Now, Hamid Karzai has often spoken about ISAF and civilian casualties (of which there were two more yesterday,) even threatening at one point to commit national suicide by asking NATO to leave the country. Between that and completely failing to stem corruption in the Afghan government, there have been many calls to forcibly remove Karzai from power.
This would be a tremendous mistake.
More after the jump
No matter how difficult Hamid Karzai may be, we have not done our part to help this former Mujaheddin to become a chief executive of a country the size of Texas and with 30 some-odd million citizens. Just as we have conducted counter-terrorism operations in lieu of counterinsurgency for the past seven years, we have failed to properly mentor the Afghan government in administering itself. Then we point to these former warlords and fighters and express dismay that they can't effectively run a government. A good administrator would have great difficulties in properly administering anything in a country whose infrastructure, never substantial to begin with, has been mauled by over thirty years of warfare. Now an administration who objected to American interference is considering tampering with the internal structure of a government which we are supposed to be legitimizing through our efforts and expenditures of blood and treasure. This is not the way to legitimize the sitting Afghan government.
We could encourage the Loya Jirga to change the Afghan Constitution and add the office which the President of the United States is considering creating. We could actively back another candidate, like the one that the Obama administration would like to see installed as "Prime Minister." We could use our considerable financial clout to change the way that aid is administered, controlling it down to the local level and thereby pressuring Karzai to accept more help and mentoring. We can use many methods to influence the Afghan government to attack corruption.
We can also take more responsibility for preventing civilian casualties, including training COIN to the Soldier level and being the first to admit when we have made a mistake. We could make sure that compensation for civilian deaths is excessive compared to local norms, which it is not. (Just so you know, monetary compensation for a death caused by another is normal in Afghan society. It is often the decision of local courts or shuras/jirgas to award such compensation in cases that we would prosecute as manslaughter or negligent homicide, sometimes even as murder.) These are things that could be done by our civilian and military leadership to influence the Afghan government in acceptable ways.
Willful tampering in the structure of what we insist is a sovereign nation is not an acceptable way. It has been described as colonialist behavior, which is exactly the type of behavior that President Obama seemed to object to in his campaign. This is the type of shift once in power that is totally unwelcome. It would also torpedo our national objectives in Afghanistan in ways that cannot be totally foreseen. First of all, think of the boon to Taliban information operations (propadanda.) This would, along with some of our other behaviors, feed directly into Taliban assertions that the Kabul government is a puppet government. This is a central argument of the Taliban, and such an action would add great credibility to that argument.
We are, and must rightly be, held to a higher standard, even when that makes our job more difficult. We must at all times endeavor to take the high road, even when that road makes us vulnerable or our job more difficult. We are the powerful, we are the well-educated, we are the "advanced." Every bit of tampering, every bit of subversion against the sitting government, every bit of underhanded or untruthful action on our part damages us much more deeply than the daily lying of the Taliban does to them. They are insurgents; they are expected to lie, cheat, steal and murder. We are not. Not even by our own press or the press of other countries.
Witness the article about the two farmers killed near Khost yesterday. There is a multi-paragraph article about NATO and civilian casualties, even noting Karzai's statements about ISAF-related civilian deaths. The article only notes in passing that three quarters of the civilian conflict-related fatalities were not caused by coalition forces. In an article several paragraphs long, here is the note given to another incident which killed four times as many civilians, this one caused by a roadside bomb (IED) which is by definition not coalition.
Separately in Khost, a roadside bomb killed eight civilians aboard a minibus and wounded eight others, NATO-led forces said.
One sentence. One lousy sentence. We are held to a higher standard, and this standard is not limited to civilian casualties. It is also related to not tampering in the established government of our ally, the country and the government that it is our job to legitimize and who we are helping to defend (in our own best interests.) The job is tough. It is hard, and it is increasingly dangerous... due in part to our own failings as counterinsurgents both militarily and civilly. That is no excuse to stoop to manipulation on the scale of externally creating an office for which there is no provision under existing Afghan law.
Why don't we try helping to teach Hamid Karzai what a president is really supposed to do? Why don't we try to teach and support those who are teachable in each government ministry and apply strong pressure to remove those who aren't? We have not done that, and seeking the easy road is to find the road to Hell.
2009 is a pivotal year in Afghanistan. It's time to take a hard look at ourselves and objectively seek where we can do better. It's time to do our jobs, not look for the easier, softer way. There is none. Meddling to this extent will only bring more difficulty.