ISLAM AND THE WEST
By Daniel Brumberg
By the end of 2009 the U.S. will have 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, 21,000 of whom were deployed by the Obama administration.
This factoid must be considered against the backdrop of the presidential election held last week. According to Grant Kippen, the Canadian chairman of Afghanistan’s Electoral Complaints Commission, electoral fraud may be sufficiently serious to affect the outcome of the poll. With presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah accusing President Hamid Karzai of “stealing” the election, there is a real possibility of post-election violence — particularly if Karzai declares victory and thus prevents a run-off in October.
The Taliban would welcome such conflict. Having weathered the recent American military offensive, they surely agree with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who has stated that the situation in Afghanistan is “serious and deteriorating.”
The Chairman is sure to ask for more U.S. troops, but only after the Pentagon completes its assessment of current U.S. military strategy. Whatever its recommendations, we already know one thing: the battle against the Taliban cannot be won by American (or other Western) soldiers and pilots. As we are learning in Iraq, the most well-executed “surge” will only bring temporary relief. At the end of the day, there must be a political solution that unites all factions behind a government widely seen as both effective and legitimate.
Karzai has received low scores on both accounts. Brought in by the Bush administration, he enjoyed a brief honeymoon, as Afghans basked in the sun of what many hoped was a post-Taliban Afghanistan. But in the ensuing four years, Afghanistan suffered several surges of its own: a surge in cultivation and smuggling of opium, a surge in governmental corruption, and a surge in the predatory behavior of a national military and police whose underpaid soldiers and officers prayed on hapless villagers.
Stepping into the breach, the Taliban expanded its reach, leaving Kabul an urban island of quasi-stability and quasi-modernity in a rural land whose villages were controlled — and often terrorized — by local warlords and Taliban fighters.
Like so many of the legacies that Obama administration inherited, this one was not of its making. Handed a gigantic mess, it has struggled to play military, diplomatic and developmental catch-up. In addition to mounting a surge that rightly or wrongly echoed much of the Iraqi “boots on the local ground” strategy, Washington has distanced itself from Afghanistan’s increasingly unpopular president, pushed Kabul to address corruption, and increased U.S. aid for a myriad of democracy and governance programs.
All of this may have come too late. To provide a sustainable basis for national reconciliation and democratic governance, elections must be preceded by some measure of successful state building, economic development and — most importantly — elite peace making. Unless political leaders can find common ground, both victors and losers will view elections as merely another step in a prolonged battle. Under these conditions, there can be no real domestic peace, only temporary political ceasefires.
Washington has frequently been implicated in these domestic political truces. Indeed, in Iraq and Afghanistan (not to mention the Balkans), the U.S. and its Western allies have not only backed one sectarian or religious group; they have also provided the security umbrella for whatever modicum of brittle consensus political leaders have forged.
This may be a no-win situation. When the U.S. acts as both partisan and conflict mediator, it becomes as much part of the problem as part of the solution. As the recent bombings in Iraq suggests, we cannot stay but we cannot go. This is the great conundrum that President Obama faces as its pulls U.S. troops out of Iraq and into Afghanistan.
Daniel Brumberg is Co-Director of Georgetown University’s Democracy and Governance Program and Acting Director of the Muslim World Initiative at the United States Institute of Peace.
By Daniel Brumberg |
August 24, 2009; 5:23 PM ET
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