If the U.S. exits Afghanistan after brokering a power-sharing arrangement between the Karzais, Mullah Omar's Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami, America will have accomplished the inconceivable by leaving behind a world so anarchic it will make the current depravity and bloodshed seem palatable.
And mind you, we are talking about a country that already rates out by every measure available as one of the most violent, corrupt and poverty-stricken places on this planet.
This option represents the path of least resistance and is a short-term remedy that is based more on politics than national security. Yesterday in an AP article Michael Scheuer, former head of the C.I.A.'s "bin Laden unit," spelled out the driving force behind the U.S. administration's willingness to negotiate a deal -- any type of deal:
"The game is over and we are looking for a way out. Obama won't be able to hold his base for 2012 if he is not out of both Iraq and Afghanistan by then."
And it was exactly because of Obama's need to assuage his base that an arbitrary withdrawal commencement deadline of July 2011 was inserted into his Afghanistan War strategy. Last year former assistant Secretary of State James Dobbins had similar sentiments about Obama's establishment of a timetable:
"I don't think the president would have set a deadline if he didn't feel the need to make some concession to his domestic critics, and the strong elements within his constituency that have doubts about the wisdom of the commitment in Afghanistan."
The president's advisers are praying an accord of any nature is reached, because it would potentially eliminate yet another reason for voters not to reelect Mr. Obama. One wonders if the economy were in better shape if we would see this same level of desperation emanating from the White House to reach a political settlement. But now it seems the U.S. is willing to strike a deal today by any means, short of filling the Foreign Minister post with Osama bin Laden (assuming he's alive).
The Washington Post reported yesterday that President Hamid Karzai has opened clandestine high-level negotiations with the Taliban, with the Saudis and the Pakistanis acting as go-betweens. Just last week, according to the Asia Times, the U.S. seemed smitten by Hekmatyar and his plan for peace in Central Asia.
Outside of the obvious outbreak of civil war that will ensue when the Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras unite as the Neo-Northern Alliance to fight the All-Pashtun triumvirate, leaving Afghanistan in the hands of these three forces is borderline immoral. Not only will this type of political arrangement devastate Afghanistan immediately, it will become a long-term national security threat for the United States because these monsters shall come home to roost -- once again.
There is a difference between allowing disenfranchised Taliban fighters to rejoin Afghan society but an entirely different matter allowing the movement's leaders to share power. And most Afghans will tell you that Taliban leaders will hardly be pacified with a share of any government that isn't a Caliphate, which they are dead-set on establishing (come hell or high water -- literally).
And good luck spotting the "moderates" within the Taliban ranks because, as Sima Wali, King Zahir Shah's representative to the Bonn Conference once quipped: "You show me a moderate Talib and I will show you a moderate Nazi."
Plus, many Afghans see the Taliban as a Pakistani and Saudi creation, do not consider it an indigenous Afghan movement and do not subscribe to the Taliban's sadistic interpretations of the Qur'an.
Next, we have Hekmatyar. Here is a man who carries the dubious distinction of being one of the only world leaders to have bombed his own country's capital. Not to mention the U.S. classified him as a terrorist by writ not too long ago according to Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald in The Huffington Post.
On February 18, 2003, the U.S. State Department and Treasury designated Mr. Hekmatyar as a global terrorist under Executive Order 13224 (which freezes his assets and criminalizes any U.S. support for him). But now the U.S. supports the brilliant idea of handing Hekmatyar a share of the Afghan government, making the bin Laden cabinet post suggestion suddenly seem not so far-fetched.
And please let me clear about the status quo: it is not an option either. General David Petraeus's counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy is designed for failure because it's based on winning the hearts and minds of the local populace on behalf of the Afghan government. The reason this is mission impossible is because the Afghan government is so corrupt that the local populace would rather suffer through Islamic fascism than spend another day under Karzai rule.
Let us not forget that it was the U.S. who rejected the will of the Afghan people and inserted Karzai as head of state during a 2002 loya jirga. The ultra-centralization the Americans afforded to be written into the Afghan constitution has been almost as tragic a mistake as propping up Karzai in the first place. This has yielded an unprecedented consolidation of money and power by the Karzai family, and the inevitable accompanying corruption has seeped through every layer of government. Afghans believe Karzai is an illegitimate American puppet and consider his regime to be as foreign as the Taliban.
Locally, enabled by the chaos of war, warlords, drug traffickers and militia leaders have taken de facto control at the provincial, district and tribal levels. Meanwhile, because of rigged elections, strongman rule and the decimation of the tribal structure, the voices of the majority of Afghans -- who are good-hearted and uncorrupt -- have been completely drowned out.
On top of all of that, the Afghans I've spoken with are not too thrilled about the dubious intermediaries from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that have been involved with the negotiations. What has their influence done for Afghanistan in the past?
Their participation raises other questions about this future government. Who is going to stop the Saudis from funding insurgents and who is going to prevent the Pakistanis from helping the Taliban run roughshod through Afghanistan like they did when they effectuated the Taliban's rise in the mid-90s? Hamid Karzai?
Mujahideen warlordism, Deobandi Wahhabism and Western-style centralized democracy are not concepts indigenous to Afghanistan but have been imported from the aforementioned "dealmakers". Thus, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Karzai are the last people who should be involved with shaping Afghanistan's future.
The problem is the Afghan people have never been allowed to control their own destiny. It is time to somehow level the playing field so that Afghans can choose a leader and a form of government without any interference from foreign powers or local powerbrokers.
It's time for Afghanistan's "Silent Majority" to step out of the shadows cast by the strongmen minority whose power is based on guns and money. It's time that Afghans are allowed to select leaders who will derive their moral authority from the will of the people, and according to Afghan tradition which, ironically, would resemble democracy more than the mockery of it we see today.
Unfortunately, the Afghans are currently powerless because the fate of their nation, apparently, will be determined by certain events in the U.S. that are outside of their control, chief among them being the election cycle.
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