Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Afghanistan: Are we finally getting it?

General Petraeus has indicated that high-level Taliban member have reached out to the Karzai government and is prepared to begin to broach the subject of peace and reconciliation. Couple things to note about the report.
  1. Gen. Petraeus is quite supportive of these talks taking place and it's clear from his comments he views this as an integral part of the peace process.
  2. President Karzai (and probably Pakistan), his administration, and his allies seem to be hedging on the prospects that these talks will even take place.
I've been reading Thomas Barfield's Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History. I had been looking for a book that could take me all the way back to the origins of the Afghanistan. There are a number of great books that look at Afghanistan as the theater of war for various imperialists, but Barfield's book is the first that is about the Afghans, as much as there are Afghans. I'm a little over a fourth done with it, but I've covered a lot of ground prior to the start of the 20th century and through reading and from the two notes above I think the these two points are also true (and probably of greater consequence for Afghanistan):
  1. Gen. Petraeus understands that Afghanistan have never been stable as a highly centralized nation, and those that have tried to impose such an order have met with fierce resistance. He, I think, understands that there need to be a weak central government (likely based in Kabul) that will project minimal power over the other urban centers and even less over the rural hinterlands of Afghanistan. In return, that central government will have peace.
  2. President Karzai wants all or nothing. It seems the concessions of authority (and the limits of extortion) a reconciled central government would need to tolerate is an intolerable position for Karzai. He forget his history prior to 1970 and perhaps has too much arrogance to understand how bad the past 40 years have been for Afghanistan, when his predecessors tried to do what he is himself trying to do now.
Maybe I'm wrong, but I think the reasons for us to not back Karzai continue to outweigh the reasons to back him. Unfortunately, in the absence of an alternative we're stuck with a Afghan president that knows his own country's history worse then the much lamented occupier.

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