Saturday, August 22, 2009

Who We're Supporting in Afghanistan

It is hard to find insightful articles on what is actually happening in Afghanistan. Here is one by Patrick Cockburn, who's been in the region for years, reporting on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars:

Will the Afghan election bring the end of the war closer or noticeably
strengthen the government in Kabul? Mr Karzai, if he wins, will be able to say
that he was chosen as leader in a real election. But otherwise the poll will
only reconfirm the power of the men, often labelled warlords, who emerged the
surprise winners from a civil war between the Taliban, almost entirely drawn
from the Pashtun community (42 per cent of Afghans), and the largely non-Pashtun
Northern Alliance.

Just before 9/11, the Northern Alliance forces had been squeezed into a
corner of north east Afghanistan and seemed to be close to final defeat. But
within a few months of the US deciding to drive out the Taliban as hosts of
al-Qa’ida, the Northern Alliance was able to take over the whole of Aghanistan
thanks to US airpower and money. Most Afghans were glad to see the apparent end
of the Taliban, whose victories were won with the support of Pakistani military
intelligence and Saudi cash.

But opposing the Taliban was never quite the same as supporting the
Northern Alliance, whose leaders turned out to be ravenous for the perks of
office and power. I spent several months in the Northern Alliance
stronghold in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul in 2001, and, going back to
Afghanistan earlier this year, I was astonished to find so many of the warlords
I knew then are still monopolizing jobs, contracts and money-making positions in
Kabul. It is absurd for foreign governments to lament Mr Karzai’s promotion as
his running mates of the Tajik warlord Muhammad Fahim and his Hazara equivalent
Karim Khalili, both of whom are accused of human rights abuses. Mr Karzai is
simply recognizing the strength of established, if unsavory, power brokers in
the non-Pashto communities. This may be a very messy and highly corrupt
political power structure, but it is one which the US and Britain are fighting
to keep in place.

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