How to Bring Peace to Afghanistan
An election held under the guns of a foreign occupation army cannot be called legitimate or democratic. That's a basic tenet of international law.
Nevertheless, the US and its NATO allies have been lauding last week's faux presidential elections in Afghanistan as both a sign of growing support for Hamid Karzai's Western-backed government and the birth of democracy in Afghanistan.
In reality, the carefully stage-managed vote in Afghanistan for candidates chosen by Western powers is unlikely to bring either peace or democracy to this wretched nation that has suffered thirty years of nonstop war.
On the contrary, American generals have intensified warnings that the military situation in Afghanistan is rapidly "deteriorating" and are calling for yet more troops in addition to the recent major manpower increase authorized by President Barack Obama. Sixty-eight thousand US combat troops, 40,000 NATO soldiers, and 75,000 mercenaries are apparently not enough.
Welcome to Vietnam Mission Creep, Part II.
Taliban and its nationalist allies rejected last week's vote as a fraud designed to validate continued foreign occupation and open the way for Western oil and gas pipelines. Taliban, which speaks for many of Afghanistan's majority Pashtun, said it would only join a national election when US and NATO troops withdraw.
Charges of a rigged election are unfortunately correct. All parties were banned from the supposedly "free election." Only candidates who favored continued US and NATO occupation ran. The US paid for the elections and advertising, funded the Election Commission, and spread around large amounts of largesse to tribal warlords. Foreign observers reported extensive fraud and vote rigging.
Compared to this predetermined vote, Iran's recent elections look almost Swiss by comparison. Afghan elections run by the Soviets in 1986 and 1987 were fairer and more open: opposition parties were allowed to run.
After all the pre-election hoopla in Afghanistan, to paraphrase Omar Khayyam, we come out the same door we went in.
Election results won't be in for two weeks. But the winner will be whomever Washington decides is to be its man in Kabul.
That will likely be Hamid Karzai or Northern Alliance front-man, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. The Obama administration is fed up with Hamid Karzai and mutters about dumping him, but can't find an acceptable alternative. Abdullah, with his close links to Iran and Russia, makes Washington nervous.
What the US would really like is a new version of the late Najibullah, the iron-fisted strongman who ran Afghanistan for the Soviets.
The Western powers have marketed the Afghan War to their voters by claiming it is all about democracy, women's rights, education and nation building. President Barack Obama claims the US is in Afghanistan to fight Al-Qaida. But Al-Qaida barely exists. Its handful of members long ago decamped to Pakistan.
This war is really about oil pipeline routes and Western domination of the energy-rich Caspian Basin. And of course pressure on Obama from the right that the US cannot afford to lose a second war under his command.
Afghanistan's Pashtun tribes, who make up 55% of the population, remain excluded from power. Afghanistan is a three-legged ethnic stool. Take away the Pashtun leg and stability is impossible.
There will be neither peace nor stability in Afghanistan until the Pashtun majority is enfranchised. This means dealing directly with Taliban, which is part of the Pashtun people.
The Western powers cannot run Afghanistan by using the minority Tajiks, Uzbeks and smaller number of Shia Hazara.
The solution to this unnecessary war is not more phony elections but a comprehensive peace agreement between ethnic factions that largely restores status quo before the 1979 Soviet invasion. That means a weak central government in Kabul (Karzai is ideal for this job), and a high degree of autonomy for self-governing Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara regions.
Government should revert to the old "loya jirga" system of tribal sit-downs, where decision are made by consensus, often after lengthy haggling. That is the way of the Afghans and of traditional Islamic society. Afghanistan worked pretty well under this old easygoing system. In fact, Afghanistan never really had a government in the Western sense.
All foreign soldiers must withdraw. A diplomatic "cordon sanitaire" should be drawn around Afghanistan's borders, returning it to its traditional role as a neutral buffer state.
The powers now stirring the Afghan pot — the US, NATO, India, Iran, Russia, the Communist Central Asian states — must cease meddling. They have become part of the Afghan problem. Afghans must be allowed to slowly resolve their differences the traditional Afghan way even if it initially means blood and revenge attacks. That's unavoidable in a land where the code of revenge — "badal" — is sacred.
All Afghans must share future pipeline royalties. The only way to end the epidemic of drug trading is to shut border crossings to Pakistan and the Central Asian states. But those nation's high officials, corrupted by drug money, will resist.
The US and NATO can't solve Afghanistan's social or political problems by continuing to wage a cruel and apparently endless war. American and NATO soldiers will never be able to change Afghanistan's social behavior or end tribal customs that go back thousands of years. They are too busy defending their own bases from angry Afghans.
A senior British general just warned his troops might have to stay for another 40 years. He quickly was forced by the government to retract, but the cat was out of the bag.
President Barack Obama is charging full tilt over a cliff in Afghanistan. Unless he ends this daft misadventure, his grown-up children may see American soldiers still fighting in the badlands of Afghanistan.
The Western powers have added to the bloody mess in Afghanistan. Time for them to go home.
August 25, 2009
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.
Copyright © 2009 Eric Margolis