Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Afghanistan, the Lesser Mess

As the administration focuses its attention and resources on the mess it has created in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan continues to worsen.

Sixty percent of Afghanistan's 30 million people are under 20 -- without the foggiest notion of what democracy stands for. Thirty-seven countries are involved in normalization and reconstruction -- with different agendas; some 2,000 nongovernmental organizations or NGOs (out of an estimated 25,000 worldwide) are now represented in Afghanistan. A former Afghan minister, speaking privately, said, "They spend over half their time coordinating among themselves.... The Afghan tango is now known as one step forward -- and three steps backward."

The Shia suburbs of Kabul are now under the control of Iranian or pro-Iranian agents. The capital city has mushroomed from 400,000 at the time of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America to 2 million today. Some 500,000 acres of public land was seized and sold for the benefit of the entrenched bureaucracy. To control this vast country of 30 million would require several hundred thousand troops. The U.S.- and allied-trained Afghan army numbers 20,000 instead of the 35,000 projected by now.

The consensus forged in the heady days of liberation in December 2001 is broken. Fear of the B-52 bombers is gone. And today's Afghanistan is totally insecure, so much so it has already been promoted to the ranks of failed states -- except for an all-pervasive opium culture that keeps Afghanistan from sinking into total chaos.

The illicit opium poppy industry is, according to a former minister in President Hamid Karzai's government, "a pyramid structure. If ever there were a management prize for the perfect supply chain," it would go to what generates from one-half to two-thirds of Afghan gross domestic product. He said there are "25 mafia dons at the top of the pyramid who control the key power levers. The Interior Ministry is owned by the drug industry." In Helmand Province (40 percent of the country's opium production), Taliban fighters protect poppy farmers from eradication efforts -- and extract millions of dollars for their services.

Apparently, Afghanistan is now a consensus nation - that is, a country held together by the consensus of foreign governments and Western aid groups. As such it is untenable. The Karzai government that President Bush once took such pride in, barely controls the Kabul buildings it occupies. Nation-building has apparently failed to forge anything approaching a working (or workable) national government. The relative calm of Afghanistan - in comparison to bloody Iraq - has kept the media from asking pointed questions about the status of U.S./Allied efforts there. Talk of the resurgent Taliban, regrouping in Pakistan (the fountainhead of most Muslim terrorism) dominates the discussion, but there is little examination of the long term situation in Afghanistan. The questions that need to be asked include whether it is possible to create a functional national government - since the Afghans seem to have neither the ability nor the inclination to try - and what the U.S. should do in the event that forming such a functional Afghan government is not a realistic likelihood. The U.S. can not afford to spend decades and billions more trying to turn Afghanistan into a dustier, more mountainous version of Minneapolis. Another fool's errand in Central Asia is not in America's long-term interest.


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