April 07, 2004

Much ado about Afghanistan

The subheading for Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker article on Afghanistan reads: “Why Bush’s Afghanistan problem won’t go away.” Meanwhile, the table of contents, has as its subheading: “Why Afghanistan is going badly.” Of course, those are two different things: Afghanistan can implode, explode, implode again, and sink into the sea, but so long as it doesn’t turn into a major terrorist den, Bush doesn’t really need to worry about it.That’s why the carping about Afghanistan’s failed democracy haven’t really hit home yet. Human rights may not be the nation’s strong suit, but from a foreign policy perspective, this doesn’t really matter, as long as the country no longer poses a security threat. But all that could change if Hersh’s assessment is correct:

A year and a half later, the Taliban are still a force in many parts of Afghanistan, and the country continues to provide safe haven for members of Al Qaeda. […] Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed President, exercises little political control outside Kabul and is struggling to undercut the authority of local warlords, who effectively control the provinces. Heroin production is soaring, and, outside of Kabul and a few other cities, people are terrorized by violence and crime. A new report by the United Nations Development Program, made public on the eve of last week’s international conference, in Berlin, on aid to Afghanistan, stated that the nation is in danger of once again becoming a “terrorist breeding ground” unless there is a significant increase in development aid.
What to do? A willy-nilly increase in development aid will probably help very little. The Bush administration needs to figure out what, exactly, its goals are in the region. It seems to me that a democratic Afghanistan is either a near-impossibility, or a very long ways off. So in the interim, the best option, to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a security threat, might be to help install a strong, “enlightened” dictator friendly to U.S. interests. Second best would be an anarchic state in which none of the warlords, individually, holds too much power. This entails cutting out a major source of revenue by stomping out the drug trade, and making sure the Taliban doesn’t gain a foothold in the country.

In that case, the road to fixing Afghanistan goes through Pakistan, as members of the Pakistani military and intelligence forces have, reputedly, are still aiding the Taliban. Meanwhile, the northwest corner of Pakistan has all but transformed into a haven for Taliban forces. At the moment, the U.S. military has respected Pakistan’s claims to sovereignty and has refused to chase Islamic fighters across the Pakistan border.

All that might need to change. At this point, we should probably worry less about pushing through national elections in Afghanistan and worry more about hatching some sort of joint Afghanistan-Pakistan plan that gets rid of threats there once and for all. That might entail cracking down on Musharraf. The question, then, is how to go about doing this? And do we even have the resources to pull this off?
-- Brad Plumer 9:35 PM || ||