I spoke with Ambassador Peter Galbraith, former UN Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan spoke about Hamid Karzai's presidency, particularly in light of recent tensions with the United States and renewed evidence of election tampering.
He began by reminding listeners of the tainted elections that kept Karzai in office:
[The elections] were massively fraudulent, and the people who organized and oversaw the fraud were the election commission that Hamid Karzai appointed and he, of course, was the beneficiary... We're talking about a million phony ballots out of three million cast. A third of Karzai's totals.
Afghans understood full well that there was fraud and it wasn't going to be kept under wraps. . . . In the end Karzai became president for a second term, but in circumstances where many Afghans . . . questioned his legitimacy.
The problem is that we had a President who had been in office for eight years. His eight years in office has been characterized by corruption and ineffectiveness. I think it's unlikely for someone in office for that long to change ... his second term was obtained by fraud and so he is seen as illegitimate. [The Obama Administration has] a counter insurgency strategy. The key element of a counter insurgency strategy is to have a credible local partner; there was no credible local partner, so the strategy isn't working.
Galbraith addressed charges that Karzai's recent behavior is erratic:
Most diplomats in Kabul have always thought Karzai a bit weird and that weirdness has clearly erupted. On April first, he said for the first time, "Yes, I wasn't legitimately re-elected, it was a fraudulent election. But the person who got me elected was Peter Galbraith. And the reason he organized this fraud . . . [was] so that he could weaken me by leaking the details to the international media." That was a pretty strange statement.
Saturday he met with Afghan parliamentarians and he said, "Well, I might go join the Taliban." Then on Monday he accused the United States of organizing the fraud that re-elected him.
To sum up, we have a leader who has an eight year track record of corruption and ineffectiveness, now in office by fraud, and therefore seen as illegitimate, and who is acting very strangely.
Galbraith then tells the back story of Richard Holbrooke's frictions with the Afghan government that ended up putting him somewhat at odds with the White House. [Listen to the interview for his account.]
Responding to the question of whether Karzai's problems are as much psychological as they are political, Galbraith offered a forthright response:
Certainly I think there's a psychological and personality issue. It's an open secret that the diplomats in Kabul have real questions about Karzai's mental health. He's emotional, he's prone to tirades. What we saw last week in public is the Karzai that people see in private.
Galbraith expressed doubts as to whether simply cutting off Karzai's flow of money will bring substantial change:
Although Afghanistan has a highly centralized system, the reality is that Karzai doesn't control anything more than Kabul. The north, which is stable and peaceful, is not Pashtun--Karzai is a Pashtun; it's Tajik and Hazara, They run their own affairs and more or less ignore what the central government says. And the south is largely under the control of the Taliban, which controls the countryside and many neighborhoods in the major cities, including Kandahar, the second-largest city.
Galbraith summed up the fundamental flaw of current US strategy, questioning both its practicality and its morality:
We have to face up to the real problem: . . . Our strategy depends on a credible local partner; we don't have a credible local partner; therefore, our strategy is not going to succeed. Therefore I see no point in having a hundred thousand troops pursuing a mission that is not going to successful. I think it's a huge waste . . . and I also think, frankly, it's immoral to send young men and women into a fight that can't be won.
The difficulty in building a competent Afghan police force illustrates the lack of a credible local partner:
We now are spending six weeks to train an Afghan policeman. But the recruits that we have, eighty percent of them are illiterate. The training is on very basic stuff like hygiene and a great deal of it is on self-defense because ten percent of the policemen in southern Afghanistan get killed every year. . . . At the end of six weeks you have someone who is actually not trained to be a policeman at all.
Even if we didn't have to deal with a corrupt, ineffective, and illegitimate government, the task ahead of us would be very difficult.
Galbraith concludes by suggesting Obama follow Kennedy's lead, and to be honest with the American people:
I think at this stage he should talk straight to the American people and say "Look the mission I thought we could accomplish we can't accomplish; we don't have a credible partner." And as you rightly point out the consequences are not going to be all that disastrous.
He reminded listeners that Al Qaeda is no longer a presence in Afghanistan and that the civil forces are in a stand-off situation:
If our mission is to fight Al Qaeda, while it's true that September eleventh began in Afghanistan, it doesn't mean nine years later that they're still there--they're not. They're across the border in Pakistan. And if we are really concerned with Al Qaeda, there are several countries where Al Qaeda is far more present and we don't have troops there-- Yemen and Somalia are two examples.
The other point is while this is a war we can't win this is a war we can't lose. The Taliban are an entirely Pashtun movement. The Pashtuns are forty-five percent of Afghanistan, meaning fifty-five percent are from groups totally opposed to the Pashtuns. They control the south, but they can't take Kabul and they can't take the north. So they can't win, and without a credible partner, we can't win.
"Daily Briefing with Ian Masters" is a Pacifica Radio Network production originating from KPFK-FM Los Angeles. You can hear Ian Masters streaming live from 5-6 PM PST Monday through Thursday and Sundays from 11-Noon PST at www.kpfk.org.