Just back from serving as an election monitor in Afghanistan, I became distressed at how much the Karzai government's mishandling of the electoral process and rampant corruption are undermining its own legitimacy and that of the overall international effort. I began to daydream about Afghan President Hamid Karzai speaking directly to the American people to take responsibility for his government's failings and seek support for strong U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. This is what he said:
My Dear American Friends,
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for all you have sacrificed to help my country. You liberated Afghanistan from the brutal rule of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. We are delighted to have them gone.
Afghanistan is far from America, and few Americans knew much about my native land before the terrible events of September 11, 2001 brought our fates together. I know that no American can forget the tragedy of that day, just as no Afghan can forget the string of tragedies over the past thirty years that have turned our proud country to rubble.
It's strange for me to watch the Afghanistan debate in the United States knowing that what America decides will have almost as great an impact on the future of Afghanistan as elections in our own country. Americans are rightly asking what has been gained from eight years of war - your soldiers are dying, the Taliban is growing stronger, Al Qaeda has safe havens in Pakistan, and my own government is riddled with corruption and cannot yet stand on its own feet. Many Americans saw the August Afghan elections as a last straw and are asking how a counter-insurgency strategy can work if the Afghan government is not able to hold a clean election, provide basic services, or bring any semblance of justice and security.
But while I ask the American taxpayers and their representatives to hold me accountable for how international funds are being used by the Afghan government, I also hope that the American people can understand how much the U.S. policy of funding and arming Afghanistan's warlords after the 2001 intervention helped create the situation we are in. What could we have done to stand up to the warlords other than make deals with them? Once we did, how could we create the culture of accountability we all know is badly needed? This is not to mention all the problems that have been created by the poor coordination among international military forces or the negative impact on our credibility of civilian casualties from US bombing.
We have all made terrible mistakes, but what's done is done. The key question you must now answer is whether you will support a strong and broad engagement in Afghanistan to lay a foundation for long-term security, or will begin scaling back your engagement and focus more narrowly on fighting Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. For your sake as well as for our own, I hope you do the former.
If you scale back now, before we are able to develop our own institutions, there is a decent chance our system will collapse. If you stay in your bases and whack the Taliban and Al Qaeda from the sky, you will only stir the hornet's nest and destabilize our already weak government. Trust me, a failed or terrorist state in Afghanistan will become everyone's problem. If the Taliban and Al Qaeda take over and use Afghanistan as a base to export extremism and terror, what will you do then? Will you come back? As tough as it seems, won't it be easier to make the current flawed system work?
The new Afghanistan is just eight years old. We are very far from perfect, but we are doing a lot to educate our young girls and build a multi-ethnic society. With your help, we've made great progress in strengthening our army, but we've had very little progress in improving the quality of our policing, building a justice system, or giving farmers meaningful alternatives to growing opium poppies. I believe that together we can make significant progress in all of these areas, but we need our leadership, your robust support, and a bit more time.
We need you to stay and help us, and you need us to succeed. But it would not be fair for us to ask you to sacrifice so much without our making commitments as well. For this reason, I today want to make a series of pledges to the American people.
From this day forward I will commit myself to fighting fraud and corruption within my government. Corruption is not a part of Afghan culture, and we Afghans need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. I will kick-start this process today by asking my brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, to step down as Chairman of the Provincial Council of Kandahar.
Within two months, my government will publicly present our list of top goals for the next three years in key areas such as good governance, development, education, policing, judicial reform, and agriculture, and measurable benchmarks that we can all use to determine whether these goals are being met. For each goal, we will determine what support we need from the international community to make progress. If we do not reach these benchmarks, I will fully understand if the international community begins reducing its support to our government. It will literally be life and death for me and every member of our government to bring about this progress, and corruption or other interference with this process simply will not be tolerated.
You may be asking how I can do this when my own position is so shaky after a deeply flawed election whose outcome remains uncertain. I take full responsibility for the electoral fraud carried out in my name, but will it matter who ultimately wins if international support is withdrawn prematurely and our state collapses? We need to get our act together now. For this reason, I would like to invite my challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, to become my full and equal partner as Co-President of Afghanistan.
I beg you, for our sake as well as yours, help give us one last chance to build a better future for all of our children. From where I stand, the alternative seems unimaginable for both of our countries.
Jamie F. Metzl is Executive Vice President of the Asia Society who served as Project Director for the Asia Society Afghanistan-Pakistan Task Force. The views expressed are his own.