Phi Beta Iota: RYP wrote this in part to react to Abdullah’s cavalier rejection of the Iraq scenario playing out today, for Afghanistan. His over-all point is that both candidates — Abdullah and Ghani — have pluses and minuses that voters and donors must consider BUT that there is only one clean candidate capable of reintegrating the Taliban in a sustainable manner. Abdullah equals civil war and the diviison of Afghanistan into a wealthy north and west controlled by Iran and an impoverished south and east overseen by a complacent Pakistan. If we are to honor the blood, treasure, and spirit that America and others have devoted these past twelve years, then all forms of fraud must be rejected, Iranian covert operations in support of Abdullah must be countered, and the public allowed to elect — as it has — the clean candidate. Now we move to the count. If the USA is to act in accordance with its democratic principles, it cannot allow Karzai and Daudzai to get away with the Iranian-funded fraud that is known to be positioned to deliver 55-45 for Abdullah instead of the actual vote closer to 60-40 for Ghani. Here is his last thought on the subject, part of an afterthought at the end of this post:
Abdullah is at best a proxy for the Panjshiri businessmen and aligned kleptocrats and at worst a weak person who will be killed by the ISI. Ghani may not have the overwhelming support of the Karzai crowd but with power and patience comes reconciliation amongst the Deobandis and the new generation . So lets all hope the election is for him.
Robert Young Pelton
Freely Available for Re-Publication with Attribution to the Author
The election in Afghanistan is important. Very important. Although candidate Dr. Abudullah insists that the events in Iraq won’t happen in his country he is very wrong. Let me tell you why.
The Taliban already control much of Afghanistan.
I was with the Taliban in 1996 when they took over Kabul. They didn’t fire a shot. The Pashtuns welcomed them as they swept north from Spin Boldak because they eradicated corruption, extortion and unwarranted privilege. Afghanistan today is a kleptocracy with the current constitution allowing President Hamid Karzai and his cronies to appoint all senior positions. Nationwide. I spent five weeks doing missions with a Special Forces ODA last year. It was a sobering experience. I learned first hand when a U.S. FOB is closed the Taliban quickly move in with trainers, financiers and recruiters to set up a shadow government. Since the Afghan commandos don’t have air support they cannot react quickly to attrit talib infiltrators. That was the only check we had on infiltration in the North where the talibs are not generally welcome.
The system is hated by the people.
Afghanistan has always had a democratic system. Tribal relations and the rule of law were hotly discussed topics due to the complex inter-linkage between tribes. Insult or aggrieve one person and you suddenly have a tribal blood feud that can last for generations. Judges are appointed by one man, they make money from bribes and it is quite normal for even convicted prisoners to have their cases magically “reviewed” and then quietly released. Karzai has already emptied out the hundreds of prisoners in Bagram that NATO and U.S. forces spent years rounding up.
There will be blood.
It is no secret that the Taliban are rigid and inflexible in their goal to create a Pashtun Sunni Caliphate that extends from the tribal areas of Pakistan to the Hindu Kush. They have already extended their reach into remote areas like the Wahkan corridor and the far North West corner of the country. The Taliban have been crystal clear in their message. All foreigners out. Unite all Afghans. Invoke the harsh tribal form of Sharia. Sadly this also includes the deaths of Shia Hazaras, the flight of millions of newly educated and affluent Afghans and return of the country to the 7th century
Pakistan is evil.
Pakistan harbors not only al Qaeda but three major groups (Hek, Haqqani and the talibs) who wreak havoc on Afghanistan. For decades we believed their intelligence and paid the devil’s price because they are an unstable, nuclear monotheist country bent on a death dance with neighboring India. To Abdullah’s credit ever since I first met him in the mid 90’s with Massoud he has said that the Tajiks have been at war with Pakistan. If he wins, his life expectancy, like his former boss or Rabbani is short.
Iran is not evil.
Much of U.S. foreign policy has been “anti-Iran”. Afghanistan cannot ignore its Western neighbor and Iran has invested heavily in this election. Dangling offers of $500,000 and more for traditional partners to split up and run against each other and eager to create a Shia/minority bulwark against Pakistan. This can only mean one thing. That there will be a seismic shift as Iran’s shia/minority Afghan proxies battle against Pakistan’s Pashtun/Sunni proxies.
We screwed up.
When we first attacked using air power, the CIA and a few Special Forces ODA we found that the Taliban quickly folded. In fact it took three weeks until the Taliban formerly approached General Dostum to surrender in Qali Jangi.
We then followed a tired fictional narrative of Afghanistan needing a Pashtun from royal lineage to run the country. So Karzai was our man. As one clued in member of Afghanistan’s minority asked me. “If this is so, why is a black man running America. Touché. Perhaps Afghans understand democracy more than we do.
Pay attention to history.
When the Russian left they estimated they needed about 400,000 men in security positions to maintain order when they left. Similar numbers were estimated for Iraq. In Afghanistan there are now just under 400,000 men in security positions (army, police, local guards) and ATR Consulting found that 80 percent of Afghans thought that the government was in control with similarly strong levels of trust in the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
The same polling company found that only 12.7 percent of men — and 1.6 percent of women wanted the Taliban to return. In the south the numbers double in support for the Taliban. What they didn’t ask was what if they didn’t have a choice? Because the Taliban are already here. There are an estimated 30,000 known insurgents inside Afghanistan and thousands more waiting in Pakistan. What is usually buried or omitted in the polls is the overwhelming support of peace talks with the Taliban (83% of those polled in 2010) with an eye towards integrating them into the Afghan government.
What they don’t want to talk about is the early 90’s when the paychecks stopped and those trained men quickly reverted to their tribal or local allegiances. You are seeing the future of Afghanistan (or a replay of the 90’s in Afghanistan) by watching the recent news from Iraq.
The war has already started.
When I was with a Special Forces ODA who rode on horseback. I saw the power of asymmetrical warfare through the coordination of cavalry attacks and air strikes. But I saw something more impressive. The grass roots activity that quickly put the North back together again. The Taliban surrendered, the villagers began rebuilding, old enemies put their self-interest aside, and the North quickly expanded. When the Americans began to stop direct kinetic activity I watched as Afghan Command units would take two weeks to respond to desperate calls from outnumbered troops being attacked by the Taliban in the mountains.
Ignorance is our only enemy.
I watched General Abdul Rashid Dostum pushed the Taliban out of the north. I also watched Massoud’s Panjshiri’s carefully bilk the CIA out of millions as they waited for the Taliban to flee. (Something like $60 million was given to various Afghan groups by the CIA. When the government was set up the tiny group of Panjshiris had unusual control of the fledgling Afghan government. All of those senior figures are wealthy. But when Karzai ran for a second term, he did not ask Abdullah to help him. He called on General Dostum to return from Turkey. They both contributed $200K to the election campaign in the north and Dostum delivered 42% of the clean votes that put Karzai into office. All Dostum wanted was a dozen government positions for his appointees. Karzai screwed him.
We constantly focus on the poor Pashtun south as the “center of gravity” for Afghanistan. But it’s not. The north is the dynamo, the educational and industrial future for the country. The very fact that the minorities have learned to deal with each other politically and historically will drive that Taliban out and Afghanistan forward.
There will be war in Afghanistan. The South is already lost. Kabul and the north will be the battleground. It is a very likely scenario that the great Turkic crescent that runs from Western China, through Afghanistan, the “stans” and all the way to Turkey will join forces with the Shia and Iran to battle the Pashtuns, Pakistanis and al Qaeda below the Hindu Kush. Both candidates will gladly sign the Status of Forces agreement but how much blood and treasure will America and Europe expend in Afghanistan? It will be up to former military commanders like Dostum to offer the carrot and wield the stick to convince recalcitrant tribes to join together for a peaceful Afghanistan. He did this in a very similar scenario when the Russians abandoned Afghanistan in the late 80’s and early 90’s. As Kabul was destroyed by Abdullah’s mentor Massoud, Dostum saw the writing on the wall and retreated to the north creating a prosperous, peaceful ministate.
Things will change
The current constitution will be changed. Dostum has spent a decade building a massive grass roots political system. He told me he would pick a candidate that would promise to give power back to the majority by putting the decisions and budgets in the hands of the Wolezei or lower house of elected representatives. Currently people elect their own reps but they are powerless under the current constitution. Dostum and Ghani will change this. A federal system similar to what was created in Iraq is also very likely if the Taliban make major gains in the south.
The election is never over.
Afghans embrace the elections with zeal and passion. The media will be awash with photos of old men and women with ink stained fingers. An estimated 60 percent of the 12 million people eligible to vote turned. But they also know the power of night letters, kidnappings, executions and threats. The media does not report that it costs $10,000 to buy a polling station in the south and that entire villages are paid to vote for one candidate. While we focus on the vote we do not see the Taliban shadow government, the corruption, extortion and fear that exist in many areas. They do not see the hundreds of thousands of educated Afghans who have already left for Europe and the US. All knowing full well what is about to happen.
History does repeat itself.
Afghan politics are easy to understand. If there is a meeting of minds there will be concessions and peace. If there is a hard-line approach, there will be violence. Right now the Taliban is the gorilla in the room. There is no talib candidate. There is no rural Pashtun crowd pleaser. Dr. Ghani does not man dance the atan and neither does Dr. Abdullah in his stump appearances. Up in the hills, out in the remote hinterlands are men dancing around fires while elders discuss their plans. Those men will decide the future of Afghanistan.
RYP Afterthought on Tajik/Panjiri Implosion:
Abdullah told me back in 96/98 that he was ‘half Pashtun”. More to assuage people from thinking the Panjshiris were inbred, I guess. The racism part also stems from the constant hackneyed analysis of Afghanistan as a “tribal conflict” which it isn’t. It is a conflict of perverted self-interest and regional meddling.
Phi Beta Iota: We cannot understand why the obvious election fraud is not being contested by experienced international observers on the ground. We have no doubt that exit polls will show that Ghani won easily, in part because the Afghan public understands the points being made by Robert Young Pelton in his above commentary. We note with interest that there have been no exit polls — this does not bode well for Ghani, since exit polls along with preliminary polls are a primary measure for exposing and countering fraud.
Robert Steele: Ghani Wins by 6% or More — 5,000 Mullahs for Ghani, Karzai Frantically Trying to Deal, Abdullah Promising Millions (But Out of Cash), with Pakistan Destabilizing to Stave Off Durand Line Challenge by Afghanistan
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