Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

from Global News Journal:

Afghanistan’s protracted election sours the mood

An atmosphere of stale defensiveness has sunk over Kabul. The mood has been lowered by the protracted saga of the Afghan election count, almost two months on from the first round August 20 vote. It's a drama veering towards farce more often than post-modern play, as we wait endlessly for a result, that like Godot, does not want to come.

Winter has not yet arrived in Kabul, though the evenings are cold, quickly taking the heat of the sun out of the day. Afghan politicians are frustrated and twitchy, second-guessing the reasons for the U.N.-backed election watchdog's plodding. We are being solidly methodological to retain the confidence of all, says the Electoral Complaints Commission, as it examines thousands of dodgy votes. A thankless task, most likely. The ECC officials will be puzzling over whether a box of votes has been mass-endorsed for one candidate, and should not stand, or if the suspiciously similar ticks on the ballot paper are attributable to only one man in the village knowing how to write. Many of the rural voters will never have held a pen in their hand, argued one official. It is natural in such a tribal society for the village to establish a consensus on who to support. Do such ballot papers count? Remember Florida, and how 'hanging chads' and the U.S. Supreme Court gave George W. Bush the presidency over Al Gore? It's that kind of agony.

Behind the scenes the whispers are that hesitation and delay are because the outcome is excruciatingly close, too close to call. President Hamid Karzai, once set clear for victory, may find first round success ripped from his grasp by the disqualification of votes stuffed into ballot boxes by his supporters. He'll likely win a second round, if it happens, against his former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah; but there will have been a loss of dignity, of self-confidence and of an opportunity to stabilise Afghanistan and get on with fighting the Taliban.

Other more fraught scenarios are possible, as outlined by my colleague. Would Karzai gamble that the West has no alternative to him in Afghanistan? And that he can therefore afford to ignore the opprobrium that would follow if he rejected an outcome he did not like? Or are the suspicions of chicanery, back-room pressure on election officials and string-pulling by all involved just a proliferation of nonsense to fill the void left by the lack of a clear outcome?

Tactics versus strategy in Afghanistan

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Reading the latest spate of news reports about U.S. policies in Afghanistan, one thing strikes me as troubling — the failure to distinguish between tactics and strategy. Military boffins argue about the exact meaning of those two words, but for the purposes of argument, let’s say that tactics are a means to an end, while strategy contains within it an understanding of the end to be attained.

Dust storm in Kabul/Ahmad MasoodU.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave us an idea of the end earlier this week when he talked of reconciliation with the Taliban, while excluding anyone belonging to al Qaeda. ”There has to be ultimately, and I’ll underscore ultimately, reconciliation as part of a political outcome to this,” Gates said. ”That’s ultimately the exit strategy for all of us.”

Time to think about Afghanistan end-game?

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Afghan girl in Taloqan/Fabrizio BenschBritain’s commander in Afghanistan has said the war against the Taliban cannot be won and suggested talks with the group might be a way of making progress.

“We’re not going to win this war. It’s about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army,” Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said in an interview with the Sunday Times.

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