With the news from the top intelligence officer in Afghanistan that the local insurgency can sustain itself indefinitely, time is running out for the dubious counter-insurgency strategy favored by the United States to work. The Taliban insurgency has a shadow government system set up in 33 of the 34 provinces in Afghanistan, and the network is often more able to deliver more resources to the locals than the government.
It does not inspire confidence that the Afghan government can turn things around and become a credible partner when their President is saying things like this:
A defiant Afghan President Hamid Karzai defended his record on corruption in an interview broadcast on Friday, saying the issue that has damaged his reputation had been “blown out of proportion” by Western media.
In the interview, with Qatar-based Al Jazeera television, the Afghan leader said he did not depend on the good opinion of Western leaders, who had sent their troops out of self interest [...]
Karzai acknowledged that Afghanistan “like all countries” has problems with graft, but said: “The Western media has blown corruption totally out of all proportion in Afghanistan.”
Much of the corruption in the country was “inflicted from abroad,” he said. “My responsibility as the Afghan president is to work on the Afghan corruption and stop it. And that we are doing to the maximum of our abilities.”
“With regard to democracy, we have become a good model. We did all that democracy required. We have a constitution. We respect it. We have elections. My first election was accused of corruption and fraud, mainly by the Western media, and we went to a second round. That’s democracy,” he said.
Um, they didn’t have a second round because Abdullah Abdullah dropped out of the race, resigned to the fact that the same election commission who rigged the first round was in charge of the second. “That’s democracy.”
Afghanistan is the world’s second most-corrupt country, behind only Somalia, which isn’t much of a country at all. A hallmark of that corruption is a leader who denies that there is any corruption. Indeed, when the mayor of Kabul was recently convicted in an Afghan court of graft, Karzai defended him, insisting he was innocent.
But while there is nothing credible about Karzai’s position on corruption, this later bit in the Al Jazeera interview seems somewhat right:
He emphasized efforts to reconcile with militants, and suggested Western countries sometimes lacked a nuanced understanding of their enemy.
“We don’t want to undermine the Taliban: we want the Taliban to come and live peaceful lives in our country. We want to undermine the terrorists. I see a difference between the mainstream of the Taliban and the terrorists,” he said.
“That’s what I want NATO countries to understand with us: that the war on terror is not in Afghan villages. It’s not in the pursuit of every man that’s wearing a turban and has a beard.”
Indeed, the presentation by the top US intel officer emphasized this point, that the insurgency “views Al Qaeda as a handicap” that alienates the Afghan population, rebutting the theory that the jihadist network would set up a safe haven in Afghanistan if the Taliban took over. The conflation of the two separate groups is a persistent problem.
The combination of having a government partner in deep denial about his own dysfunction, and a misunderstanding of the forces at work in the country, adds up to an unwinnable waste of resources and American lives.