Saturday, November 14, 2009

How the US set Afghanistan on the road to election fraud

The Afghan elections were a pr disaster - but more so for the US than for the Afghan government. But it doesn't look like the US is very unhappy with the outcome. Sure, some in the US administration - like Holbrooke - were in favor of Abdullah. But there were also many who favored a continuation of the Karzai administration. They couldn't say it openly - that would have been interpreted as supporting election fraud - but warnings about the risks if someone from another tribe as the Pashtuns became president were clear enough.

Here we come at the curious US relation with the Pashtuns. They have a long history together that started in 1978 or so when the US started to support the Mujaheddin - a mainly Pashtun guerrilla against the leftist government at that time. The Taliban is the successor of the Mujaheddin and the the US was involved in its creation and until shortly before 9/11 tried to work with them to build a pipeline from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean.

When the US beat the Taliban in 2001 it did so with the Northern tribes. Yet when it came to ruling Afghanistan it immediately turned around and appointed a Pashtun - Karzai. On the surface this looked like a smart move to reconcile the Pashtun with the expulsion of "their" Taliban. It also was said to appeal to the pride of the Pashtun who have traditionally ruled Afghanistan and who have sometimes rebelled against government by other tribes. But the Pashtun are only 40% of the population and after their military victory the "others" certainly had the right to dominate the government for some time. By appointing Karzai the US gave the Pashtun a kind of guarantee that they will always rule Afghanistan. Karzai just cashed this promise with his election fraud.

This same partial approach also hinders the fight against the Taliban. The best way to keep the Taliban out from the non-Pashtun north would be to empower the tribes there. Similarly many Pashtun tribes would be happy to fight to keep the Taliban away with a little help. Yet the core of the US policy is to build the Afghan police and army - whose inefficiency and lack of motivation is proverbial - and it looks very critical to any effort to arm the population to defend their own region.

In the mean time we are told of the need for "institution building". On paper it sounds logical. If some foreign organisation builds something and leaves nobody will care about it. But if instead that money had been handed to an Afghan government official that will help build a ministry (for example of education) that wil stay around. The big question is whether the people in the Afghan government are really concerned about building the country or that they just want to have their part of the money flow. I get the impression that this policy is fuelling the corruption in the Afghan government and that it will be much better to go through local leaders.

The Pashtun

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