Gerard Russell in the LATimes:
The struggle in Afghanistan is all about Afghans sizing each other up; foreigners are mainly just bystanders.
Until an equilibrium of power has been reached among Afghans that is generally unchallenged, pulling out foreign troops would precipitate a civil war. It would be a tawdry and selfdefeating end to the intervention in Afghanistan. Yet, for as long as foreign troops are dominating the conflict with the Taliban, and for as long as the U.S. is seen as the final arbiter of Afghan politics, an equilibrium of power cannot be reached.
The U.S. presence is the Afghan government's safety net, protecting it from the need to take responsibility for the fight against the Taliban. Until Karzai's government sees its survival at stake, it will not play its best game.
So let's fail in Afghanistan. Fail in the right way now, and the Afghans will have a chance of succeeding.
The right kind of failure could look like this:
So lose this battle too. By the end of 2010, withdraw forces to impregnable bases from which they can back up Afghan forces in cases of extreme need. Then there will be an end to the perception that Afghans now have: This is a war waged by foreigners in Afghanistan.
Yes, the Afghan forces will suffer. But they will anyway, one day, because foreign forces will not stay forever. Their chances are better now than they will be once the Taliban has irrevocably established itself in even more locations, and when U.S. patience is thinner than now.
But the Afghan government must be in the lead, clearly in charge, free to make its own political decisions and to learn its own lessons. And that is what the Afghan people must see.
Clearly we're not talkin' about Bush's Afghan government here.
What to do, what to do? Go? Stay? Now? When? Why? Who the fuck knows?
I'm still dithering.
Pashtoon Atif, LATimes:
On Afghanistan's independence day in August, my friends in Kandahar were puzzled. Why was the government bothering to celebrate the holiday? With 100,000 or so foreign troops occupying our country, how could we consider ourselves independent?
[...] An increasing number of Afghans view the international community as propping up a criminal enterprise disguised as a government, and more people than ever are registering their frustration by joining the Taliban, which can at least be counted on to provide security.
In 2001, most Afghan people looked to the United States not only as a potential mentor but as a model for successful democracy. What we got instead was a free-for-all in which our leaders profited outrageously and unapologetically from a wealth of foreign aid coupled with a dearth of regulations. Now that the result of this formula has crystallized in the form of industrial-scale electoral fraud, many have begun to question the very essence of the U.S. and NATO missions in Afghanistan.
Obama should send more troops to Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban and protect Afghan civilians. However, human and material resources should be distributed based on actions that Karzai takes to clean up his administration. The United States and its allies should produce a catalog of benchmarks aimed at tackling corruption, and make their support of the government contingent on its performance. One benchmark, for example, could be the dismissal of notoriously corrupt officials within Karzai's administration, which would send a clear signal to the Afghan people that duplicity will not be tolerated.
The U.S. must demand compliance by making the additional troops and foreign aid necessary to defeat the Taliban and build a legitimately sovereign Afghan state conditional on Karzai's prioritization of accountable governance, protection of civilians and removal of the worst abusers of political power. Otherwise, even 100,000 additional troops won't help to repair the damage.
Defeating corruption in the Afghan government may be a harder task than defeating the Taliban, who don't stand a chance of being defeated until the Afghan government is no longer corrupt.