Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
from The Great Debate:
Last year, under the leadership of President Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan slipped three places on a widely respected international index of corruption and became the world's second-most corrupt country. It now ranks 179th out of 180, a place long held by Somalia.
According to a United Nations report published in January, Afghans paid $2.5 billion in bribes in 2009, roughly a quarter of the country's Gross Domestic Product (not counting revenue from the opium trade). The survey, based on interviews with 7,600 people, said corruption was the biggest concern of Afghans.
On the military front in a war more than halfway through its ninth year, attacks on U.S. forces and their NATO allies totaled 21,000 in 2009, a 75 percent increase over 2008, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) a week before Karzai's visit to Washington. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, noted that Taliban insurgents had set up a "widespread paramilitary shadow government...in a majority of Afghanistan's 34 provinces."
The Pentagon, also in advance of Karzai's visit (in the second week of May), reported that Afghans support his government in only 29 of the 121 districts the U.S. military consider most strategically important.
One of my Kabul press corps colleagues once described covering President Hamid Karzai’s government and the Western diplomats who are supposed to be supporting it as a lot like being friends with a couple while they go through a savage divorce. We reporters hop back and forth, from cocktail party to quiet lunch to private briefing, listening to charming Afghans and Westerners -– many of whom we personally like very much — say outrageously nasty things about each other. Usually, the invective is whispered “off the record” by both sides, so you, dear reader, miss out on the opportunity to learn just how dysfunctional one of the world’s most important diplomatic relationships has become.
Over the past few weeks, the secret got out. Karzai — in a speech that was described as an outburst but which palace insiders say was carefully planned — said in public what his allies have been muttering in private for months: that Western diplomats orchestrated the notorious election debacle last year that saw a third of his votes thrown out for fraud. The White House and State Department were apoplectic: “disturbing”, “untrue”, “preposterous” they called it. Peter Galbraith, the U.S. diplomat who was the number two U.N. official in Kabul during last year’s election, went on TV and said he thought Karzai might be crazy or on drugs. Karzai’s camp’s response: Who’s being preposterous now?
One of the reasons the big U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan’s Marjah area has slowed down is because the Marines are trying to avoid civilian casualties at all costs, according to military commanders. So use of air power, the key to U.S. battle strategy, has been cut back because of the risk of collateral damage from strikes.
Lara M. Dadkhah, an intelligence analyst, in a New York Times op-ed says troops under heavy attack in Marjah have had to wait for an hour or more for air support so that insurgents were properly identified. “We didn’t come to Marjah to destroy it, or to hurt civilians,” Dadkhah quotes a Marine officer as saying after he waited 90 minutes before the Cobra helicopters he had requested showed up with their Hellfire missiles.