Saturday, June 07, 2003

One possibility on Iraqi WMD's that seems all over the blogosphere but no so much in the mainstream media is the idea that they may have been looted, as discussed in this post by Matthew Yglesias. Whether that is possible I will leave for others to say.

The RFE-RL Daily Afghan Report has contained some disturbing information recently, as does this New York Times article. Abd ar-Rashid Dostum was recently summoned to Kabul to assume a new post, but is refusing to leave his power base in the northwest where he has a few thousand loyal fighters. In my Afghanistan seminar of a couple of years ago, Dostum became our poster boy for the corrupt, self-aggrandizing and often brutal warlord.

This issue highlights a core problem in the Afghan reconstruction efforts: What is Karzai's means of unifying the country? As became clear from Bob Woodward's Bush at War, the most important early factor was money - we hired the warlords as mercenaries, and set up a state on the theory they would learn to profit from stability. However, they see their real power in their armed forces, and Dostum knows that if he loses that connection he becomes less worth the attention of the different power blocs.

One thing to remember about Afghanistan is that even before the civil war there was never much central control by the government...the concept of the nation-state taken for granted by Western policy-makers really doesn't exist there. Hence, Karzai's main tool, a plea for Afghan unity to become a modern nation-state, may not be the best tool for the job, even worse than the Taliban's religious ideology. The government needs to sell itself as the guarantor of stability and prosperity, which requires military forces to make it safe to run an economy. And the famous "Afghan army" has been slow to develop indeed.

As it is, I worry that the Afghan government may be trying too much too quickly politically. The RFE-RL-reported leaks about the Afghan constitution say it will call for a strong central government. In the absence of a basis for unity on the ground, trying to write it into the constitution is a serious mistake.

A follow-up to yesterday: Muhammad Dahlan denies reports of a weapons buy-back program. He also offered Hamas confrontation if they won't talk. As I noted a lot at the time, Abbas's power struggle with Arafat centered largely around Dahlan; let's hope he knows what he's doing.


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