29 January 2012

Give Afghanistan Peace a Chance!

Mujahideen crossing in from Pakistan border,
Afghanistan, 1985 (image via Wikipedia)

This is another article slamming the discombobulated way that members of the United States Congress have influence over the nation’s foreign policy (see my last diatribe here), and again, Dana Rohrabacher’s name appears – which means that something untoward is afoot.

On 9 January, Dana Rohrabacher was in Berlin, meeting with Afghan opposition leaders, harshly criticizing the centralized Afghan government and calling for more inclusiveness in the nascent peace process that could result in the withdrawal of U.S. troops from that long, drawn-out conflict – at last. That is, if the process does not get scurried by sideline dealing or the planting of doubts in a delicate process that requires trust to slowly build up amongst a web of tribal and ethnic interrelationships that stretches back through the millennia.

Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, both from Orange County, California, were joined by Reps. Louie Gohmert (R, TX) and Steve King (R, IA), in signing a policy statement that calls for a major overhaul of the Afghan government and a shift in the direction that the Obama administration is taking in negotiations with the Taliban.

The statement was also signed by Ahmad Zia Massoud, Rashid Dostum, and Muhammad Muhaqiq, leaders of the National Front of Afghanistan and Amrullah Saleh, former director of the Afghan National Security Directorate.

This is the text of the document in full:

We have supported the mission of the Coalition Forces in Afghanistan. It is our fervent desire that the Coalition Forces be successful. Yet, after the departure of the Coalition Forces, the enormous American, Coalition, and Afghan investment with their lives and treasure is currently in great peril of having been in vain. Our concern is that the present political system is dysfunctional because all the power is centralized in a way that no American would tolerate in the United States. The current system has fatally concentrated decision-making to whoever is President of the country. The Afghan President appoints the governors of each province and district, the mayor of every town, every provincial chief of police, one third of the entire Senate, and even every judge in Afghanistan.

This centralized power has led to massive corruption, disenfranchisement of a large segment of the Afghan people, obstacles to economic development, massive abuses of power, increasing political instability, poor governance, and a vast undermining of law and order.

We call for a national dialogue on a revised Constitution to correct the inherent flaws in the present power structure by decentralizing the political system, making it more compatible with the diverse political, social and cultural nature of Afghanistan. The Afghan people deserve and need a parliamentary form of democracy instead of a personality-centered Presidential system.

We firmly believe that any negotiation with the Taliban can only be acceptable, and therefore effective, if all parties to the conflict are involved in the process. The present form of discussions with the Taliban is flawed, as it excludes anti-Taliban Afghans. It must be recalled that the Taliban extremists and their Al-Qaeda supporters were defeated by Afghans resisting extremism with minimal human embedded support from the United States and International community. The present negotiations with the Taliban fail to take into account the risks, sacrifices and legitimate interests of the Afghans who ended the brutal oppression of all Afghans.

In order to speed the withdrawal of international forces, the participants believe it is essential to strengthen regional and national institutions that are inclusive and represent the concerns of all the communities of Afghanistan.

The participants favor a change in the Electoral System from a Single Non Transferable Vote System to a nationally accepted variant of the Proportional Representation system with equal opportunities for both independent candidates, the political parties, or tribal representatives. We also support the election of Governors and empowerment of provincial councils. Such elected Governors and provincial councils should also have authority for such things as creating budgets and generating revenue, overseeing police and healthcare, as well as establishing educational authority, if they so desire.

So let us analyze what is going on here, because there are some very legitimate points being made, yet something still seems amiss.

The signers of the document are worried that all the lives lost in Afghanistan will have been in vain if the departure of U.S. and Coalition Forces leaves behind a dysfunctional, highly centralized government. This is of course Karzai’s government, which was the result of all the ethnic groups in the country coming together into the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (UIF, also known as the Northern Alliance) against the Pakistani-supported Taliban as well as Saudi-supported Al-Qaeda, with the United States and friends coming to their aid after 9/11, helping to install and support their chosen leader, Hamid Karzai, in a centralized government so that the utter chaos that had engulfed a fractionalized nation in the past would not once again ensue.

But in late 2011, former military members of the UIF formed the National Front of Afghanistan with the goal of preventing the Taliban from regaining power, and this is who met with the U.S. Congresspersons, while the political wing of the UIF has reformulated itself in opposition to Karzai as the National Coalition of Afghanistan under the leadership of former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who was not at the meeting in Berlin.

Now there is no doubt that the Karzai government is corrupt and the present governmental structure, a Presidential form of government where Karzai holds the power to appoint governors, district chiefs, mayors, judges, police chiefs, one third of Senate, members of the Election Commission, and even members of the ‘Independent’ Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan, greatly flawed. A national dialogue on a revised constitution that would set up a parliamentary democracy is most certainly in order... But why oh why are U.S. Congresspersons meddling in a very delicate situation at this particular moment in time, when the Obama administration is trying to work with the government that, for better or for worse, is currently in power, to broker a peace accord with the Taliban on the eve of securing meaningful assurances, coming after a year of tricky secret negotiations, that they will denounce international terrorism by disassociating with Al-Qaeda and work in good faith toward peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan? One week before the Berlin meeting, the Taliban had announced its plans to set up a political office in Qatar to facilitate the talks. According to U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Ambassador Marc Grossman, these assurances are a prerequisite for the office to be opened.

Ambassador Grossman made a trip to Afghanistan to build Afghan government support, but instead, was forced to spend his time there dealing with the shit storm that arose because of the Berlin meeting. Karzai, who already had trust issues with the United States because of the secret contacts with the Taliban behind his back, accused the U.S. government of secretly plotting to partition Afghanistan along ethnic lines, decrying the interference of foreigners in Afghan internal affairs: “Afghanistan is not the political laboratory of foreigners to test new systems.” U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker was also forced to spend his time convincing Afghans that the rumors of a planned partition of their country are simply “lies that dishonor the sacrifice of more than 1,800 American service members who have died in the cause of a unified Afghanistan.”

Karzai’s bemoaning is absurd, as his entire government exists, as Abbas Daiyar puts it, “by the grace of foreign support.” And in this blog post this journalist goes on to explain that the call for decentralized government is not something being perpetrated from outside the country, but has been a prominent topic of internal politics since the current system was first established. Karzai’s habit of displaying selective amnesia by constantly manipulating popular opinion with the bogyman of “foreign intervention,” he declares, “is no good for our own fragile society,” as it is a ploy used to silence the opposition who have been struggling for a more inclusive and just society.

The point that the U.S. government is making with the Taliban negotiations is that the priority is to stabilize the entire region by bringing the Taliban, with its support system in Pakistan, into the fold, an enormous challenge indeed, as the recent emergence of organized opposition to the Karzai government has a great deal to do with opposition to the Taliban, the original cause for the unity of all the other factions in Afghanistan that put their differences aside back at the end of the 1990’s. But those alliances are now shifting, as many Afghans have lost all faith in the Karzai government, and they are demanding that their opinions about the Taliban be heard. Many who fought so hard against them do not believe that the Taliban can play a constructive role in Afghan society or government. However, I, for one, look to other societies that have managed to slowly heal the deep-cutting wounds of civil war – Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil, in the region where I am now, for example – and find hope that opposition factions can put their most radical ideals, their gravest prejudices, and even their fiercest enmity behind them in the common cause of building a stronger nation that they all love. It may be difficult, but it is not impossible.

The fact that Dana Rohrabacher and the other U.S. Congresspersons, whose motivations in all of this are, on the surface, difficult to understand (why is it a priority for two Representatives from Orange County, California plus a guy from Texas and another from Iowa, with their socially conservative agendas, to involve themselves in the internal politics of Afghanistan???), are providing an outlet to the opposition groups in Afghanistan who are keen to flex their muscles and gain international attention for their cause serves to highlight the historical truth of Afghanistan: that it has been a pawn in the chess games of the modern world powers ever since the Marxist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) requested assistance from the Soviet Union during the late 1970’s in repressing dissent to their brutal attempt at radically re-organizing Afghan society. That period brought the birth of the Mujahideen Movement in Afghanistan, a backlash to both secularization and the destruction of the traditional class system, along with the entre into this story of Dana Rohrabacher et al from the United States who armed and supported these Islamic resistance fighters in a Cold War proxy battle with the Soviets.

It is not difficult to understand that Rohrabacher has longstanding personal ties with the men with whom he recently met in Berlin. He is proud of the fact that he had worked with several of these same men in their struggle against Communism, and that after 9/11, the United States engaged side by side with their soldiers to remove the Taliban from power and has continued to fight in the ongoing guerilla war against the Taliban.

What is difficult to understand is how Rohrabacher, like Karzai, can have such selective amnesia. He manages to forget that among those who he met with and supported during the Cold War was Osama bin Laden, himself. I am sure he doesn’t like to think about that too much, and when he does, he probably rationalizes that he could not have known that he was arming and training the future Enemy Number One of the United States of America. Yet, if he would just think a little harder about it, especially when he is spouting off about how concerned he is that the U.S. State Department is making “backroom” deals to bring the Taliban into influential government positions without being elected, it might just occur to him that A: he should recognize from his own experience that the very nature of a decentralized society made up of many ethnic factions is highly unstable and in constant flux (so you might want to think twice before arming and training any of them); B: that foreign entities from the Soviet Union to Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the U.S., European countries, and China have, are, and will continue to arm and support different factions as long as there is warfare going on in Afghanistan (often via “backroom” deals); and C: that he has little ground to stand upon when criticizing how people are not being represented by their government when he is off romanticizing with his old war buddies instead of working to help the people of Costa Mesa whose homes are underwater due to the subprime mortgage crisis (which hit Southern California’s overheated housing market particularly hard).

Rohrabacher has been very vocal in his opposition to President Obama’s gradual troop drawdown, stating that if the United States is going to get out of Afghanistan, then it should be done swiftly. “Karzai’s regime is corrupt and non representative of Afghanistan’s tribal culture. This failed strategy is not worth one more drop of American blood. Under the current strategy, our military presence alienates more Afghans that it pacifies. So if you’re going to pull the plug, then we need to get the hell out now.” However, he does not exactly wish to get U.S. influence or weapons out of Afghanistan, as his alternative plan is for the U.S. to arm National Front of Afghanistan, whose leaders he met with in Berlin – as if that whole village militia network thing worked out well for Afghanistan during the years after the fall of the DRA.

...all of which gives cause to wonder if he was playing the role of arms broker there at the same time that he was undermining U.S. State Department foreign policy objectives and inciting anger in the Karzai government, at a most sensitive moment in time when trust is at issue, with his extremely undiplomatic charges being flung from the peanut gallery.

Let us just hope that these military leaders will heed the words of political opposition leaders such as Abdullah Abdullah, who is not rejecting peace talks with the Taliban altogether, rather, insisting on transparency and inclusion of the people of Afghanistan, something that the U.S. State Department is sure to try to broker into the process. Instead of turning to Rohrabacher’s militant plan, why not find out if diplomacy might work, after all?

Why not give peace in Afghanistan a chance?


The Orange County Register – The Total Buzz, 9 January 2012

Radio Free Europe – Radio Liberty, 12 January, 2012

Kabul Perspective, 24 January 2012

McClatchy News, 27 January 2012

Dana Rohrabacher Official Website, 22 June, 2011
“Get the hell out now...”

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