Tag Archives: Afghanistan

How Do You Say ‘Duh!’ in Urdu?

So how do you say “Duh!” in Urdu? There’s nothing new or remarkable in the suggestion that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI) has been aiding and abetting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, as highlighted in coverage of the massive leak of U.S. military documents published on Sunday. If anything, it’s conventional wisdom among Afghanistan watchers that Pakistan continues to treat the movement it helped bring to power in 1996 as a strategic counterweight against Indian influence on its western flank. The latest revelations, fantastical as some of them may be, are simply a discomforting affirmation that Pakistan, the beneficiary of $1 billion in U.S. aid every year, continues to pursue interests at odds with those of its Washington patron — just like everyone else in the Afghan war theater does. Contemporary American slang may not have easy Urdu equivalents, but Count Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince (“Badshah”) — the timeless handbook on duplicity and cunning in statecraft — was translated into Pakistan’s main language in 1947.

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Why Karzai Won’t Do as He’s Told


To some it may seem as if President Hamid Karzai has a death wish. The Afghan leader has lately begun sticking it to the U.S. and its Western allies — the only force protecting him from a surging Taliban, which hanged the last foreign-backed President when it reached Kabul in 1996. But Karzai is doing it not just because he can get away with it, knowing he’s the only game in town for Washington, but also because he must if he’s to survive in the Afghan political environment once the U.S. leaves. Continue reading

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The Fiction at the Heart of Obama’s Afghan Surge

As he prepares his Tuesday speech to present Americans with his plan to increase troops in Afghanistan, the US president Barack Obama could be forgiven for feeling like the economist in the old joke that finds him marooned on a desert island along with an engineer, a chemist and hundreds of cans of food but no way of opening them. The engineer gets to work trying to fashion tools for the job; the chemist tries combinations of salt water and sun to get the tins to rust. Having had no luck, they ask the economist to lend the insights of his profession. His answer: “Assume a can opener…”

The “can opener” in Obama’s Afghanistan exit strategy is the Afghan security forces. Continue reading

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Why an Election Couldn’t Fix Afghanistan

Published on TIME.com:

Little over a week ago, Senator John Kerry was hailed for his diplomatic success in Kabul, where he cajoled President Hamid Karzai into accepting a runoff in the disputed Afghan election. But Sunday’s withdrawal from the race by Karzai’s challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, rendered Kerry’s achievement moot. Moreover, it was an outcome the U.S. had come around to rooting for.

The fact that U.S. officials in Kabul had pivoted within a matter of days from insisting that a runoff be held to pressing for it to be canceled highlighted the problem with the U.S.’s obsession on staging elections in conflict zones. Such elections, though often held up (with the U.S. domestic political audience in mind) as examples of democracy’s triumph, can actually undermine U.S. goals in those situations. Contrary to the Obama Administration’s spin, resolving the dispute over the fraudulent ballots in Afghanistan’s August election was never the key to determining whether to send more U.S. troops into the country. In fact, the runoff election was never going to strengthen the legitimacy of the resulting government; it was always more likely to further weaken it.
(See pictures of the presidential election in Afghanistan.)

Elections typically only resolve a conflict when the major parties to that conflict have accepted the balloting and its ground rules as the basis for a solution. And that was no more the case in Afghanistan today than it was in the U.S. in 1864, when a presidential election was held during the Civil War. Nobody imagined that the electoral contest between President Abraham Lincoln and General George B. McClellan was the country’s primary political battle; nor was the contest between Karzai and Abdullah the key conflict in Afghanistan. Instead, Afghanistan is in the grip of a civil war that pits a U.S.-backed political establishment, which includes both Karzai and Abdullah, against the Taliban.

In that light, the main legitimacy problem with the August vote was not the 1 million–plus fake votes that were cast mostly for Karzai but the 12 million–plus votes claimed by the Taliban. No one actually voted for the Taliban, of course, and its call for a boycott of the poll was enforced by threat of death. But whether out of fear, political choice or sheer indifference, 12 million voters — representing 70% of the electorate, compared with just 30% in 2004 — stayed away from the ballot stations. A runoff election was expected to see an even smaller turnout. Continue reading

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Obama’s Afghanistan Vaudeville


John Kerry was the toast of the spoon-fed media last week for his ostensible “achievement” in cajoling Hamid Karzai into accepting a runoff election in Afghanistan. Where was Richard Holbrooke, the sophisticates who indulge in Beltway kremlinology asked, as if his absence from this supposed “breakthrough” moment was telling. The reality, of course, is that Kerry’s insistence on standing behind Karzai, as if twisting the visibly uncomfortable U.S.-installed president’s arm as he announced a humiliating retraction of his insistence that he’d won the election on its first round, simply confirmed that the failed U.S. presidential candidate from Massachusetts is a political dolt. But the announcement — a delicious propaganda moment for the Taliban, who insist that Karzai is an obedient servant of the U.S. — was not half as damaging as the political gambit it showcased: Forcing Karzai to accept a runoff election which even the U.S. knows is a farce — so much so, that Washington is now hard at work trying to press Karzai into a power sharing deal so as to avoid the very runoff they had insisted was a precondition for sending more troops. Continue reading

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Karzai as Diem in Obama’s Vietnam

The suggestion that doubts over the clearly crooked election process in Afghanistan somehow undermine the U.S. strategy there are missing the point: As I wrote last week, an inconclusive poll that fails to clearly legitimize the next government may not be a setback for the Obama Administration’s Afghanistan strategy. On the contrary, it could offer an important opportunity to remake a system of government so dysfunctional that it has enabled a massive Taliban resurgence. Continue reading

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The Writing on the Wall for Obama’s ‘Af-Pak’ Vietnam


There was something almost painful about watching President Barack Obama last week reprising a track from his predecessor’s Greatest Hits when he hosted the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Just like Bush, Obama invited us to suspend well-grounded disbelief and imagine that Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari have the intent, much less the capability, to wage a successful war against the Taliban. Then again, there had been something painful even earlier about watching Obama proclaim Afghanistan as “the right war” and expanding the U.S. footprint there, reprising the Soviet experience of maintaining an islet of modernity in the capital while the countryside burns.

It requires a spectacular leap of faith in a kind of superheroic American exceptionalism to imagine that the invasion of Afghanistan that occurred in November 2001 will end any differently from any previous invasion of that country. And it takes an elaborate exercise in self-delusion to avoid recognizing that the Taliban crisis in Pakistan is an effect of the war in Afghanistan, rather than a cause — and that Pakistan’s turmoil is unlikely to end before the U.S. winds down its campaign next door. Continue reading

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Mumbai Massacre May Sink Bush-Obama Strategy

Secretary of State Condi Rice, with the blessing of Barack Obama, has flown off to South Asia charged with the mission of preventing tensions between India and Pakistan from escalating in the wake of the Mumbai massacre. Both the current and the incoming U.S. Administrations consider that a matter of urgency in light of their shared Afghanistan outlook: Both are well aware that the key to stabilizing Afghanistan is not sending more Western troops (although both are committed to doing so anyway), but resolving the conflict between India and Pakistan, of which Afghanistan has lately emerged as a primary theater. And so, the U.S. is putting pressure on the Pakistani government to cooperate with India in investigating the Mumbai outrage that very probably originated on Pakistani soil. The problem is that the Pakistani government doesn’t control the Pakistani military, which doesn’t share the political leadership’s enthusiasm for the “war on terror” — or for making nice with India. Continue reading

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Losing Afghanistan (It Can’t Be Won)


The Taliban hanged Najibullah, the last Soviet-backed Afghan president, in the streets of Kabul in 1996

Earlier this year, the Taliban tried to assassinate Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, during a ceremony marking the 16th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet-backed Najibullah regime. The irony is that as the Taliban demonstrates that, by the classic calculus of guerrilla warfare, it is unlikely to lose (which means that NATO will) in Afghanistan, Karzai’s situation is uncomfortably similar to that of Najibullah in the late 1980s.
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