Monday, March 30, 2015

Meanwhile, Back at the Mountain Ranch

As the world feels the slings and arrows of ISIS assaults in Syria, Iraq and now Libya, as suicide bombers in Yemen wreak havoc, as Boko Haram inflicts its murderous mandate in Nigeria and extreme opinions in Israel (backed in our own majority in Congress) stymie peace accords with Palestine and Iran, it easy to miss what’s happening in Afghanistan… perceived by too many Americans as “yesterday’s news.” Nothing more than a side show today. Taliban attacks continue, corruption and dependence on opium production still dominate the economy, and hope for a better elected government are fading.
Last fall, in a bitter election (with highly contested results) to replace one of the most corrupt leaders on earth, President Hamid Karzai who was constitutionally termed-out, Secretary of State John Kerry (right above) brokered what was termed a “unity government” – a power-sharing coalition – between the two main factions. “The agreement forming the new government… makes Mr. [Abdullah] Abdullah [chief opposition candidate, left above] or his nominee the chief executive of the government, with the sort of powers a prime minister normally has. While reporting to the president, the chief executive will handle the daily running of the government. At the same time, [then President-elect Ashraf] Ghani [center above] keeps all the powers granted to the president by the Afghan Constitution.” New York Times, September 21, 2014.
Eight months later, things… well… didn’t work out that way. Ghani’s approach to bringing corruption under control, at least his justification for the consolidation of power under his personal aegis, was to require all major policies and economic deals at each ministry to run completely through him. “And staff members under Mr. Ghani’s authority are even directly writing and carrying out policy for the government, leaving some ministry officials wondering what their jobs are anymore, some officials say, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering the president.
“All that, and other consolidation measures, are happening as the completion of the American-backed plan for a unity government shared by Mr. Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, remains hung up in delay and dissent, leaving many cabinet posts and governorships unfilled. It is one of the pressing issues hanging over Mr. Ghani’s first presidential visit to the United States, scheduled to begin Sunday night.
“There is growing concern, however, that cooperating with Mr. Abdullah is not high on Mr. Ghani’s list. Some critics of the president believe that he sees the continuing deadlock as a useful chance to consolidate power before Mr. Abdullah’s side can settle in — and that the president’s desire to single-handedly reshape Afghan politics could take him down a more authoritarian path.
“Mr. Ghani’s aides deny those accusations, insisting that there is no purposeful effort to centralize powers or cut out the ministries. Instead, they say that they are simply doing the work that no one else appears willing to do, and that they would welcome others’ sharing the load. They add that many of the measures are critical to cutting down on the corruption that has become endemic in the Afghan government.” NY Times, March 20th.
It’s not as if the countryside is stable and under the central government’s control. Between local warlords and Taliban territorial gains, the elected government seems to be able to count only on their hold on the capital Kabul and the environs with momentary shifts in other territories depending on the military focus du jure. And it’s not as if Abdullah, who actually may have had the majority of votes before the negotiated unit government took effect, is squeaky clean. Heavily associated with too many war lords, and unable to explain how he amassed major wealth, Abdullah seems to have engaged in some pretty flagrant domestic abuse.
Ghani, on the other hand, is an academic, formerly a frequent commentator on the BBC, PBS, CNN, etc. and served stints with both the World Bank and the UN. “His academic research was on state-building and social transformation. In 1985 he completed a year of fieldwork researching Pakistani Madrasas as a Fulbright Scholar.” Wikipedia. Does that change your view on all this? But does focused power lead inevitably to corrupt dictatorship?
“Some former officials who worked in the administrative offices of the palace, where a majority of the changes are taking place, support Mr. Ghani’s promises of change. But they worry that if left unchecked, the consolidation of power in the presidency could destroy any hope for building a functioning democratic state.
“‘Centralization can be to the benefit of Afghanistan, because you need to lead from the center,’ said Najib Amin, a former high-ranking member of the administrative offices under former President Hamid Karzai who considers himself a friend of Mr. Ghani’s. ‘But if you do it in the wrong way, it’s a recipe for a dictatorship.’” NY Times. The United States has messed with this country, imposed an American view of democracy with every touch, in a highly fractured, rugged nation where literacy is low and tribal practices haven’t really changed life for most Afghanis (except for the rather large growth of opium poppy cultivation) for centuries. But nothing the U.S. has done has actually worked or improved the lives of the locals.
I’m Peter Dekom, and the American track record for “fixing” governments following U.S. military actions over the last half century is nothing short of abysmal.

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