The Huffington Post, April 30, 2010
Pentagon Report: The Afghan Bus is in a Ditch
Afghans perceive their government to be corrupt and incompetent - 83% reported that corruption affects their daily lives - a fact exploited to the hilt by the Taliban
What to do with Afghanistan? Despite President Obama's 30,000 strong troop surge and millions of dollars being poured in, the Afghan bus has not managed to extricate itself from the ditch it has been stuck in. The Pentagon's report to Congress yesterday underlines what most people already know: the population "sympathizes with or supports the Afghan government" in only 24% of the key parts of Afghanistan. As the report concedes, the insurgents "perceive 2009 as their most successful year."
“Since 2006 the US and the other Western forces in the country along with the Afghan central government have steadily increased their presence,” says Matthew Hoh, a former Marine captain who resigned from his post as a US State Department official over the ongoing war.
Mr. Hoh believes resistance will only get stronger, reflecting the increase in the presence of foreign armies.
“As we pump more troops into Southern Afghanistan, what they are going to do is to find more people who are going to resist their presence and who are going to fight them,” says Hoh.
RT, Apr. 30, 2010
Progress on governance has been minimal: Afghans perceive their government to be corrupt and incompetent - 83% reported that corruption affects their daily lives - a fact exploited to the hilt by the Taliban. Damningly for the Karzai government, the Pentagon admits that the "Taliban ... is an adjudicator in providing swift and less corrupt dispute resolution" and that "courts are understaffed and chronically corrupt." Moreover, "only 50% of Afghans believed that prisons were capable of holding prisoners for the duration of their sentences" probably because of high profile prison escapes and pardons by corrupt politicians. The report also suggests that there is no political will to tackle corruption and that political meddling might actually be counteracting anti-corruption efforts.
What is the use of propping up Karzai if the Taliban offers superior justice to Aghan citizens?
While Karzai's government has set up an Anti-Corruption Unit in the Attorney General's Office with just four prosecutors, and an Anti-Corruption Tribunal under the Supreme Court, these are far removed from the ground. Making some noises in Kabul won't make corruption go away. Unless the common man sees that corruption is being tacked in his local community, it will be business as usual.
Afghanistan needs a homespun version of the "broken windows" theory. Even the smallest act of corruption at the lowest level must be prosecuted robustly and the guilty must be sentenced. This will send a powerful message to the corrupt that there is a price to pay for corruption and is likely to offer deterrence value. New York offers a telling lesson in this regard and there is no reason why the same principle cannot work in Afghanistan.
Corruption is only one battleground. Afghanistan cannot be secured without offering alternatives to poppy cultivation for its farmers. Conventional counter-narcotics strategies are unlikely to work and often push these farmers into criminal hands. Unless a green revolution at the grassroots level makes a sustainable agricultural income feasible, the Taliban will continue to be well funded. Regional models - from India, for example - can be adopted to make legitimate agriculture profitable. While subsidies and intensive government support at the village level will be needed in the immediate term, over time, as farmers are weaned away from the poppy trade, results will become evident.
It is also time to ditch Mr. Karzai. For decades, U.S. strategy in the region has been built on a succession of unstable individuals. Ranging from the peculiar obsession with Generals Zia ul-Huq and Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan to President Bush's sustained endorsement of Karzai, U.S. engagement in Af-Pak has been individual oriented rather than political system focused.
As the experience with Pakistan shows, investing entirely in just one individual is highly risky. This is especially true when the individual is deeply unpopular, corrupt, and prone to become unpredictable. Taint by association is natural - the Pentagon's report concedes that Afghan perceptions about corruption place blame on the international community in addition to their own government.
Karzai is following in the footsteps of other inglorious puppets. Fed on a staple diet of US support, history shows that these individuals inexorably stifle competition and create a situation where there is no other alternative to relying upon them. Starting with desperate pleas for support - as with Karzai eight years ago - their demands grow progressively more unpalatable. Ultimately, they cling to power on their terms by convincing the US that it has no other choice but to rely upon them.
This myth must be busted. Karzai cannot be the sole guarantor of success in Afghanistan. Part of the problem is that the current strategy in Afghanistan is too Kabul-centric. President Obama must look beyond Karzai and push for devolution of power to downstream political institutions. This will yield a fresh crop of leaders who can offer alternative visions for Afghanistan. Moreover, cultivating friends more widely will ensure that Afghanistan does not regress into an anti-American state in the aftermath of an inevitable withdrawal.
America must not make this mistake again. In addition to pushing Karzai to combat corruption, the US must undertake capacity building at the local level. This begins with the creation of a strong federal system with power being transferred to states. Federalism is hardly a novel idea: it is the foundation of American constitutionalism and is jealously guarded by the states. Strong states and local politics have ensured that US politics is not the preserve of Washington. It has offered up a steady stream of feisty state governors for national office enriching voter choice.
Afghanistan needs this idea to be sown deep into its political soil. Devolution of power offers a more palatable alternative to the calls for partitioning Afghanistan. It will also strip Mr. Karzai of his TINA strategy and make him focus on delivering good governance to his people if he wants to stay in power.
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