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Don't Count Karzai Out Just Yet...

If America pulls out of Afghanistan, the Taliban will takeover. This opinion is taken as one of inevitability in almost every argument supporting General McChrystal's plan to add troops to Afghanistan. But I disagree.

Now, I generally support sending more troops to Afghanistan, whether US or coalition. Any soldier on the ground knows that for a country of Afghanistan's size, we do not have enough troops. For example, the area my platoon patrolled in Afghanistan is now patrolled by a company, and even they could use more troops. While I support an expanded US presence, it is not because I believe the Taliban will take over Afghanistan if America withdraws.

To be clear, I am not saying that a rapid US pullout would leave a stable government in its wake. All I am saying is that a Taliban takeover is not guaranteed. Our withdrawal will create a power vacuum in Afghanistan. In this vacuum, there will be violence and civil war; the various tribal groups will fight for control. But declaring a winner to a hypothetical future civil war is definitely premature.

In that fight, the current government in Afghanistan will no longer be constrained by US and NATO rules of engagement. Even further, the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hezaras will remember persecution they suffered under a dominant Pashtun Taliban in the nineties. They will remember--as most Americans have forgot--that the Taliban rose to power almost spontaneously in a very short time period. While the Taliban is currently powerful, who knows what other group may lurk in the shadows?

Further, the current Afghan government has quite a bit of fire power. They have commandos and special forces trained well by our American special forces. They will have plenty of ammunition, weapons and training for their regular soldiers. Many of the most peaceful parts of the country, the North and West, are home to minorities that will want to remain in power. Some groups, like the Hezaras, have been stockpiling weapons since America invaded, either stolen from the Army or via the black market. What will stop these relatively unaffected groups from unleashing hell on the Pashtun areas? Also, while the North and West are peaceful, the young men still get the experience of war by joining the Afghanistan National Army (then deserting).

As I have said before, I don’t make predictions. I want to caution my fellow pundits from assuming a prediction they cannot back up. If America pulls out of Afghanistan, violence will probably spike, but the fate of the Karzai government is not yet a forgone conclusion.

three comments

A little addendum. I sometimes act as Michael’s research assistant and find quotes and articles to support his general point. In this case, I was told to find articles claiming predicting a future Taliban takeover. The best example of this I found was the Oct 14 Washington Post editorial, which is the first link in the post.

Some notes from my research:
1. There are a number of people who, like us today, don’t believe the Taliban takeover is inevitable, or more commonly, that the Taliban will support or Al Queda in the future. Or they predict something else.

2. The Taliban (only has a 4%) approval rating in Afghanistan. If they took power, it would be by force, not good will.

3. No one predicts Karzai will triumph. Neither do we, per se, but we entertain it as a possibility.

I know Karzai had earned the nickname “the mayor of Kabul” awhile ago because of the very limited influence of his government outside of Kabul. He has since very carefully chosen powerful allies to consolidate his power very widely over the Afghani people, he very well may or may not withstand an pullout from ISAF.

I think a deeper question that needs to be asked is if the current fundamentally Islamist Afghan government is much of a quantum leap over the Taliban itself. By most western standards it is a broken government, the National Assembly of Afghanistan is full of tribal leaders, warlords, and people deeply involved in the drug trade that could institute an oppressive form of Sharia law the day we leave. People like Pacha Khan Zadran, Hazrat Ali, Sayed Durham, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, Gul Agha Shirzai etc. are dangerous. Malalai Joya was nearly killed on the spot while they were in session for calling a spade a spade. I couldn´t imagine the US congress going into session strapped with AK-47´s and nearly shooting a speaker when someone gave a speech they didn´t like.

There are small groups of more educated “metroplitan” Afghanis who do want to see genuine change in Afghanistan, people who want an operating secular democracy that protects the rights of its people, but thats a small vocal minority often threatened or marginalized by the Afghani government itself as well as religious sections of soceity (including the Taliban). I hope the Afghan government does reform itself and get rid of the corruption that plagues it, but thats an uphill fight when corruption starts at the top levels.

Another thing I didn’t mention in this article, but goes to the core of the issue, is that since we took over in 2001, we let the technological genie out of the bottle. For example, DVD players and DVDs fill the streets with both Bollywood and Hollywood movies. Even more important, everyone has cell phones. Everyone. They also dance, listen to music and go to internet cafes, things they could never do under the Taliban.

So, while the government is Islamic, it isn’t quite Taliban. Do I think it is very good from a Western standpoint? Not at all, Chris C is mostly right. But I think it at least has a fighting chance at succeeding.