Friday, October 22, 2004

Progress in Afghanistan

On Saturday October 9, a major victory was scored in the War on Islamist Terror. Unlike many of the earlier successes in this struggle, nary a shot was fired. This was the day the people of Afghanistan, both men and women, defied the barbarous threats of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and went to the polls by the millions to seek a better future for their country. In so doing, they dealt a major blow to the forces of jihadist terrorism.

The Afghan election was an unprecedented event in that troubled nation's history. The people of one of the Islamic world's poorest, most backwards countries made clear their overwhelming desire for democracy and a free, prosperous society. No, the election was not perfect, but under the circumstances it was a remarkable success, and clearly represented a massive rejection of the Taliban, exposing them as the hated fringe that they are.

This October 15 article from the Christian Science Monitor analyzes the scope of the Taliban's defeat:

The election was a psychological defeat for the terrorists," says Zalmai Rassoul, chairman of the Afghan National Security Council and a senior adviser to President Hamid Karzai. "[Osama bin Laden's deputy] Ayman al-Zawahiri said that half of Afghanistan is under the control of the Taliban, but if that was true then how could we hold the election in Zabul, in Kandahar, in Helmand, in Khost, in all the regions where the Taliban are active? This was a big defeat."

History may mark Oct. 9 as the death knell of the Taliban as a military force. Or maybe not. This is Afghanistan, after all, where violent guerrilla movements have a way of surging and receding with the changing seasons. But while most Afghans agree that the Taliban are increasingly unpopular, and clearly unable to deliver on their threats, some intelligence officers and former Taliban themselves say that it is too early to declare victory. Finishing off this three-year insurgency may require equal measures of amnesty, negotiation, and occasional shows of military might - and more important, a stable government in Kabul free of corruption.

The Taliban have laughably tried to explain away their inability to interfere with the election as due to their reluctance to harm fellow Muslims. Like that's ever stopped them before. If you believe that one, e-mail me, and I'll put you in touch in with some people in Nigeria who can help you make some quick money.

As the New York Times noted in an October 19 analysis, there were several factors involved in the success of the Afghan elections:

The success of the Oct. 9 election, experts and officials said, stemmed from three things: an aggressive American-led security and reconstruction effort in Afghanistan in 2004, pressure on neighboring Pakistan to rein in Taliban remnants, and most important, a passionate desire among average Afghans to choose the country's leader through a peaceful, democratic election.


Afghan security officials and Western diplomats said the single most important factor in the success of the election may have been average Afghans. Exhausted by decades of war and buoyed by a sense that the country is finally heading in the right direction, they tipped off the authorities about possible attacks and generally embraced the concept of using elections to resolve political disputes peacefully.

A sea change in Bush administration policy in Afghanistan was also credited with aiding the election. After being heavily criticized for paying too little attention to Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, the administration pumped $1.76 billion in reconstruction funds into the country in fiscal 2004. After blocking the expansion of an international peacekeeping force in 2002, Washington now advocates it. After initial leeriness toward nation building, the United States is deeply engaged in it.

In 2004, the Pentagon nearly doubled its forces in Afghanistan to 20,000 from 11,000, deploying small military reconstruction units across the country and marines to scour unstable southern areas. American-financed initiatives also trained thousands of Afghan soldiers, police officers and civil servants.

As the Times article makes clear, the Taliban have become a fringe movement, wards of the global jihadist movement with little support in their own country:

A senior Afghan intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, and Mr. Pashtun, the Kandahar governor, said the leaders of the rump Taliban resided in the Pakistani city of Quetta, and were receiving a steady flow of cash from outside Pakistan, namely the Middle East.

"The Taliban are a tool, or means, being used by Al Qaeda," Mr. Pashtun said. "Al Qaeda is the brain, and this is just the hand of it, the muscles."

The organization is still capable of opportunistic attacks to scare away aid agencies and prevent reconstruction, particularly in the country's still struggling rural south, United States military and government officials caution. And while the movement has funds, a potential safe haven in Pakistan and the ability to move across the long and porous border, it can continue to produce a troublesome, low-level insurgency for years to come, they say.

The defeatism in some quarters regarding Afghanistan has been almost as pronounced as in regards to Iraq. Shortly before the elections, the left of center Carnegie Endowment for International Peace breathlessly proclaimed that "We Are Losing the War in Afghanistan":

It has been called the forgotten war. What seemed two years ago to be a shining example of American military power and international leadership is now a growing morass. The Taliban is back, Al Qaeda roams the countryside and Osama bin Ladin mocks America from his mountain redoubt. Assassins in the last week barely missed killing both the president and the vice-president in separate attacks on this fledgling democracy’s government.

Yes, there are problems in Afghanistan, and the election will not change things overnight. The Taliban are still a threat in some areas, the warlords are a problem, and the opium trade is definite cause for concern. Still, the Carnegie analysis smacks of baseless negativity and a distressing lack of perspective.

For example, they state that "the rate of attacks on international military forces, humanitarian aid workers, and Afghan civilians is increasing. 2004 has been the deadliest year thus far for American troops." Increased casualty rates, while tragic and regrettable, are hardly a suitable yardstick for measuring progress in war. In World War II, the rate of casualties among US troops in Europe actually increased from March to April 1945, yet no one would argue that we weren't winning the war. The reason we have had more casualties in Afghanistan this year is because, as noted above, we now have more troops in that country, who have aggressively hunted down and rooted out the Taliban. The late August elimination of a top Taliban commander is just one success among many. The damp squib that was the Taliban's anti-election offensive shows that these efforts have been very effective. The notion put forth in the Carnegie analysis that the "Taliban is back" and "Al Qaeda roams the countryside" has been exposed as nonsense by the failure to disrupt the election.

As far as the other problems in Afghanistan, it is ridiculous to expect a society that endured a decade long genocidal war of subjugation by the USSR, followed by over a decade of brutal civil war and dictatorship to turn into Switzerland overnight. There will be difficulties, and progress will come slowly. Noticeable improvements, though, are occurring. As journalist and frequent Bush administration critic Peter Bergen wrote on September 23:

According to a poll taken in July by the Asia Foundation, President Hamid Karzai is drawing substantial support around the country. He has emerged not only as a popular leader, but also as a shrewd player of the kind of hardball politics that would have warmed the heart of Lyndon Johnson. This summer he dropped his running mate, Mohammad Fahim, a power-hungry general who had pompously awarded himself the title of field marshal after the fall of the Taliban. And this month Mr. Karzai forced Ismail Khan, the governor of the western province of Herat, to resign. These moves not only neutralized two powerful rivals, men who could field their own private armies, but also increased the stability of the central government.

What we are seeing in Afghanistan is far from perfect, but it's better than so-so. Disputes that would once have been settled with the barrel of a gun are now increasingly being dealt with politically. The remnants of the Taliban are doing what they can to disrupt the coming election, but their attacks, aimed at election officials, American forces and international aid workers, are sporadic and strategically ineffective.

A day later, Oxblog posted this analysis from a contact in Afghanistan:

But the political skill demonstrated by Karzai since July, and the popularity he clearly possesses, are reason for optimism. Afghans themselves are optimistic. The country has passed its major political challenges reasonably well since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 – forming a transitional cabinet, drafting and approving a constitution, maintaining a steady civilian government in Kabul. The next milestone, Afghanistan’s first free presidential election in over a decade, also looks to be a qualified success. For now, that’s quite an achievement.

Finally, just this Monday, Arthur Chrenkoff posted yet another of his detailed roundups of positive developments in Afghanistan:

'The People Win'

In short, for all the problems and difficulties involved, we are indeed winning in Afghanistan. As long as we persevere, there is no reason that we cannot finish the job and score a huge blow against the radical Islamists.


Post a Comment

<< Home