Thursday, August 27, 2009

What sort of victory do elections in Afghanistan represent?

The article in the European Voice is ironically titled "A milestone for democracy?" Of course, that is how the election in the Afghanistan is being presented in the US press, but this conclusion requires a fairly tortured understanding of the word "democracy."

An AFP article presents some blunter assessments, including one analyst's opinion that the Taliban were successful in their effort to restrict the turnout for the election. Because the voter turnout was so low, it's questionable how much a mandate any winner can claim.
As the article makes clear, the main objective is to preserve what stability there is at the government, in order to allow the military to impose stability on the ground. To me, this appears to be one of those situation while there are surely individual heros on all sides, none of the forces can claim strong moral high ground.

While I am have not interviewed Taliban members, I have read enough interviews by journalists I respect to conclude that they are, in fact, brutal toward the Afghani population and their purported foes. The Americans have committed their share of atrocities, often through sheer stupidity and hubris. The Europeans have not assumed their share in finding a solution to a problem that has large implications for them, not just the Americans. The Russians are out of the current fight, but they committed innumerable war crimes in their last foray into Afghanistan. The current government of Afghanistan is thoroughly ridden with corruption, and the so-called "army" of Afghanistan has demonstrated little ability and less inclination to oppose the Taliban.

I doubt a military "victory" can be achieved here, not in the conventional sense. Even some American military experts and lawmakers have voiced this opinion. So what is the solution? What type of accommodation is possible with a foe so reviled, and that hold views so inimical to Western thought? On the other hand, is Afghanistan really where we should be fighting? We want to protect ourselves from Al Qaeda, but is Afghanistan the right place to accomplish this goal. And can total war be waged against a foe that is not clearly distinguishable from the supporting population? Do we have to destroy Afghanistan to save it?