Friday, August 5, 2016

Afghanistan at the End of the Line

News of Afghanistan that reaches the pages of the Western press is usually bad. Terror bombings in Kabul. The northern province of Kunduz, whose capital city was overrun briefly by the Taliban last autumn, remains largely under Taliban control. The same can be said for Helmand and Uruzgan provinces in the south. Obama reversed himself on U.S. troop levels and rules of engagement exposing the lie of his 2014 end of combat operations ceremony.

Another big 2014 Obama administration lie is about to be exposed. The Kerry-created unity government of Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, cobbled together extra-legally to avoid a potential civil war due to questionable vote returns from the Afghan presidential election, is supposed to have passed certain mile markers by this October. Mujib Mashal explains this morning in "Hamid Karzai Is Still Running, but Where’s the Finish Line?"
The end of September is the deadline for the government to meet the commitments of a political deal brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry after the catastrophic 2014 election dispute. By then, Afghanistan is supposed to hold a parliamentary election, enact sweeping electoral reform, and amend the Constitution to create the position of prime minister for Mr. Ghani’s election rival and current governing partner, Abdullah Abdullah. But staying on schedule was already impossible many months ago, and Mr. Kerry has publicly insisted that Mr. Ghani’s government will remain through the end of its five-year term, regardless.
That is just the beginning. The country’s security situation is worsening, despite the American military’s increased involvement in the fighting. The Taliban have seized many districts, and they threaten to take many more.
Mr. Ghani, the constant technocrat, has been forced to focus on security, and his economic initiatives have stalled. And suddenly he has also been challenged by a street protest movement in which ethnic Hazaras are accusing his government of systematic discrimination.
The most recent of the demonstrations was struck by a suicide bombing, claimed by the Islamic State, that left at least 80 people dead. Now the demonstrators accuse the government of purposefully leaving them vulnerable to attack, and they have given Mr. Ghani an ultimatum to meet their demands — another September deadline, as it turns out.
On top of all that, a new protest movement, potentially more dangerous, is growing just north of Kabul, the capital, calling for the government to rebury with dignity a bandit northern king who has been dead for nearly a century, shot by a firing squad. Among the people calling for the reburial, and threatening protests, are northern militia commanders who have long been skeptical of Mr. Ghani, and they have also given him a September ultimatum.
Government officials accuse Mr. Karzai and his allies of having a hand in the recent protests. But he says he is after neither the collapse of the government nor a return to power. “I have absolutely no doubt about that,” he said.
He just wants the government’s legitimacy affirmed after the September deadline, he said, and the only way left is to call a traditional loya jirga — a grand assembly of tribal elders from across the country.

Mr. Karzai’s push for a loya jirga is the move most widely seen as a game plan for returning to power, or at least for negotiating more leverage. His strength is with the tribes and the power brokers he has maintained at his side, while Mr. Ghani has alienated many of them.

It helps to understand that Mr. Karzai represents an entire network of power — national as well as local — accumulated over 13 years and beyond. That network feels that it is slowly being uprooted under Mr. Ghani’s presidency, and that it could be vastly weakened if the current government survives the September deadline intact.
Kerry is on record saying that the U.S. plans on ignoring its own agreement, an agreement that was supposed to bestow legitimacy on the Afghan unity government. Ghani will rule absent parliamentary elections, election reform or a loya jirga. Clearly this is an occupation government, nothing more. How the United Nations and international donors will manage to maintain the fiction that Afghanistan is a democratic state is another matter. Mashal wrote back in April that
Western and Afghan officials say certain advisers to Mr. Ghani are envisioning a different outcome: using the deadline to force out Mr. Abdullah. They argue that while the position of chief executive expires, the president will still have a mandate, from an election that they say was cleansed by a United Nations audit.
Part of the price Abdullah Abdullah paid for his chief executive slot in the current government was to drop his challenge to the legitimacy of the 2014 election. Now, potentially, those scrubbed election results will be used to oust him.

And that is just the internal government feud between the Ghani and Abdullah factions. Then there is Karzai positioning himself as the leader of a post-U.S. Afghanistan:
Mr. Karzai reserves his sharpest criticism of the government for what he considers its biggest sin: cozying up, “immensely, sadly,” to the United States and relying on it for its survival. 
Mr. Karzai, who sent flowers to the American ambassador for the Fourth of July holiday and then signed a thank-you note to the ambassador for thanking him, said in an interview with The New York Times last week that “the Americans, whose primary slogan is democracy, are making a sham of democracy in Afghanistan.” 
He is not fundamentally against the American presence, he says: He just wants them to stop bombing his country and interfering in the political process, which he accused Mr. Kerry of doing in the spring when he insisted on a full-term Ghani government.
“This is a blatant interference to undermine the sovereignty of Afghanistan,” Mr. Karzai said in the interview. “Look at this country: What do we have other than our pride and sovereignty? Then someone comes — from a good place, America — stands here in our country to determine the duration of our government as he sees fit? That is an insult.”

Meanwhile, the streams of visitors continue, and Mr. Karzai regales them with parables that at times seem like bids for redemption, and at others like foresight.

During one lunch, he told a story of a group of tired travelers in a desert who see a fire in the distance and hear drums. Men are dancing the circle-dance called Attan. The travelers decide to spend the night there, and to make their hosts feel comfortable, they join in the dance.
But the dance stretches on and on. 
“One of the travelers is wise, he realizes it is the devil’s dance and it will go on all night,” Mr. Karzai told the guests. “When the morning comes, there would be no sign of a dance or the devils.”

He paused, then drove the point home: “We are stuck in the dance of the devil,” he said, to chuckles. “When the sun rises, the devils will be gone, but we will be left in this dry land.”
The U.S. and Afghanistan are linked. Afghanistan's destruction played a key role in the counterrevolution launched against social democracy in the United States. First, the big military buildup begun by Jimmy Carter and expanded by Reagan after the Soviet invasion; then, post-9/11, the U.S. invasion.

This fall both the U.S. and Afghanistan are coming to the end of the line of their counterrevolutions against social democracy.


  1. For a long time (since I read about the negotiations back in '95 between Brzezinski [sic?] and Unocal and the Taliban in the old Covert Action Quarterly) I've believed that our business in Afghanistan had to do with the proposed TAPI gas line. Maybe the opium as a bonus, but mostly about the TAPI pipeline.

    To waste all this time and money on a pipeline that the native population fights against seems bound by old strategic logic, the same logic that has seen other empires defeated in the region. The bottom line is that the US is overextended and shouldn't expect to be able to maintain hegemony over all the energy deposits of the world. Maybe Venezuela and some places around the world (Nigeria?, Indonesia?) but there isn't enough fear to be generated to take over Asia.

    If and when the US realizes this dead end (probably not in the next four years and hopefully without a nuclear exchange with Russia) it will mean a readjustment of the halls of power, with energy companies and their dreams of conquest of the world being pushed aside. They've sat at the table since before JFK was offed and they will fight it, but I don't think that they can win this fight.

    1. U.S. powerbrokers prefer in the end defeat to the Taliban to a peaceful, stable Afghanistan. Given their choice I am sure they would choose a maintenance of the status quo -- a continual bleeding out amid chaos and destruction with U.S. calling the shots in Kabul and in possession of Bagram. Problem is the fig leaf Ghani-Abdullah government is about to disappear. Also, another problem for the U.S., is that a ceasefire between the Taliban and Islamic State in Nangarhar is allowing IS to move forces into Kunar Province. How much longer can this keep going on?

  2. Here's another story, about the failed Turkish coup, that seems to explain things a little more clearly than, say, the New York Times:

    Regarding the continuation of our Afghanistan policy, I remember thirty years ago asking someone how the CIA could afford such money-losing enterprises, and the answer I got was that the CIA doesn't pay for it. The taxpayers (including you) do.