Sunday, August 08, 2004

Whither Afghanistan?

This article is the best analysis of Afghanistan's current political situation I have read in at least the last six months. It places the current situation in the context of Afghan society as a whole, rather than just the relatively westernized Kabul, and raises key questions like whether the high voter registration is a sign of true democracy taking root or regional leaders trying to maximize their own influence on the election. After all, does anyone really believe that warlords who suppress dissent in their own territories are willing to allow people to put whomever they want in charge of the country?

The issue of centralization vs. regionalism is also crucial. I had a bad feeling when it was decided to give Afghanistan a strong central government, something that has never worked there. The country Afghanistan most resembles is probably early Saudi Arabia, and for decades that kingdom was held together largely by forcibly cultivated relationships between the Saudis and regional tribal leaders. In Afghanistan, Karzai can barely muster the threat of military force, as the warlords have militias of their own. As near as I can tell, the country is held together only by corruption, as everyone wants a piece of the tax revenues and smuggling trade. Simply holding an election won't even begin to change that political dynamic - it will simply add another arena for conflict.


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