As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Karzai Courts The Taliban

Afghanistan holds an election in two days, and the expectation of a walk for current President Hamid Karzai has changed.

When the presidential campaign began two months ago, Karzai looked like the hands-down favorite to win a second five-year term. But heading into Thursday's vote, it was anyone's guess whether he would manage to fight off the challenge from a clutch of competitors.

The 51-year-old Afghan leader is still expected to pick up the largest share of votes, despite widespread disillusionment with drug-fueled corruption and inefficiency in his government and simmering anger over Afghanistan's continued wretched poverty. But he needs more than 50% to win outright. Failing that, the race goes to a runoff in about six weeks between the top two vote-getters [...]

Now, Karzai's relations with the international community are frayed to the breaking point, and many Afghans who voted for him the first time around have declared their intention to change sides.

"Our country is in a lot of trouble -- so much trouble! -- and he is not helping," said Duljan, a 50-year-old woman who switched her allegiance to (former foreign minister Abdullah) Abdullah.

Apparently Karzai just let in the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum from exile because he thought it would attract some votes.

Interestingly, the biggest issue in the election, according to the New York Times, has become how to negotiate peace talks with the Taliban.

Although Mr. Karzai has often talked about negotiating with the Taliban, little concrete has happened. The government’s reconciliation program for Taliban fighters is barely functioning. A Saudi mediation effort has stalled. Last-minute efforts to engage the Taliban in order to allow elections to take place remain untested. Meanwhile the Obama administration has just sent thousands more troops here in an attempt to push back Taliban gains [...]

Abdullah Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani and Ramazan Bashardost all oppose the Taliban, but they also promise if elected to do better and to make peace a priority. The candidates differ on how to pursue a settlement: by negotiating a comprehensive peace with the Taliban leadership; or by trying to draw away midlevel Taliban commanders and foot soldiers, an approach that has been tried with little success over the past seven years as the ranks of fighters have swelled.

The Western diplomat quoted in the piece might as well have been speaking on behalf of the Nixon Administration in 1969: “Reconciliation is important, but not now ... it’s not going to happen until the insurgency is weaker and the government is stronger.”

This "peace through strength" thing really isn't going to help the Afghan people. More of them will die, and the deal negotiated with the Taliban - who are less religious extremists and more ethnic nationalists - will be fundamentally the same, at the end of the day. I would like to see Karzai get defeated, but I'm interested in the fact that the election is pushing him in the direction of peace. This is another instance of foreign political candidates in occupied territories making their bacon off opposing the presence of the occupiers, as Karzai is advocating publicly for an end to combat. Barack Obama in his VFW speech yesterday called Afghanistan a "necessary war." Maybe he thinks it is politically, but in Afghanistan there's nothing necessary about it. They're tired.

...Meanwhile, suicide bombings continue throughout the country, even in Kabul. This one killed UN staff.

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