecting their rights? Karzai’s own half brother is said to be one of the main beneficiaries of the now flourishing drug trade and Karzai's own reelection was internationally exposed as a farce.

For some Americans, the crucial test of Mr Karzai’s seriousness in tackling corruption is his willingness to sack Ahmed Wali Karzai, his half-brother, who lords it over the south as head of Kandahar’s provincial council. Both he and his brother deny longstanding allegations that Ahmed Wali is involved in the drug trade. And parts of the foreign effort in Afghanistan also rely on Ahmed Wali, including allegedly the CIA (though he denies reports he is on the agency’s payroll). As one NATO official in Kabul put it, Ahmed Wali’s “ruthless use of patronage” has annoyed many people and possibly increased support for the insurgents. But it has also kept many other people on side. “Ahmed Wali is the only thing holding Kandahar together right now,” says the official, speaking of a city second only to Kabul in importance, and suggesting that in tackling this important symbol of perceived corruption it is not just Mr Karzai who has a conflict of interest.

Not to mention that the current US strategy does little to address Pakistan as a player in the Afghanistan scenario. I have been happy to see that Pakistan has become more involved by sending actual troops into areas inhabited by the Taliban, but only time will tell how serious they are in their efforts. I will be much happier if Pakistan acknowledges that a stable Afghanistan is good for Pakistan and carries out the actions to prove it.

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