I had this op-ed today in US News and World Report on the current situation in Afghanistan:
Afghanistan’s Ongoing Nightmare
For the third time in five years, an electoral crisis faces Afghanistan. However, unlike the fraudulent Afghan presidential election in 2009 and the equally crooked parliamentary elections of 2010, the United States no longer maintains more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. The United States’ policy of artificially upholding political order with the presence of large numbers of soldiers and massive infusions of cash in order to prevent complete fracture across the nation of 30 million was never a sustainable course of action in Afghanistan and the inevitable breaking of that short-sighted policy now appears underway.
This month, after no candidate achieved a clear majority in the April general election, the Afghan Independent Election Commission – of which there has never been evidence of its actual independence or objectivity – released preliminary results from the June 14 runoff of the top two candidates. Ashraf Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, academic and World Bank executive who lived outside of Afghanistan from 1977-2001, had defeated Abdullah Abdullah, a Tajik-Pahstun and a doctor who participated in the war against the Soviet Union and then served prominently alongside Tajik warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud during the Afghan Civil War of the 1990s. Abdullah had finished second and Ghani fourth to President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 election.
Both Ghani and Abdullah had previously held positions of prominence in Karzai’s government, one of the most corrupt in the world. Ghani served as finance minister, while Abdullah served as foreign minister. Additionally, both Ghani and Abdullah’s running mates are warlords accused of war crimes and complicity in mass corruption and drug trafficking. But to, to be fair, at least to an American audience, these are not the worst candidates. Abdul Rasoul Sayaf, the man who brought Osama Bin Laden to Afghanistan in 1996 and mentored 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad, finished fourth in the general voting in April.
Abdullah, citing mass reports and evidence of ballot stuffing, has decried the preliminary results and threatened to form a parallel government. Such an occurrence could further fracture Afghanistan along ethnic lines and engender a wider civil war.
Sadly, for many of the Afghan people, a broken and illegitimate elections process is the least of their worries. The Afghan economy, despite the infusion of nearly $100 billion in foreign assistance since 2001, is incapable of supporting itself. Indeed, the only industry that has flourished and provides any form of income and occupation on a macro scale is Afghanistan’s drug trade. Year after year, bumper crops of poppies have been harvested despite the presence of hundreds of thousands of foreign troops and billions of dollars invested in anti-narcotic and anti-corruption policies. With no electricity and no cold storage infrastructure, Afghan farmers that do engage in licit agriculture must sell their produce to neighboring countries, only to have to repurchase at a later time at much greater cost. Young Afghan men who seek employment not with the Afghan security forces, in a warlord’s militia or with the Taliban, must travel to Iran or Pakistan to find work.
This past week, the United Nations issued its most recent report on casualties. For the fifth consecutive year, since President Obama escalated the war in 2009, Afghan civilian casualties have increased. This is not surprising, as the Taliban insurgency, despite assurances from American generals and politicians of military victory in 2009, has not been diminished, but rather grown in size and capability. The Taliban have launched more attacks every year since the American surge and now occupy a strategic political position that allows them to enter and withdraw from negotiations at their choice.
In effect, in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban are in control, while in the rest of the country no one appears to be in control, at least in a recognized or legitimate sense. For the average Afghan, the much-heralded promises of political freedom, economic opportunity and physical security that accompanied the American war effort have failed to be realized.
Rewind the newsreels back over the last 13 years and you will hear praise from American politicians over “modern” Afghan leaders as Jeffersonian-Democrats, you will hear generals preach of counterinsurgency principles that were to vanquish an enemy by winning the hearts and minds of an occupied population, and you will marvel at the largess of the billions of dollars earmarked by our Congress for education and infrastructure programs for a faraway people. None of these noble imaginings ever became reality. Rather these dreams have manifested as a collective ongoing nightmare for the Afghan people. The current crisis in Afghanistan at the unrecoverable cost of far too many lives and limbs, is a tragic lesson on the true limits of American power.