Today, The New York Times revealed:
News Analysis - KarzaiThe two men who resigned over the weekend, Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and the intelligence director, Amrullah Saleh, had strong relationships with American and British officials and were seen as being among the most competent of his cabinet members, said several Western officials in Kabul. Mr. Saleh, in particular, had built an intelligence agency that the West had come to depend on in a region where reliable partners are hard to find, they said.
Their ready dismissals have left the sense that, in trying to ensure his own survival, Mr. Karzai will not hesitate to make decisions counter to the interests of his staunchest Western allies or the Afghan government as a whole, or even to make decisions that seem counter to his own long-term interests.
This development does not surprise me, but it renews my concerns about U.S. policy being overly reliant on Kabul and Mr. Karzai. What I noted in a November 2009 discussion (http://www.debatepolitics.com/breaki...post1058360373 (Official: Obama wants his war options changed)) on U.S. strategy planning for what led to the troop surge in Afghanistan, namely its Kabul-centric orientation, is worth restating.
Although I agree that additional manpower is needed, I believe a full discussion needs to examine, among other things, the past experiences concerning Czarist, British, and Soviet forces in Afghanistan, the failure of earlier "surges" to bring about a stable outcome, and Afghanistan's historically decentralized framework in which tribal leaders/local institutions play a larger role than its central government. Former Soviet President Gorbachev's warning, while unpleasant, goes to the heart of the convergence of Afghanstan's history and lack of governance structure. The Soviets had much greater manpower and much freer operating constraints and still failed to pacify Afghanistan.
Currently, Kabul is defined by corruption, cronyism, and incompetence, if not leadership that may not adequately represent all of Afghanistan's various ethnic or tribal groups. Afghanistan remains closer to a failed state than a viable national unit. The leadership issue is one that the military planners need to address. In the wake of previous failed strategies, they have a genuine burden to address the issues as to why the previous troop surges in Afghanistan, including one from earlier this year, proved ineffective, why their earlier plans failed to foresee how events unfolded to date, why one should have confidence that the outcome this time around will be different given Afghanistan's historic experience and current dynamics. They need to identify who specifically will be the key tribal leaders whose efforts will be leveraged in implementing the plan and how reliable have they been in the past. They need to identify what local institutions will be relied upon to complement the efforts of the additional troops, among others.
Although I continue to hope for the best in Afghanistan, the deeply flawed focus around Mr. Karzai undermines prospects for U.S. success. Given the strategic importance of a successful outcome in Afghanistan, I believe this latest development only adds to the urgency of a policy correction there. Otherwise, the gains in Afghanistan will be less than otherwise might have been possible and there will remain a risk that they could be lost altogether in the more distant future.