Sunday, March 22, 2009

Is the US going to re-fashion Afghanistan's government?

A story in The Guardian reports that the Obama administration is planning to install a prime-minister/CEO kind of figure alongside President Hamid Karzai, with whom both the US and European leaders have lost all patience. The guy they have in mind may be the interior minister, Mohammed Hanif Atmar, although let's not forget The Independent's report of several weeks ago about four other men, including at least two expatriates, that the US was priming for power. Karzai is adamantly opposed, of course. That his government is ineffective and riddled with corruption seems to be the consensus view in much of the international community, although given the general state of the country and the huge problems confronting it, one has to wonder if this kind of change will produce all that much improvement, or whether it will outweigh what is likely to be a significant downside: as The Guardian piece puts it,

The risk for the US is that the imposition of a technocrat alongside Karzai would be viewed as colonialism, even though that figure would be an Afghan.
Golly, ya think? Whoever the US installs is going to be seen as a puppet, the US's man, and will have zero credibility except as an errand boy with the power to dispense American dollars and aid.

Speaking of which, the report also states that the US plans to largely maneuver around the central government and funnel aid directly to local authorities (perhaps like some of those human-rights-loving local warlords of whom the US has been so fond?). As the report also notes - and as Mr. Obama said this evening on Sixty Minutes - the US mission in Afghanistan is from here on out going to focus on ensuring that al-Qaeda and its ilk can never use that country as a base from which to attack the US and "its interests." Perhaps we ought not be surprised, but despite all the talk of "real change," what's taking shape is another iteration of what's been US policy in the Middle East and Central Asia for decades: stability comes first, democracy and human rights come second. Of course, given the US's current economic predicament (which shows no real sign of turning around), this kind of fixing comes cheaper (although, I fear, it may not be especially cheap in the lives of American military, or civilians) and certainly reflects a well-considered pragmatism. But if it also entails deliberately undermining the authority of a central government and empowering at the local level some unsavory characters who hardly embody "American" values of democracy and humanity . . . well, the term "blowback" comes to mind, among others.

This, my friends, is going to be a very long and very bumpy ride.

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