Two Puppets Are Not Better Than One
Here we go again with more political theater in war-ravaged Afghanistan.
The last vote, held in August, was so blatantly rigged that Washington put a gun to the head of its Afghan client, Hamid Karzai, and forced him into the humiliation of holding a runoff vote in November against rival Abdullah Abdullah.
As Henry Kissinger once observed, being America’s ally can be more dangerous than being its enemy.
Poor Hamid Karzai, the amiable former business consultant and CIA "asset" installed by Washington as Afghanistan’s president is another doleful example. As the US increasingly gets its backside kicked in Afghanistan, it has blamed the powerless Karzai for its woes and bumbling.
You can almost hear Washington rebuking, "bad puppet! Bad puppet!"
Karzai, derided as the "mayor of Kabul," has no real army or police. He would be swept from office in days were it not for the Western troops that protect him. He is even surrounded by US-controlled bodyguards. He remains a figurehead behind which real power in Kabul is wielded by the Tajik/Uzbek/Communist Northern Alliance and a camarilla of drug-dealing regional warlords.
The US Congressional Research service just revealed it costs a staggering $1 million per annum to keep a US soldier in Afghanistan. That does not include the mammoth cost of 24/7 air and naval support, bribes to Afghan and Pakistani politicians, depreciation of equipment or building bases.
The US government has wanted to dump the hapless Karzai, but could not find an equally obedient but more effective replacement. There has been talk in Washington of imposing an American "chief executive officer" on him. Or, in the lexicon of the old British Raj, an imperial Viceroy. This may yet happen.
Washington’s last effort to shore up Karzai’s regime and give it some legitimacy was the national election in August. The UN, which has increasingly become an arm of US foreign policy, was brought in to make the vote kosher.
No political parties were allowed to run. Only individuals supporting the Western occupation of Afghanistan were allowed on the ballot. The vote was conducted under the guns of a foreign occupation army — a clear violation of international law. The US funded the Election Commission and guarded polling places from a discreet distance.
The US media simply ignored this fact and trumpeted the government’s party line on the elections.
The New York Times, an ardent backer of the current war in Afghanistan, gushed over the vote. But during US-directed elections in South Vietnam in 1967, the NY Times also enthused, "83% of voters cast ballots …in a remarkably successful election…the keystone to President Johnson’s policy of encouraging the growth of the constitutional process in Vietnam."
As I predicted well before the August, 2009 election, it was all a great big fraud within a larger fraud designed to fool American, Canadian and European voters into believing democracy had flowered in Afghanistan. Cynical Afghans knew the vote would be rigged. Most Pashtun, the nation’s ethnic majority, didn’t vote at all, either from disgust with the Western-imposed Karzai regime, or because of threats by Taliban which damned the vote as a treasonous act.
The "election" turned out to be a hugely embarrassing fiasco for Karzai and his Western backers. The Soviets were much more subtle when they rigged Afghan elections during their ten-year occupation.
To no surprise, Hamid Karzai won. But his supporters went overboard in stuffing ballot boxes to avoid a possible runoff with rival Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, another American ally. The Karzai and Abdullah camps, both Washington’s men, were bitterly feuding over division of US aid and drug money that has totally corrupted Afghanistan.
The vote was discredited, thwarting the Obama administration’s plans to use the election as justification for sending more troops to Afghanistan. So now the White House’s Plan B is to force its two feuding "assets," Karzai and Abdullah, into a coalition or "unity government."
But two puppets on a string are no more effective than one — and maybe less so.
In Afghanistan, ethnicity and tribe trump everything else. Karzai is a Pashtun, but has almost no roots in tribal politics. Most Pashtun see him as a Quisling and traitor.
The suave Abdullah, who is also in Washington’s pocket, is half Pashtun, half Tajik. But he is seen as a Tajik who speaks for this ethnic minority which detests and scorns the majority Pashtun. Tajiks will vote for Abdullah, Pashtun will not. If the US manages to force Abdullah into a coalition with Karzai, Pashtun — 55% of the population — won’t back the new regime which many Afghans will see as Western yes-men and Tajik-dominated. Which will likely make the US-backed government even less stable and more isolated.
Dr. Abdullah also has some very unsavory friends from the north: former Afghan Communist Party bigwigs Mohammed Fahim and Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostam — both major war criminals. Behind them stand the Tajik Northern Alliance and resurrected Afghan Communist Party, both funded by Russia and backed by Iran and India.
Ironically, the US is now closely allied with the Afghan Communists and fighting its former Pashtun allies from the 1980’s anti-Soviet struggle. Most North Americans have no idea they are now backing Afghan Communists and the men who control most of Afghanistan’s booming drug trade.
If Hamid Karzai really wants to establish himself as an authentic national leader, he should demand the US and NATO withdraw their occupation forces and let Afghans settle their own disputes in traditional the ways.
Eric Margolis [send him mail] is contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada. He is the author of War at the Top of the World and the new book, American Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World. See his website.