Reporting Afghanistan

John Wendle

Archive for November 2009


leave a comment »

Legitimacy – what does that mean? If you read David Sanger’s “With Karzai, U.S. Faces Weak Partner in Time of War” you would think it has something to do with the US getting out of Afghanistan – not about the people trusting in Hamid Karzai or Abdullah Abdullah – who pulled out of a run off election yesterday here in Kabul. Sanger spends most of his time talking about how Karzai has screwed up and what this means for US strategy:

It will not be easy. As the evidence mounted in late summer that Mr. Karzai’s forces had sought to win re-election through widespread fraud to defeat his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, administration officials made no secret of their disgust. How do you consider sending tens of thousands of additional American troops, they asked in meetings in the White House, to prop up an Afghan government regarded as illegitimate by many of its own people?

And what is the conclusion that the US government has reached from all of this, according to the New York Times?:

The answer was supposed to be a runoff election. Now, administration officials argue that Mr. Karzai will have to regain that legitimacy by changing the way he governs, at a moment when he is politically weaker than at any time since 2001.

“Changing the way he governs!?”

Mr. Obama’s decision last March to add 21,000 troops was justified in part by the need to assure a relatively peaceful, fair election. The idea was to bolster Mr. Karzai’s credibility so that his authority would reach beyond Kabul, the capital.

In fact, this is the only paragraph that matters to the Afghan people in the entire article – and only the second sentence at that. What the article says, in a roundabout way, is that no one in Afghanistan cares about Hamid Karzai, except for a couple of million people in Kabul and a few more million in Kandahar province, where he is originally from – and where his brother has made a killing in the drug industry. [For more on that read “Karzai in His Labyrinth” from the NYT Sunday Magazine.] Other than that, “weak partner” means that Karzai has no power outside of Kabul and to a lesser extent in Taliban-controlled Kandahar province.

This has been born out by repeated trips to the districts in Helmand province. Karzai appoints the governor of Helmand province, who in turn appoints the district governors – so, political scientifically, the district governors (who are the real face of the government in the rural areas of Afghanistan) are just two steps removed from the president. But in fact, i.e. NOT political scientifically, there is NO link between Karzai and the districts. NO services are passed down from the government in Kabul: no schools are built, no police are trained and sent, no health clinics are set up. And it works in the other direction as well as no taxes are passed up the chain to the national coffers.

The statement that “Mr. Karzai will have to regain that legitimacy by changing the way he governs” seems like a no-brainer. But the fact is, it may be too late. In the places I’ve been, no one cares who is president in Kabul – there is no infrastructure in place for Karzai to regain legitimacy. In the same way, in my opinion, in order for the media to regain its legitimacy here, it needs to stop fixating on Kabul’s presidential politics and start focusing on the districts – the places where those additional 44,000 soldiers will be sent.

As always, the opinion expressed here is solely my own, and does not represent the opinion of my employers.


Written by johnwendle

November 2, 2009 at 8:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized