Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Disaster That Is Afghanistan

This week's slaying of Ahmad Wali Karzai, brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and a warlord/mobster with extensive power in Southern Afghanistan is a reminder that NATO and the Americans haven't got the situation in Afghanistan under control. Not by half. That they needed to rely upon a man with money in drugs, corruption, influence peddling and god knows what else, is a sign of just how weak are the institutions that NATO has created in that country ten years after invading it. It's also a graphic demonstration of the fact that no collaborator is safe from the reach of the Taliban.

The killing comes on top of the rather embarrassing collapse of the Kabul Bank as a result of illegal and ill-founded loands to politically connected insiders. None of this should surprise anyone. The foundation for NATO's "nation-building" efforts was to re-empower the warlords thrown out by the Taliban. It wasn't about working with oppositionists who had fought the Taliban and whose main concern was democracy and human rights. It was always about stability and a compliant regime as a means to contain both Iran to the west and China to the east - with the added bonus of access to some important natural resources from gas to lithium deposits throughout the region. But relying upon the old system of cronyism and warlordism has led to a system of.... cronyism and warlordism, plus a lot of US dollars to build military infrastructure, etc. As the Globe & Mail article suggests, the real power doesn't lie with the nominally democratic official government - nominally because few can run for office who aren't pre-approved by local strongmen and governors are appointed by the president and his cabinet, again, not because of their popular support generally but because they are affiliated with a warlord or are themselves a regional strongman.
Mr. Karzai was the go-to man for any business deal, argument or intercession with the government in Kabul. It made him a parallel, and ultimately more important, centre of power that local elected officials and the appointed provincial governor.

Nothing could make this more clear than the fact that the choices for replacement of the younger Karzai as a regional strongman and intermediary for the Americans are President Karzai's other brothers or passing along the mantle of power broker to a mob boss from another family.
One possibility is that President Karzai could replace the provincial governor, Tooryalai Wesa, with a strongman who combines good local tribal connections with a willingness to enforce his will with a private militia.
One name that came up repeatedly after the assassination was that of Gul Agha Sherzai, a native of Kandahar and its former provincial governor, who has also been linked for years to the narcotics business.
For NATO it's going to be business as usual, in the sense of operating with the same basic principles of influence peddling and warlordism. What is also clear is that this modus operandi isn't going to work over the medium to long term. This is especially the case as US arrogance creates a deepening rift with Pakistan - a country with the experience, proximity and resources to make life get much more difficult in Afghanistan for NATO.

Ten years and thousands of dead later, it feels like Afghanistan is still back in 1987, just two years before the Soviets withdrew, leaving behind a weak and despised regime that was overthrown three years after that. The lessons of this monstrous time machine are also the same now as they were back then: foreign regimes need to get out of Afghanistan, provide aid to clean up the mess we've created, and stop using the country as a chess piece in global power games. Finally, it is unlikely that any stable nation will be able to emerge in the context of borders drawn by imperialist powers that reflect the old division of Central Asia between Britain and the Tsarist Russian Empire. On the one hand the Pashtuns of the south are divided by the Durand Line that puts most of their fellow Pashtuns inside of Pakistan, with many families still divided by this false border. And, in the north, with ethnic Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kazakhs divided by an arbitrary line that separates them from Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. This is certainly not a call for partition but for full and proper self-determination for the peoples of the region to determine the shape of their countries and their form of government - free of external impositions and pressure. Until there is recompense, rebuilding and true political freedom, Afghanistan will be doomed to repeat the same drama over and over.

Afghan President’s brother’s slaying creates vast power vacuum - The Globe and Mail
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