For the last week, targeted violence aimed at derailing the transition to Afghan control has plagued Afghanistan. In the wake of the death of Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the provincial council in Kandahar province and brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as well as another high-level assassination, the U.S. and the broader International Security Assistance Force should focus on the need to improve governance so that it relies on institutions, not individuals. Such a shift can assist the transition that began this week, symbolized by the promotion of Marine General John Allen to the commander of forces in Afghanistan and initial transfers of provincial control to Afghans. If the Afghan government is going to keep control of the country, the focus should shift to finding a political solution, both among the parties in Afghanistan – including the Taliban – and regionally. As NSN Senior Adviser Maj. Gen. (ret.) Paul Eaton notes, “Rebalancing American and ISAF efforts from an almost-exclusively military focus to a more balanced approach that values diplomacy and political solutions is long overdue.”
This week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in the U.S. meeting with President Obama and other Administration officials, in a visit that is expected to "look to the future, not the past." The Afghan President and his cabinet will meet with their American counterparts to discuss governance, security, economics, as well as the vision for a long-term U.S.-Afghan relationship. Beyond the media attention paid to the personal relationship between Obama and Karzai, the Afghan President's visit comes after reports indicating that the U.S. is encountering mounting challenges to key aspects of its strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan.
Building on a week of major domestic and foreign policy successes in both health care and arms control, where he played an active, hands-on role, President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan to show that the war remains a top priority. In particular, Obama used the occasion to press Afghan President Hamid Karzai to root out corruption in his government. His visit came on the heels of a month of dramatic activity in Afghanistan. Major challenges continue to face the international coalition that is working to stabilize Afghanistan. For such challenges to be overcome and for the President's Afghanistan strategy to be a success, his Administration must not repeat the mistakes of its predecessors, who allowed their attention to drift.
The last few weeks have highlighted significant obstacles to the Administration's efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Karzai, whose rule is already overshadowed by widespread allegations of corruption and vote-tampering, has encountered new difficulties in working with the Afghan Parliament. The President and his team must maintain focus, holding the Afghan government, and more importantly itself, accountable, creating the conditions for a transition away from a large-scale military presence, and resisting the calls for limitless commitment that Al Qaeda is happy to promote.
Even as deliberations over the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy continue, and President Obama traveled in Asia, notable steps in the Afghanistan – Pakistan region set the stage for productive US efforts, with senior officials encouraging their partner governments to step up. This weekend, Secretary of State Clinton used strong language to pressure the Karzai government to act against corruption, a tough stance followed by the Karzai administration’s launch yesterday of a new anti-corruption initiative. National Security Advisor Jones visited Pakistan to convey support for the government’s recent offensive against militants, along with a letter from President Obama urging continued resolve. Steep challenges of governance, security, and managing delicate national pride remain in both countries. This week’s events show the Administration squarely focused on a core part of any successful strategy: motivating the Kabul and Islamabad governments to take the lead.
The political situation in Afghanistan is in disarray after Hamid Karzai’s take of the national vote in the August presidential election was reduced to below 50 percent and U.N.-backed investigators found extensive fraud, which should trigger a run-off election. However, the Karzai government appears to have rejected this next step, creating uncertainty about the way forward. The investigation has also cast a long shadow over Karzai’s legitimacy as Afghan president and American partner. It is crucial that the Afghan legitimacy crisis be resolved for American strategy in Afghanistan to be on solid footing.
While the chaos caused by the electoral fraud casts severe doubts on building up a legitimate and capable Afghan partner that is able to govern the country effectively, conservatives continue to press aggressively for a military solution. Fortunately cooler heads are speaking up, as Senator John Kerry (D-MA) said this past weekend from Afghanistan that “It would be entirely irresponsible for the president of the United States to commit more troops to this country when we don't even have an election finished.”
Reports this morning that election oversight officials in Afghanistan put President Hamid Karzai’s vote total below 50 percent make it increasingly likely that a runoff election between him and his nearest challenger Abdullah Abdullah will take place. This revelation not only confirms that extensive fraud occurred on Karzai’s behalf, but severely undercuts the legitimacy of the election process and potentially the future government.
As President Obama meets today with Pakistani President Asif Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and the Pakistani Army prepares for a new offensive on the Swat Valley, there is little question that instability in Pakistan presents one of the most urgent threats facing the United States. The priority must be on looking forward – supporting Pakistan’s governing institutions and its military in fighting the insurgency and helping stabilize the country.
It has become increasingly clear that many of the terrorists involved in last week's Mumbai attacks came from Pakistan and belonged to the Kashmir-focused terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). While it seems unlikely that there was any official knowledge or connection between the Pakistani government and these specific attacks, Pakistan does bear significant responsibility.