Democracy and stability in Afghanistan? These are lofty goals. There are few peoples so impoverished, few countries so war torn, and few collective psyches so beaten up. To meet an Afghan is to meet someone for whom a state of war has been permanent for most of his or her life; someone who has suffered the worst of imaginable human governance by way of the Taliban; someone who endures the harshest weather in the world's most inhospitable terrain. The average Afghan is tough and proud and hardened in a Mad Max wasteland that oftentimes bears closer resemblance to the moon than any recognizable place on earth. (I found the average Afghan villager to be almost heroically kind and naturally generous; those fortunate enough to have employment may earn only a pittance, but will still insist on preparing tea and food for a guest.)
Having faced invasion, upheaval and conquest since Alexander the Great crossed the Hindu Kush, it is hard to begrudge Afghanistan its much-needed peace.
But after eight years of nation building, it is difficult to envision Afghanistan as a nation. Its borders, though drawn in stark black lines on any given map, are porous and volatile, and face incursions by Iranian operatives from the west and Pakistan-harbored fighters from the east.
And while the people of Afghanistan may technically
reside within the boundaries of a Western map, there is little
patriotic sentiment to be found outside of that which has been
expressly fashioned and bolstered by the international community. The
presidential election on August 20th will serve to measure whether the
country's last traces of national will were crushed by the Soviet
Union, obliterated by the Taliban, and exhausted by a global occupation
with no end in sight.
Afghanistan might best
be described as a collective of far-flung villages with a few small
cities built for effect. While progress has been made in training an
army and building a police force, the successes of Hamid Karzai's
administration diminish as the geographic proximity of Kabul increases.
In many ways, the political machinations of the capital are as
important to the farmers of Konduz as an ordinance in New York City
matters to El Paso, Texas. With no promise of security on election day,
and daily threats made by the Taliban to those who might otherwise
participate, Afghan villagers are asked to choose between survival or
democracy. With survival always on the forefront of a villager's mind,
whether it is food, shelter, heat in the winter, or water in the
summer, the act of voting for a perceived nonexistent government might
seem needlessly provocative.
a professor of political science at Tulane University, argues that the
choice in many ways echoes the 2005 elections in Iraq, when al Qaida
violence reached a crescendo. While conceding that Taliban intimidation
is unhelpful, he submits that terrorist coercion is a doomed strategy.
"Twelve million purple fingers showed that people would not be cowed
Paradoxically, as the
Taliban works to undermine the Karzai government and the electoral
process, it ultimately offers Karzai his greatest advantage in the
election. The primitive barbarism, unbridled brutality, and medieval
stupidity of the Taliban's rule is not forgotten, and but for a few
small enclaves, not welcomed by the Afghan people. Karzai, as longtime
public face of the Taliban opposition, is the natural beneficiary of
Taliban violence. An election successful even by modest standards is a
rebuke to the gangster regime of old, and proof that a sustainable
state is possible and welcome.
legitimacy will also depend greatly on overcoming Karzai's failures of
governance, and ISAF's criminal negligence in securing and fostering
infrastructure projects. The completion of the Ring Road, a two
thousand mile highway system connecting the major towns and villages of
Afghanistan would have alleviated the logistical nightmare of
conducting this Friday's election.
the electoral disasters of Broward County, Florida. Now take away
roadways and the rule of law and add terrain better suited to a
post-apocalyptic revelation. Group that with a fearful populace and
a zealous insurgency eager for target practice, and the murky
proposition of an indisputable vote becomes clear.
assuming the best, there is little evidence that US strategy in
Afghanistan will substantially change under either Karzai or his chief
rival, Abdullah Abdullah. For the foreseeable future, the United States
and the international community will serve as keystone of the Afghan
state. Though Afghanistan's army is proving to be moderately effective
when utilized, it still relies heavily on US Special Forces guidance
and US infantry support, and cannot function without US air mobility.
Any movement by an Afghanistan government to eject the United States or
ISAF would lead to an immediate and irreversible self-annihilation of
The international mission in
Afghanistan is still in its infancy yet. The days ahead will
demonstrate Afghanistan's resolve for peace and stability. The years
ahead will demonstrate America's.
Grady is a freelance writer and novelist. He served as a paratrooper
with the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force in Afghanistan
from 2006 to 2007. His debut novel, Red Planet Noir, is due in
bookstores this November. He can be found at http://www.dbgrady.com.