Sunday, November 28, 2010


If you've read this site for awhile, you probably know that I've been pretty critical of the whole US/NATO mission in Afghanistan; but the latest story about the Taliban imposter warlord takes the cake. In case you missed this one, here's a brief recap:

For the past few months the idea of negotiating with at least the more moderate elements of the Taliban has been gaining traction, the rationale being if more reasonable pieces of the Taliban could be peeled away and reintegrated into the Afghan establishment, it just might put an end to the insurgency. Symbol of these efforts were the ongoing negotiations with one Mullah Akthar Mohammad Mansour, a “senior leader” with the Taliban. NATO thought that Mansour was valuable enough to lay a lot of cash on him (six figures by some accounts) and fly him in for meetings with President Hamid Karzai. Sounds great, except that the “Mullah Akthar Mohammad Mansour” wasn't the real Mullah Akthar Mohammad Mansour, a fact that the coalition is just learning now. Who this pseudo-Mansour was/is – whether he was a simple scam artist, a Taliban agent or something else entirely – will remain a secret since he snuck across the border into Pakistan and disappeared once the jig was up. Beyond being hugely embarrassing for the coalition to be scammed like this, what does the pseudo-Mansour affair say about the coalition's whole vaunted counter-insurgency strategy in the first place? The core idea of COIN is that you get to know your adversary on a personal level so that you can out maneuver him in the hearts and minds of the general population; but how well can the coalition know their enemy though if they don't even realize that one of their top commanders is in fact an imposter?

The Taliban imposter story would be criticism enough of the ongoing Afghan mission, but it comes out at the same time as the results of Afghanistan's recent parliamentary elections are being made public, and while attempts are being made to present them as a triumph of democracy, it's looking like the Afghans have succeeded in running an even more corrupt election than their last fraud-plagued vote. So far Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) has managed to toss out 1.3 million ballots – about one-quarter of all votes cast and more than the million votes tossed out in Hamid Karzai's reelection last year – along with about 10% of the elected candidates. And here's where things start to get interesting: in the last election, the fraud swung heavily in favor of Hamid Karzai, ballot boxes were stuffed with Karzai votes, those for his main challenger Dr. Abdullah Abdullah were tossed out; this time the vote seems to have gone heavily against the Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group and traditional cultural elites.

One explanation being put forward is that the Taliban is also heavily Pashtun, so vote turnout was lowest in the provinces where the Taliban is most active allowing other ethnic groups, like the traditionally oppressed, but largely peaceful Hazaras, to turn out in large numbers, giving them a larger-than-expected share of the Afghan Parliament. But a simpler explanation is also emerging – a good, old-fashioned money for votes scam. There are reports in several news outlets that members of the IEC contacted various candidates and offered to give them more votes (or take away votes from rival candidates) for the right price. Backing up this claim are stories of elected candidates suddenly being told that they in fact “lost”. The situation is worst in heavily-Pashtun Ghazni province, which weeks after the vote still has no official results due to widespread claims of fraud. The situation has gotten so bad that Afghanistan's Attorney General Mohammed Ishaq Aloko announced he'll be launching an investigation into vote totals across the country as well as into the IEC itself. In other words the situation is quickly turning into Florida 2000, only on a country-wide scale and with heavily-armed terrorist militias.

And just to put a sad post-script on this whole story, check out this photo-essay from Foreign Policy of pictures of Kabul in the early 1960s, during that all-to-brief time when Afghanistan looked like it was on its way to becoming a modern, democratic, fairly-liberal state.
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