One of the stories of the Afghan Election

by Joshua Foust on 8/22/2009 · 22 comments

Security was much better than expected, though there are widespread indications of fraud.

Thomas Ruttig has a dispatch from Gardez:

Apparently, the Taliban were satisfied with their pre-election intimidation campaign, which clearly worked. But it also became obvious that they found it difficult to penetrate the security rings established around the major population centers. The rockets they fired were far from accurate and the suicide attack — sorry — was carried out very poorly. If the attackers had managed to get six hundred feet further, they would have caused a major bloodbath at the Gardezi high school which, at that time, was still buzzing with voters…

Worryingly, there is a considerable gap between information mainly on voter turnout given by governors, some IEC field staff, the IEC in Kabul as well as international sources and what some of these reports indicate. For instance, in Paktika where internationals and the governor do not dare to leave their compounds, even in the “capital” Sharana, and where there had been a massive and successful Taliban intimidation campaign, nevertheless a ‘robust’ turnout was reported. At the same time, Afghans present in some polling stations barely saw anyone voting.

Worryingly, the spin has already reached the media in the Western countries.

Alex Strick van Linschoten chimes in with a similar story as well, from Kandahar:

Things were a lot calmer than anyone would have hoped for, I’m glad to report. Not the mass waves of suicide bombers or IEDs lining the road… My personal experience was a lot like what it’s usually like in Kandahar. There were some isolated incidents — a couple of rockets landed quite close to us near the end of the day — but on the whole it was quite easy relaxed day…

The Afghan friends I was travelling around with that day called one of the voting stations for which I gave numbers above (Shkarpur Darwaza) ahead of our arrival. “Don’t come! Don’t come!” our friends were requested. “We’re about to start stuffing the ballot boxes and we don’t need foreigners here messing up our work.” That was one of the election officials of the station talking on the phone. Needless to say, we went there and took note of how many voters they had on their lists…

I remember I sat at my desk in the evening waiting for some of the foreign instutitions, embassies etc to make a comment worthy of the day. Instead, we got Kai Eide, the UN special representative, offering his ‘congratulations’. Slowly more internationals started voicing their happiness at how the election had gone. Most seemed to take a deep breath that there wasn’t more violent incidents around the country and that, at least in the public eye, the elections had passed more or less as planned. A pity that the wishes of ordinary Afghans for a free and fair election were not heard…

And an anonymous informant in Khost tells me that the election there was surprisingly incident-free as well. Both the U.S. and Afghan forces had put in considerable preparation for a huge attack that would disrupt thing. “On election day,” he said, “that attack never came.” He says the attack was mostly likely thwarted by the Afghan security forces fanning out into the approaches to Khost City and searching cars and storefronts and bazaars.

In contrast to the story coming out of Paktya, just to the north, and Kandahar, turnout in Khost was “robust,” with thousands showing up to vote in places like Jaji Maidan, and no reports of large-scale voter fraud.

I remain worried at what an incident-free election means. The Taliban don’t normally issue empty threats, and they had promised widespread disruption of the election—and even in successful areas, there aren’t reports of attacks being thwarted per se, just not even showing up in the first place.

My guess (and fear) is that, ultimately, the elections either won’t matter in the big picture, or the many irregularities being reported will assist the Taliban in further writing off the government as corrupt and ineffective.

Update: Another official from Khost writes in, saying the turnout “wasn’t what I’d call robust – we have reasonably good numbers in some districts, but also a few reports of significant fraud using fake registration cards and multiple voting. Overall I’d guess we were somewhere around 30-40% for the whole province.”

Just goes to show you that even talking about a whole province in Afghanistan can sometimes be tricky.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 22 comments }

M Shannon August 22, 2009 at 11:02 am

I think the “Taliban” were successful. Voter turnout was very low in the south and east which should expose electoral fraud when Karzai gets a mathematically improbable majority of “votes”. The Taliban managed to keep the vote down without killing many civilians (my estimate is less than 20 country wide and most were election employees) and without taking a bunch of casualties themselves. I take the latest Taliban ROE seriously. It is not in their interest to kill civilians and get into blood feuds with tribal forces. To achieve their aim with minimal violence was a substantial achievement. If they’re very lucky violence between Karzai and Abdullah supporters will break out in Kabul and a run off election will be impossible.

anand August 22, 2009 at 7:36 pm

M Shannon, the Taliban are still viewed unfavorably by 91% of Afghans, including the vast majority of Pashtu.

I think the “Taliban” (there are a dozen major militias so using the term Taliban might not be useful) have different rules of engagement in different parts of the country. The rules of engagement to reduce civilian casualties seem to apply to some Pashtu majority parts of Afghanistan. I haven’t seen any evidence that it isn’t game on in Kabul, the North and the West . . . in other words the parts of Afghanistan that are implacably hostile to the Taliban. The Haqqani, Hekmatyur the Quetta Shura Taliban still commit terrorist attacks against civilians in these parts of Afghanistan. {And in some Pashtun areas such as Khost and Gardez were the locals are particularly anti Taliban, and which sport the best quality ANA and ANP in Afghanistan.} In the most recent reporting period, the Taliban and her allies caused 75% of all civilian casualties in Afghanistan (page 24: http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/pdfs/1230_June%C2%AD2009Final.pdf)

You do seem to have a point, however, that the Taliban are trying to kill less civilians in Helmand, Kandahar and other parts of Afghanistan and where the ANP and GIRoA leave much to be desired.

Off topic; Shannon, one of your pet peeves is criticizing the ANSF. What do you think of Brigadier General Ghori and his 3rd Brigade, 205 ANA Corps. BG Ghori has four combat line battalions in Helmand, where he is outnumbered by his British and Marine allies. Based on what I can gather, BG Ghori shows a lot of initiative and if anything maintains too high a tempo for his forces.

M Shannon August 22, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Anand: I agree that most Afghans aren’t fans of the Taliban but most are also not keen on the government (perhaps any government) and not fond of NATO either. Most simply want to be left alone and don’t care if NATO and the insurgents kill each other as long as it doesn’t effect them.

I can’t comment on 205 Corps. My concern is with the various police forces and my criticism is aimed primarily at the NATO people who think policemen can be churned out with a few weeks training and who started building the army (as opposed to LI bns) so late.

The “Taliban” do commit acts of terrorism (violence deliberately aimed at civilians for political effect) but they are surprisingly rare. The vast majority of insurgent operations are attacks on security forces, district centers and NATO supply convoys. They are often reckless with IED placement but the targets are usually security forces. Their rockets and mortars often hit residential areas but that is a function of incompetence rather than deliberate targeting of civilians. Violence against INGOs is also rarer than you’d expect given the high profile of some and the attempt (resisted by most) by NATO and the UN to make them part of the “build” phase of COIN.

Check Iraq to see what an intentional terror campaign would look like: bazaars and mosques blown up, dozens of people kidnapped and murdered nightly.

I’m not sure how many true civilians are killed by the insurgents. I’ve seen no data base that separates para-military forces (PSCs, “Campaign Forces”, Afghan Security Guards, military interpreters) from “innocent civilians” or police. NATO doesn’t lump them in with police; I asked DCom ISAF and he said they counted these people as civilians. Perhaps they don’t get counted but I don’t know.

Brian August 22, 2009 at 10:18 pm

A few questions, are we even sure the Taliban issued the statement about massive disruptions? Could it be a psyop by NATO or Karzai? Just in the last 48 hours we’ve seen evidence of enough fraud and illegal tampering/campaigning to declare the elections invalid yet they are being hailed all over the world. This is yet another bizarre kafkaesque theatre where the results of the so-called democratic election were clearly a foregone conclusion.

The question is, will the US or NATO just accept an ongoing facade of democracy in the vain hope of longterm gain? Unfortunately as we saw during the cold war and the post cold war realignment (in particular in Africa) the answer is almost certainly yes.

An then there’s the other question who are the Taliban now and how much is being caused by them and how much is te result of militias and warlordism? But I’m not supposed to ask that question right?

anand August 22, 2009 at 11:35 pm

Shannon, Haqqani, Hekmatyur and the Quetta Shura Taliban aren’t trying to conduct a terror campaign in Kabul, the North, West, Khost and Gardez? Seriously? The fact that most of these terrorist attempts are unsuccessful is a reflection of the ANSF, NSD, hostile public, and weakness on the part of the Taliban (or perhaps more accurately weakness on the part of Haqqani and Hig.)

In Khost and Gardez, Haqqani has launched several Mumbai style attacks. (I think it is probably Haqqani, but maybe some would argue they are organized by different “Taliban” militias.) The reason you don’t read about it is that the ANP in these provinces might be the best quality ANP in all of Afghanistan. The 203rd ANA is the best Corps in the ANA. In fact Gardez, Khost and Paktia provinces are among the few places where the ANSF are ready to assume battlespace with ISAF overwatch.

“An then there’s the other question who are the Taliban now and how much is being caused by them and how much is te result of militias and warlordism?” Very important question that needs a lot more discussion.

M Shannon, look at Afghan polls. The ANA is “VERY” popular; to a lesser degree this is even true in Helmand and Kandahar. The ANP is a less popular than the ANA, but a lot more popular than the Taliban (nationwide although the results might be different in Kandahar and Helmand.) The GIRoA and Karzai are a lot more popular than the Taliban nationwide, although perhaps not in the South. Karzai, from my perspective, remains amazingly popular among Southern Pashtu. Check out the June, 2009 opinion poll.

The June 2009 poll showed that 68% of Afghans think more ISAF troops is an important priority, although it is much lower in the South. {There has been a sharp drop in the popularity of the ISAF.} The ISAF popularity issues are mostly centered in the South rather than Afghanistan as a whole. PRTs, and international aid remain quite popular. So is training the ANA and ANP.

In any case, I don’t think that ISAF should fight this war, except over the short term. The GIRoA and its ANSF and NSD should. The ISAF in my view should super embed with the ANSF and support them over the long haul. All battlespace, PRTs and reconstruction should transfer to the ANSF ASAP.

“my criticism is aimed primarily at the NATO people who think policemen can be churned out with a few weeks training and who started building the army (as opposed to LI bns) so late” Good point. The ANP and ANA need a lot more trainers and mentors. The throughput (number in training at any given point in time) needs to quadruple. The length of basic training needs to increase sharply.

My view is that many tens of thousands of ANP need to be trained by China, India, Indonesia and other countries . . . outside Afghanistan in the short run if necessary. MoI needs many judges trained ASAP.

M Shannon August 23, 2009 at 2:12 am

Anand: In the eastern region (Khost, Paktya, Nuristan, Kunar, Nangarhar and Laghman) the casualty totals for election day are: 0 voters killed at or near polling stations, 1 election official and his son killed at home, three civilians killed by an IED, 2 ANA by an IED, 2 ANBP by a mortar and 2 ANA by an IED. The vast majority of attacks were on security forces near polling stations and not on the voters. There was only one failed suicide attack in the region in Gardez.

This does not strike me as the work of a group(s) bent on terrorizing the civil populace. Scare them into staying away from the polls yes but I see no evidence that they are interested in mass civilian casualty events and lots that they are trying not to harm civilians. The good news is that most Afghans can get on with their lives and the bad news for NATO is that its IO campaign will be more difficult if the enemy act in a more constrained fashion.

BTW where were the AQ / foreign fighters? Could it be that they are rarer than thought?

anand August 23, 2009 at 3:48 am

Shannon, did it occur to you that the ANSF were able to keep the Taliban away from the polling areas in 203 ANA’s battlespace? The outer ring of security held.

This said, I think that perhaps the Quetta Shura Taliban, Haqqani and Hekmatyur made a strategic decision not to interrupt the Afghan election. I think that they fear an Abdullah Abdullah victory (correctly so in my opinion) and were trying to help Karzai win.

However, I suspect that Haqqani will continue his signature terrorist attacks post election.

Yes, violence has fallen in 203 ANA’s battlespace. Why isn’t completely clear. Some thoughts:
-Haqqani (they are the largest threat in this part of Afghanistan rather than the Quetta Shura Taliban), and Hekmatyur are choosing to fight elsewhere in Afghanistan, and against the Pakistani Army in Pakistan
-Haqqani and Hig are maintaining a low profile to recover their strength in 203 ANA’s 4 provinces
-Maybe 203 ANA, the ANP, NSD, SOCOM, OEF and ISAF have had some success against them? (Don’t know the extent to which this is true)

Of the dozen or so Taliban militias, the one that has the most foreign fighters fighting alongside it is probably Haqqani (Ughairs, Chechnya, Uzbekistanis, Arabs, Pakistanis.) As a result the Khost, Gardez, Paktia area arguably sees the most foreign fighters. Perhaps this is why the pashto in these areas are so anti Taliban versus other parts of Afghanistan? Many Punjabi Taliban (Lashkar e Jhanvi, Sipah e Sahaba, Lashar e Taiba, Jaish e Mohammed, Harakat al Mujahadin) fight alongside Haqqani in this area.

Note that I am not speaking of Konar (201 ANA in the province seem to be a step below 203 ANA in quality, as are the ANP in Konar; the dynamics in this province are also different.) You could make the case that the situation in 203rd ANA’s area are not representative of the rest of Pashtu Afghanistan and you would have a point. But whatever the reason, I am glad that 203 ANA’s four provinces will hopefully soon transition to ISAF overwatch.

On foreign fighters; there seem to be fewer in the South than in the East. In the East much of the fighting is orchestrated east of the Durand line whereas much of the insurgency in Helmand and Kandahar seems to be homegrown.

Shannon, it might be more useful to break down the dozen Taliban militias. Some are more tied to global terrorism than others. Some (maybe Hekmatyur?) can be negotiated with. Others (Haqqani) are a global terrorist network. Breaking down who is fighting by group and region would also be useful in determining a more limited strategy in Afghanistan, which I believe you favor.

One more limited strategy that I think deserves consideration is to de-emphasize near term security in favor of medium term Afghan capacity building and long term economic development. This strategy might consist of super embedding one ISAF advisory bde in every ANA Corps and Division; as well as a similar advisory effort for the ANP; followed by transitioning all battlespace, reconstruction and PRTs to the ANSF. I think the Afghans will need $250 billion in international grants over the next 20 years under such a strategy (not including the cost of ISAF advisors, combat enablers and operations.)

This strategy would involve ceding large parts of Afghanistan (especially in Helmand and Kandahar) to the enemy, and gradually helping the ANSF recapture these areas over many years. More information about each “Taliban” militia and their relationship to global terrorism would be helpful in determining what parts of Afghanistan to cede in the short run. I think many are overestimating the strength of the “Taliban” and the risk of a short term momentum sweep against the GIRoA and ANSF. As a result a more limited strategy (that perhaps both of us are sympathetic to) is being discounted too easily.

anand August 23, 2009 at 4:05 am

Shannon, was the Iraqi resistance successful in stopping the three Iraqi elections in 2005? No. In fact 77% of Iraqi voters participated on 12.15.05, despite heavy opposition from the resistance.

Why was the resistance unsuccessful in disrupting Iraqi elections? Extremely tight security on election day. The same was true in much of Afghanistan on election day. I don’t know if we can be sure that that the Quetta Shura Taliban, Hekmatyur and Haqqani didn’t try and fail to disrupt the Afghan elections. However, on balance, my view is that they wanted higher Pashtu turnout to prevent a win by Abdullah Abdullah. Remember that many Pakistanis hate and fear him to an almost irrational degree. Perhaps those parts of the Pakistani security establishment that are still supporting Haqqani, the Quetta Shura Taliban and Hekmatyur put pressure on them not to disrupt the Afghan election? {For the record, I think there has been a major diminution in support for the “Taliban” from parts of the Pakistani security establishment recently.}

Shannon, do you follow the thinking of the Pakistani security establishment? Many of them (retired Pakistani Army and ISI generals) seem scared to death of the prospect that ISAF (some of them think Russia, Iran, India too) will build up a highly capable ANA and ANAAC that are lead by Afghan generals that are very hostile to Pakistan. I suspect that this prospect also concerns the Quetta Shura Taliban, Hekmatyur and Haqqani.

I am not sure if this fact could be leveraged in some fashion, or even how relevant it is. But it is something that all of us should be carefully tracking.

In 2006, a similar fear and concern about the Iraqi Army began to be expressed by Iraq’s neighbors and the various resistance groups. We know what followed in that case

M Shannon August 23, 2009 at 4:49 am

Anand: I was involved in the 2005 Iraq election. Its apples and oranges with Afghanistan. Iraq is more urban so the vehicle bans worked very well and that kept AQI on the sidelines. Crucially JAM etc wanted their folks to vote. The Coalition had more troops available and were able to deploy closer to major population centers. Shia militia didn’t try to prevent Sunnis from voting they boycotted the election themselves to the advantage of the Shia.

The “Ring of Steel” in the east was largely a myth. In Jalalabad very few police posts went up before the election and then they were hit and miss. There was no vehicle ban, many check points stood down at 2100 on the 19th and the ability of rickshaws and motor bikes to sail past check points didn’t seem impaired. I’d say the lack of violence was due to the factors that normally keep it down in this part of Afghanistan rather than any particular effort by the security forces; tribal and commercial interest pressure on the insurgents to behave combined with insurgent incompetence.

Brian August 23, 2009 at 9:03 am

Shannon, were you in Jalalabad? Our correspondent Lutfullah was there, he lives there, and reported most people were on foot due to a vehicle ban. plenty of photos here:

http://www.aliveinafghanistan.org/aiablog/?p=657

You can also see a lot of information gathered around Afghanistan on election day via the main site: http://aliveinafghanistan.org

Would love to see you contributing your own short reports if you are in Afghanistan.

M Shannon August 23, 2009 at 10:05 am

Brian,

Yes and there was no vehicle ban. I went for a couple of drives. The traffic was light like early on a Friday.

M Shannon August 23, 2009 at 11:09 am

There were about 82 serious incidents region wide. If you assume 5-10 insurgents per incident that’s about a battalions worth of guerrillas for the region. Are our estimates of Taliban strength too high and if so what does that say about the security force efforts and the need for more US troops?

anand August 23, 2009 at 1:34 pm

M Shannon, I didn’t know you are in Jalalabad. The 82 incidents is for what time period and what provinces? My sense is perhaps there are more Taliban than the official estimates, but that the Taliban are currently occupied east of the Durand line and in the south. In addition, most Taliban are unprofessional, lack initiative, and ‘lack motivation’ in the same way that the ANP and ANA are often accused of.

Does an attack on the red crescent count as a terrorist attack? “A Taliban spokesman, meanwhile, said the police headquarters and the local office of Red Crescent were stormed simultaneously.”
http://www.aliveinafghanistan.org/aiablog/?p=708

It strikes me that some “Taliban” militias are conducting terrorist attacks while others are restricting themselves to attacking ANSF and ISAF/OEF. I think it is very positive that some “Taliban” militias are not attacking Afghan civilians. Strategically, economic development and stronger civilian Afghan institutions represent an important victory in their own right. My hope would be that these “local Taliban” could be persuaded to join the political process much as the Iraqi Sahwa were. Is this realistic? If they don’t have ties with Al Qaeda linked or the international islamic front linked groups as I think you implied, why wouldn’t they want to participate in government or with NGOs and have access to the billions of dollars in grants pouring in from PRTs and international agencies?

2nd Brigade, 201st ANA operates near Jalalabad. This brigade appears to be lower quality than 3rd Mechanized brigade, 201st ANA and the 203rd ANA Corps. Any thoughts about what 2-201 ANA’s challenges are, and why it has been slow to improve? Any thoughts on what could be done to improve the quality of ANA 2-201? The Jalalabad ANP also appear to be a step below their ANP colleagues in Khost, Gardez and Kabul. Any thoughts on why this might be the case and what can be done about it?

What are your perceptions about how popular the ANA, ANP, NSD, Mullah Omar/Quetta Shura Taliban, Haqqani, Hekmatyur/HiG, Abdullah Abdullah and Karzai are in Jalalabad? Were there provincial council elections in Jalalabad, and if so how were they?

anand August 23, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Brian, you have two good news sites:
http://smallworldnews.tv/ http://aliveinafghanistan.org

with respect to your comment above:
“are we even sure the Taliban issued the statement about massive disruptions?” I think that this is so. Perhaps the real question is which of the twelve Taliban militias made the statement. There are Talibans, rather than a Taliban.

“Just in the last 48 hours we’ve seen evidence of enough fraud and illegal tampering/campaigning to declare the elections invalid yet they are being hailed all over the world.” The entire world is acclaiming these results, including the UN, Iran, China, India, Japan . . . basically the entire international community. Why do you think this is? Perhaps it is partly because many elections around the world are less than perfect. People from developing countries are quick to mention Florida 2000 whenever a westerner lectures on “democracy.”

“This is yet another bizarre kafkaesque theatre where the results of the so-called democratic election were clearly a foregone conclusion.” Why would you think this? It seems to me that Abdullah had a real shot at beating Karzai. An Adbullah victory might represent significant change. The Presidency is a highly influential office.

“The question is, will the US or NATO just accept an ongoing facade of democracy in the vain hope of longterm gain?” Why do you think Afghan democracy won’t improve over time? Democracy evolved and improved in Bangladesh (which like Afghanistan was a former Mongol Moghul empire province until the early 1700s AD), and Indonesia? Why wouldn’t the same gradually happen in Afghanistan?

“Unfortunately as we saw during the cold war and the post cold war realignment (in particular in Africa) the answer is almost certainly yes.” I don’t agree. Afghanistan probably needs at least $10 billion a year in annual grants, and I don’t think that the international community would fund Afghanistan like that unless it was seen as making progress towards democracy, better governance, and some measure of freedom.

“An then there’s the other question who are the Taliban now and how much is being caused by them and how much is te result of militias and warlordism? But I’m not supposed to ask that question right?” This is a very important question to ask. Many are asking it. Why do you think some don’t want this question asked?

Brian August 23, 2009 at 7:06 pm

in reply to your reply Anand:

with respect to your comment above:
“are we even sure the Taliban issued the statement about massive disruptions?” I think that this is so. Perhaps the real question is which of the twelve Taliban militias made the statement. There are Talibans, rather than a Taliban.

Of course, but I am asking questions and I’m looking for cited answers. And of course there are not “talibans” since “Taliban” is already plural, right? Maybe there are “Talibanaat” ? 😉

“Just in the last 48 hours we’ve seen evidence of enough fraud and illegal tampering/campaigning to declare the elections invalid yet they are being hailed all over the world.” The entire world is acclaiming these results, including the UN, Iran, China, India, Japan . . . basically the entire international community. Why do you think this is? Perhaps it is partly because many elections around the world are less than perfect. People from developing countries are quick to mention Florida 2000 whenever a westerner lectures on “democracy.”

No, I think this is because the international community, AKA States A. doesn’t really care about democracy in Afghan, they care about the relative benefit to their specific State, this is an ongoing problem for developing democracies who, while dependent on international investment, don’t tend to receive the fair deal they ought to expect.

Regarding the Florida results and the 2000 election generally, as an American I can say that we, and the international community, would have benefited by the other members of the UN refusing to recognize the legitimacy of that election. Unfortunately the rules that hold for the developing world are not the same as those expected of the so-called “western world” or “developed world.”

“This is yet another bizarre kafkaesque theatre where the results of the so-called democratic election were clearly a foregone conclusion.” Why would you think this? It seems to me that Abdullah had a real shot at beating Karzai. An Adbullah victory might represent significant change. The Presidency is a highly influential office.

First of all, I am saying that currently the election APPEARS to have been a foregone conclusion. Have you seen our reports that 72% of the votes are for Karzai? Furthermore, have you seen the degree to which Karzai or his proxies violated election rules and engaged in electioneering? This is why it was a “foregone conclusion” Karzai or his proxies clearly engaged in direct fraud as well as electioneering (for example posting campaign posters for Karzai not only just outside polling stations but INSIDE these stations. Despite these very clear incidents, and our hard evidence, the international community sits back and says, no harm no foul.

“The question is, will the US or NATO just accept an ongoing facade of democracy in the vain hope of longterm gain?” Why do you think Afghan democracy won’t improve over time? Democracy evolved and improved in Bangladesh (which like Afghanistan was a former Mongol Moghul empire province until the early 1700s AD), and Indonesia? Why wouldn’t the same gradually happen in Afghanistan?

OF COURSE “Afghan democracy” will change over time, whether improving or not. My point is simply that it does not appear NATO’s interest is cultivating a progressive, open, and transparent democracy. There is clearly a great deal of orientalism involved in discussion of the people of Afghanistan and the willingness of developed nations to expect that Afghans are capable of understanding the abstract idea of “democracy.”

“Unfortunately as we saw during the cold war and the post cold war realignment (in particular in Africa) the answer is almost certainly yes.” I don’t agree. Afghanistan probably needs at least $10 billion a year in annual grants, and I don’t think that the international community would fund Afghanistan like that unless it was seen as making progress towards democracy, better governance, and some measure of freedom.

I think perhaps you don’t understand my point. What you have stated is my point. We won’t fund Afghanistan properly or in a way that actually works to build its longterm independence, it doesn’t benefit the NGO industrial complex which benefits from government giveaways due to guilt over the involvement of the international community in the collapse of Afghanistan and were giveaways to go directly to local institutions this would harm the International NGOs involved.

“An then there’s the other question who are the Taliban now and how much is being caused by them and how much is te result of militias and warlordism? But I’m not supposed to ask that question right?” This is a very important question to ask. Many are asking it. Why do you think some don’t want this question asked?

I fear that the US and NATO are not enough willing to self-criticize to truly approach this question of who are the Taliban and to what degree are the proxies of Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, Dostum, or others involved in violence that is blamed on the Taliban.

anand August 23, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Brian, I have deep concerns about Karzai. The reason he got the job in Bonn was because the Iranians pushed for him, and he was acceptable to Pakistan (perhaps the only prominent Afghan politician acceptable to Pakistan that had a prayer of being acceptable to the Northern Alliance and the Northern Alliance’s allies.) Today Karzai is probably the most acceptable prominent mainstream Afghan politician to Pakistan and to some local Talibanaat. {Taliban is plural for student; but now “Taliban” seems to have become a noun of its own, so I guess Talibanaat is the best phrase, but I fear using it will be more confusing to non Afghans than saying “Talibans: 😉 }

Unfortunately, Karzai appears to have the strong backing of Khamenei, Russia, Turkey and some other parts of the international community. {Perhaps China as well.} The recent June, 2009 public opinion poll found that he still retained considerable support among Afghans. Therefore, the only way to remove Karzai was through the ballot box. If Karzai has cheated, this would be concerning indeed. Yes I saw the articles on your website . . . I take it that the official numbers might state something similar? I don’t know what is Karzai spin and what is fact.

“this is because the international community, AKA States A. doesn’t really care about democracy in Afghan, they care about the relative benefit to their specific State, this is an ongoing problem for developing democracies who, while dependent on international investment, don’t tend to receive the fair deal they ought to expect.” I’ll have to think about this. I am not sure I agree. Most countries favor more “open” free stable governments, which the large majority of the time means a democratized state customized to local conditions. The reason for this is that “global stability” is correlated with greater global economic growth, lower global risk premiums, and greater security for the home country. In Afghanistan, many countries don’t want Haqqani or the Quetta Shura Taliban to prevail or for Afghanistan to remain massively dependent of foreign grants indefinitely; most of them probably see an open stable free somewhat democratized Afghanistan as the only way to sustainably achieve that.

“it does not appear NATO’s interest is cultivating a progressive, open, and transparent democracy. There is clearly a great deal of orientalism involved in discussion of the people of Afghanistan and the willingness of developed nations to expect that Afghans are capable of understanding the abstract idea of “democracy.”” Do you think this is Obama’s world view? He mentions “mutual respect and mutual interests” rather than “mutual respect, mutual values and mutual interests,” the phraseology I would prefer. Few things irritate me as much as the “orientalism” and “pretentious paternalism” that you describe. It seems worse among Europeans than among Americans . . . but we Americans also have a serious problem.

“We won’t fund Afghanistan properly or in a way that actually works to build its longterm independence, it doesn’t benefit the NGO industrial complex which benefits from government giveaways due to guilt over the involvement of the international community in the collapse of Afghanistan and were giveaways to go directly to local institutions this would harm the International NGOs involved.” This is my biggest fear about Afghanistan. The “Taliban” and its allies can be defeated by the ANSF and NSD with enough international support, smart leadership, and time. What concerns me most is the huge imbalance between GIRoA spending and revenue and how this will be plugged over the next generation. Many do gooder NGOs (Afghan and international) are really amazing idealistic good people. However, many don’t fully understand the concept of long term self sustaining social entrepreneurship.

“I fear that the US and NATO are not enough willing to self-criticize to truly approach this question of who are the Taliban and to what degree are the proxies of Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, Dostum, or others involved in violence that is blamed on the Taliban.” I think the US military at least is asking these precise questions. So are at least some of the people in Holbrooke’s team. However, “politics” including Afghan politics is “outside my lane” in military speak. The military therefore cannot speak openly about these subjects. How to get around this?

Afghanistan doesn’t just have a Haaqani, Mullah Omar and Hekmatyur problem. It also has a warlord problem. Some of these warlords are “local Taliban,” but others are not. The only long term solution that I can see is a capable professional ANA and ANP that can gradually impose a monopoly on force.

I would love to touch base offline.

Brian August 23, 2009 at 8:57 pm

anand,

I think we generally agree on these topics, although there appears to be disagreement over the general outlook and interest of the State, as well as the problems of economic development and investment.

I fear I am perhaps too cynical-(you see Josh, I guess that lending of cynicism did the trick, now here I am bumming everyone out).

I think Obama thinks he has people’s interests at heart, but I think Bush did also. There is unfortunately a great divide between what we think will help and the actual ramifications of our actions.

Also, while I agree with you about the interest of States and global stability, I believe that a given “place” “nation” “State” or what have you needs to offer a stability ROI. I don’t see places such as Afghanistan, much of the Caucuses, or for example Somalia, and many other places offering this, except to the degree their resources can be exploited.

Unfortunately we’ve seen time and again, local democracies don’t necessarily equate with ease of resource exploitation by outside forces. What global instability did Afghanistan really offer under the Taliban? Heroin production? Legalization was an easy solution for that. September 11? I’m not sure at any other point in the history of man did so few deaths herald such an expansion of global instability, other than perhaps a certain nobleman in Sarajevo.

I’m sure someone might come up with various other instances, but my point stands, September 11 heralded a great crime, but it was not evidence of “global instability.”

Any government has its own longevity at its core, democracies believe this longevity comes from citizens’ consent. Totalitarian states, et al have different methods. But in each, the interest is not the will of the citizens or the monarch, but the longevity of the system.

Look forward to speaking soon, and perhaps getting a beer at Local 44 or somewhere else if you’re back in the area. I’ve dropped you a line, if it doesn’t get through, feel free to try me at small world news at gmail dot com .

M Shannon August 23, 2009 at 10:25 pm

Anand: An IED did go off on 19 Aug near the Jalalabad Red Crescent building (and also close to a Zone Police HQ). It was about 10 lbs of ANFO hidden in the median strip of a road. It went off at night and hurt two policemen. The Red Crescent wasn’t attacked. No NGO was attacked over the election period country wide. The only harm done to IOs was the collateral damage to UN personnel during an SVBIED attack on NATO in Kabul.

Another Jalalabad Zone Police HQ was attacked on 21 Aug by at least four attackers with small arms and grenades. They killed two policemen and one of the attackers was killed before the others escaped. I wouldn’t count either of these events as terrorism as the targets were security forces.

I increasingly get the feeling that the “insurgency” in Nangarhar is some sort of theater where no one really wants it to end and all the Afghans are happy to keep the pot boiling just enough to ensure more billions of US aid and material keep pouring in. For example I see no reason for the enemy to allow road convoys to resupply NATO from Pakistan unless the Taliban make substantial money off the convoys. I hear $2000 per truck is the going rate to get to Jalalabad. The Jalalabad Airfield could be a mini Dien Bien Phu, with a semi competent and determined enemy, but instead it’s a cash cow for everyone.

I can’t think of any organized group (I include mine) here wh intereso has an interest in ending the war as long as the level of violence stays at a low level and the borders, airport and main highways stay open. A low level conflict which the US has decided will be “won” by pouring in development dollars, thousands of troops and contractors may be the ultimate jack pot.

M Shannon August 23, 2009 at 10:36 pm

How about the last para again:

I can’t think of any organized group (I include mine) here who has an interest in ending the war as long as the level of violence stays at a low level and the borders, airport and main highways stay open. A low level conflict which the US has decided will be “won” by pouring in development dollars, thousands of troops and contractors may be the ultimate jack pot.

Sherzai, the governor is probably the most popular politician here. Karzai should win the election (even a fair one). NDS is the most respected security outfit. The ANP aren’t respected but it might be getting better. The ANA is respected but rarely seen. The ANA may be better trained and lead than the ANP but if they spend a lot of their time on FOBs (one of the effects of mentoring is that the mentored emulate their mentors) the people don’t get a real feel for them. The “Taliban” don’t have much support in Nangarhar and battles between them and locals are becoming more frequent but as you go north in Laghman, Nuristan and Kunar and west in Nangarhar the commercial interests lessen and government control weakens and they are more insurgents and presumably the support for Omar and Hekmatyar increases.

BruceR August 24, 2009 at 1:06 pm

I’d agree with M. Shannon on the sense that a lot of the insurgency is largely theatrical. Also that the ANA is popular in part because it tends to be rarely seen, and that our FOB-bound example is contributing to that.

In the south there are very few indiscriminate killings by the Taliban. They do target convoy guards (who do seem to be counted in “civilian casualty” tallies) but also anyone who criticizes them or poses a threat to their authority, or is resistant to their attempts to intimidate people, through a steady and determined campaign of assassination. Bystanders in suicide or other IED attacks against higher-value targets round out the civilian fatality stats. What they generally avoid is attacks such as pressure-plate IEDs on travelled roads that kill civilians randomly. There are exceptions to this obviously, but these seem to be the product of Taliban mistakes.

I personally doubt there was any central edict guiding the Taliban response to the election. The insurgency’s much more local and cellular than that. If it helped their local intimidation campaign or security forces were an easy target, they did something. If it didn’t, they didn’t. Whether the Taliban leadership wanted to help Karzai or hurt him probably didn’t translate to much on the ground on election day and I don’t think you can extrapolate intent from the results, either.

omar August 24, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Some things I have trouble understanding:
1. What the hell is the Quetta shura? If the US knows that taliban HQ is operating in Quetta, what is stopping them from doing something about it? If they dont think the shura is in quetta, then why keep up this charade?
2. Many of my (leftwing) friends from Pakistan suspect that the US is actually trying to get the ISI to help them get out of Afghanistan without it being a PR disaster and is basically waiting for the ISI to make some sort of livable deal with the Taliban. And my Indian friends suspect that in return ISI gets to keep the kashmir jihad going. Is this conspiracy mongering or could it be true? If its not true, I suggest that the widespread existence of these theories is a sign that the US is not able to communicate effectively. If its true, then a lot of people are being killed for PR purposes, which seems immoral.
3. Whats the plan?
I think that the US is not winning in Afghanistan, not because the war is so “complex”. Its because at one level its really simple. As Bin Laden said: people will bet on the stronger horse. In this case, far too many people are betting that the taliban will win. Unless there is a decisive change in that assessment, its a self-fulfilling prophecy. It may be that in war nobody will tell you their whole plan, but its also true that in this case not seeing a plan keeps a lot of fence-sitters on the fence. I look forward to being enlightened.

anand August 24, 2009 at 6:30 pm

Madhu, great questions. Maybe I’ll comment on it over the next couple of weeks. I use Hyderabad as an example because of the similarities between it and Afghanistan. Babar from Uzbekistan (direct descendant of Timur e Lane and his Seljik Turks, who was himself a direct descendant of Genghis Khan) created the Mongol empire which came to be called “Moghul empire.” It consisted of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Afghanistan was in many ways the base of the empire and the part most loyal to the crown. The last part of this empire was ruled by the Nizam in Hyderabad that was annexed by India in 1948. Throughout the Moghul empire and Hyderabad the language of law and business was Pharsi (Persian.) Hyderabad is home to millions of orthodox muslims and is a success story. Afghanistan was also a province of Persia between about 1700 and 1747. In 1747 when the Persian emperor died, arguably his greatest general formed a nation state . . . modern Afghanistan (which then included Punjab, Pashtun parts of Pakistan, and Kashmir .)

This is why there are many similarities between Iran, Afghanistan, Hyderbad, and Kashmir.

Madhu, you probably know that Afghanistan (some say southern Uzbekistan) use to be called Gandhara. This is where Gandhari, mother of the 100 Kauravas came from in the Mahabharata poem. North of Gandhara or Afghanistan was ancient Kaikaya. This was where Kaikeyi, mother of “Bharata” in the Ramayana poem, comes from. “Bharata” was “Rama’s” brother. As you know, India use to call itself “Bharata” for thousands of years. This is why its most famous poem is named Maha (great) Bharata, or great India. If any of the above isn’t politically correct, than substitute “India” with “South Asia.”

Omar, the answers to your questions are very complicated and politically sensitive. How many books do you want to read 😆

Some things you might want to research.

Quetta Shura Taliban = coterie around Mullah Omar. Who created and backed Mullah Omar? Why did Mullah Omar marry Osama Bin Laden’s daughter? Why did Osama Bin Laden marry Mullah Omar’s daughter? Why are they so close to each other? What happened in 1996 in the region? What is the International Islamic Front and why was it formed? Who is its leader? What is its relationship to Mullah Omar and Haqqani? Does it mean anything anymore or has it lost any meaning in recent years? What is Haqqani’s connection to Kashmir? What are the “Punjabi Taliban” and why do so many fight for Haqqani?

You might want to carefully read through Shannon and Bruce’s comments. They were brilliant, nuanced and insightful. Bruce: “I’d agree with M. Shannon on the sense that a lot of the insurgency is largely theatrical.” I agree fully with Bruce and Shannon on this. So Omar, why do you think the Taliban is “winning?”

If you ever figure out the answer to these questions, please drop me a line Omar. :LOL: You would be a much smarter man than I.

Bruce, I agree with your comments completely except for “Whether the Taliban leadership wanted to help Karzai or hurt him probably didn’t translate to much on the ground on election day and I don’t think you can extrapolate intent from the results, either.” I think the Taliban wants Karzai to win. But what affect that had on local Taliban operations if any is unclear.

Shannon, brilliant comments:
“I increasingly get the feeling that the “insurgency” in Nangarhar is some sort of theater where no one really wants it to end and all the Afghans are happy to keep the pot boiling just enough to ensure more billions of US aid and material keep pouring in. For example I see no reason for the enemy to allow road convoys to resupply NATO from Pakistan unless the Taliban make substantial money off the convoys. I hear $2000 per truck is the going rate to get to Jalalabad. The Jalalabad Airfield could be a mini Dien Bien Phu, with a semi competent and determined enemy, but instead it’s a cash cow for everyone.
I can’t think of any organized group (I include mine) here which has an interest in ending the war as long as the level of violence stays at a low level and the borders, airport and main highways stay open. A low level conflict which the US has decided will be “won” by pouring in development dollars, thousands of troops and contractors may be the ultimate jack pot.”
There is a lot to this. This is why it might be a good idea to commit to a $250 billion international grant program to Afghanistan over 20 years and commit to it, regardless of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. This aid has to be conditioned on very difficult, even unpopular, Afghan reforms. Any GIRoA national agency, provincial government or district government that does not perform should be cut off . . . despite the human costs for their residents. Unless aid is a little ruthless and detached you get an NGO welfare dependency industrial complex that hurts almost everyone. Which is where we seem to be headed in many but not all cases.

“Sherzai, the governor is probably the most popular politician here. Karzai should win the election (even a fair one).” Glad that Sherzai is popular. Another reason to be skeptical about claims of a momentum driven collapse of the ANSF and GIRoA if ISAF combat troops (as opposed to embedded advisors, trainers and combat enablers) are pulled out.

“NDS is the most respected security outfit.” Yeah, they are pretty good. “The ANP aren’t respected but it might be getting better.” Good to know. “The ANA is respected but rarely seen. The ANA may be better trained and lead than the ANP but if they spend a lot of their time on FOBs (one of the effects of mentoring is that the mentored emulate their mentors) the people don’t get a real feel for them.” 2nd Bde, 201st ANA is an old brigade, but one of the worst in the ANA. It operates near Nangarhar. Why it is performing so poorly in something I don’t understand. You are dead right that the FOBs are a disaster. We would be best off converting most of them to ANSF training bases, or joint ANA/ANAAC/ISAF bases.

“The “Taliban” don’t have much support in Nangarhar and battles between them and locals are becoming more frequent but as you go north in Laghman, Nuristan and Kunar and west in Nangarhar the commercial interests lessen and government control weakens and they are more insurgents and presumably the support for Omar and Hekmatyar increases.” Seems right.

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