The Writing on the Wall in Kabul

There's bad news and more bad news out of Afghanistan.

American generals have intensified warnings that the military situation in Afghanistan is rapidly "deteriorating." They are calling for yet more troops in addition to the recent major manpower increase authorized by President Barack Obama. Sixty-eight thousand US combat troops, 40,000 dragooned NATO soldiers, and 74,000 mercenaries are apparently not enough. Welcome to Vietnam Mission Creep, Part II.

In May, the former US Afghan commander, General David McKiernan, was fired by his superiors for publicly stating he would need 400,000 US troops to impose total control over that nation. Now, US military commanders say they still don't have enough men to pacify Afghanistan. Shades of Gen. Eric Shinseki, who was fired by the Bush administration for daring to say the US would not have enough troops to pacify Iraq.

An election held under the guns of a foreign occupation army cannot be called legitimate or democratic. That's a basic tenet of international law.

Nevertheless, the US and its NATO allies have been lauding last week's faux presidential elections in Afghanistan as both a sign of growing support for Hamid Karzai's Western-backed government and the birth of democracy in Afghanistan.

In reality, the carefully stage-managed vote in Afghanistan for candidates chosen by Washington and London is unlikely to bring either peace or democracy to this wretched nation that has been at war for thirty years.

The Taliban and its nationalist allies rejected last week's vote as a fraud designed to validate continued foreign occupation under a puppet regime and open the way for Western oil and gas pipelines. The Taliban, which speaks for many of Afghanistan's majority Pashtun, said it would only join a national election when US and NATO troops withdraw.

Charges of a rigged election are correct. All parties were banned from the supposedly "free election." Only candidates who favored continued US and NATO occupation were in the race. The US paid for the elections and advertising, funded the Election Commission, and spread around large amounts of largesse to tribal warlords. Foreign observers reported extensive fraud and vote rigging.

Compared to this pre-determined vote, Iran's recent elections look almost wholesome by comparison. Afghan elections run by the Soviets in 1986 and 1987 were fairer and more open: opposition parties and anti-Soviet candidates were allowed to run.

To paraphrase Omar Khayyam, after all the pre-election hoopla in Afghanistan, we come out the same door we went in.

Election results won't be in for two weeks. But the winner will be whomever Washington decides is to be its man in Kabul.

That will likely again be Hamid Karzai, or Northern Alliance front-man, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. The Obama administration is fed up with Hamid Karzai and mutters about dumping him, but can't find an acceptable alternative. Abdullah, with his close links to Iran and Russia, makes Washington nervous.

What the US would really like is a new version of the late Najibullah, the iron-fisted strongman who ran Afghanistan for the Soviets.

The Western powers have marketed the Afghan War to their voters by claiming it is all about democracy, women's rights, education, nation building and saving poor Afghans from the diabolical Taliban -- the same people, or their sons, who we not long ago financed and hailed as "freedom fighters."

President Barack Obama claims the US is in Afghanistan to fight Al-Qaida. But Al-Qaida barely exists. Its handful of members long ago decamped to Pakistan.

This war is really about oil pipeline routes and Western domination of the energy-rich Caspian Basin. And of course pressure on Obama from the right that the US cannot afford to lose a second war under his command.

Afghanistan's Pashtun tribes, who make up 55 percent of the population, remain excluded from power. Afghanistan is a three-legged ethnic stool made up of Pashtun, Tajiks, and Uzbeks (four if you count the small number of Shia Hazara). Take away the Pashtun leg and stability is impossible.

There will be neither peace nor stability in Afghanistan until the Pashtun majority is enfranchised. This means dealing directly with the Taliban, which is part of the Pashtun people.

The US cannot run Afghanistan by using the minority Tajiks and Uzbeks, as it has done since 2001. They used to be the main henchmen of the Soviets and Afghan Communist regime that killed 2.5 million Afghans.

The solution to this unnecessary war is not more phony elections but a comprehensive peace agreement between ethnic factions -- that includes the Taliban and its nationalist allies -- largely restoring the status quo before the 1979 Soviet invasion. That means a weak central government in Kabul (Karzai is ideal for this job), and a high degree of autonomy
for self-governing Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara regions.

Government should revert to the old 'loya jirga' system of tribal sit-downs, where decision are made by consensus, often after lengthy haggling. That is the way of the Afghans and of traditional Islamic society. Afghanistan worked pretty well under this old easy-going system. In fact, Afghanistan never really had a government in the Western sense.

All foreign soldiers must withdraw. A diplomatic 'cordon sanitaire' should be drawn around Afghanistan's borders, returning it to its traditional role as a neutral buffer state.

The powers now stirring the Afghan pot -- the US, NATO, India, Iran, Russia, the Communist Central Asian states -- must cease meddling. They have become part of the Afghan problem. Afghans must be allowed to slowly resolve their differences the traditional Afghan way even if it initially means blood and revenge attacks. That's unavoidable in a land where the code of revenge -- "badal" -- is sacred.

All Afghans must share future pipeline royalties. The only way to end the epidemic of drug trading is to shut border crossings to Pakistan and the Central Asian states. But those nation's high officials, corrupted by drug money, will resist.

The US and NATO can't solve Afghanistan's social or political problems by continuing to wage a cruel and apparently endless war whose total cost for the Western participants has risen to $20 billion a month.

American and NATO soldiers will never be able to change Afghanistan's social behavior or end tribal customs that go back thousands of years. They are too busy defending their own bases from angry Afghans.

A senior British general, David Richard, just warned his troops might have to stay for another 40 years. He quickly was forced by the government to retract, but the cat was out of the bag.

The writing is on the wall in Kabul: Time for the US and its allies to go home.