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Bergen on Afghanistan

I agree with Andrew Sullivan: Peter Bergen is very credible, so his upbeat report on Afghanistan is worth taking seriously. Nevertheless, there seem to be some factual problems. Bergen:

Over the last three years, however, most of the important militia leaders, like Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum of the Uzbek community in the country's north, have shed their battle fatigues for the business attire of the politicians they hope to become.
Today's Arman-e-Milli (an independent Kabul-based daily):
The forces of General Abdur Rashid Dostum and Ustad Atta have again fought each other in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Three men from each side reportedly were killed in the fighting and one was injured.
This summer he dropped his running mate, Mohammad Fahim, a power-hungry general who had pompously awarded himself the title of field marshal after the fall of the Taliban. And this month Mr. Karzai forced Ismail Khan, the governor of the western province of Herat, to resign. These moves not only neutralized two powerful rivals, men who could field their own private armies, but also increased the stability of the central government.
But how "neutralized" is Fahim. From today's Hewad, a government-run paper:
Corps Number 203 was officially established in Gardez, Paktia province, and the commander of the corps was introduced. In the ceremony marking the occasion, Minister of Defense Marshal Mohammad Qaseem Fahim said the National Army is not involved in any political activities but exists to serve the nation.
As reported with official spin, that's good news, but it certainly doesn't make Fahim sound neutralized. It sounds a lot like he's Minister of Defense, which is exactly what he was before this alleged neutralization. That's just the portions of Bergen's op-ed that are contradicted by today's edition of the Afghan press monitor. Who knows what tomorrow will hold?

September 23, 2004 | Permalink


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» Peter Bergen on Afghanistan from Daniel W. Drezner
As a follow-up to my last post on Bush's commitment to democracy promotion, it's worth pointing to this New York Times op-ed by Peter Bergen (link via Andrew Sullivan, who characterizes Bergen as "by no means a Bush-supporter."). The highlights:... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 24, 2004 2:57:16 PM


Well he's wrong about the Asia Foundation survey. It was not taken in July. Here are the details about the poll:

The study was commissioned by The Asia Foundation in order to provide detailed, quantified information on the knowledge and attitudes of Afghan citizens regarding their country’s forthcoming elections. The questionnaire was developed and the report prepared by Charney Research, a New York polling firm, with fieldwork conducted by the Afghan Media Resource Center (AMRC) of Kabul and technical assistance provided by AC Nielsen India Org-Marg of New Delhi. Craig Charney, Radhika Nanda, and Nicole Yakatan of Charney Research authored the survey report. Interviews were held with 804 randomly-selected male and female Afghan citizens, aged 18 and over, in both rural and urban areas. These interviews were conducted in the appropriate languages, either Dari or Pashtu. Trained Afghan interviewers conducted all interviews, with men interviewing men and women interviewing women. The margin of sampling error for national-level results is +/-3.5%.

The survey was conducted in 29 of the (then) 32 provinces between February 22 and March 13, 2004. (Three provinces, Nimroz, Uruzgan and Ghor, were not reachable due to security concerns or inaccessibility. Together, these provinces make up 6% of the population.)

This was long before Doctors Without Borders left.

Posted by: Randy Paul | Sep 23, 2004 3:21:19 PM

As reported with official spin, that's good news, but it certainly doesn't make Fahim sound neutralized. It sounds a lot like he's Minister of Defense, which is exactly what he was before this alleged neutralization.

A little Google goes a long way, but you didn't do enough Googling to know what you're talking about.

Fahim is currently the First Vice President and Minister of Defense. He was expected to also be on Karzai's ticket as First Vice President (they currently have 4 VPS I believe, and have two VP slots on the ticket for the upcoming election). Karzai dropped him from the ticket as First VP. Accordingly, while he is still in office, he is a lame duck (at least as far as the VP position goes).

Have you heard of lame ducks before, Matthew? They are generally fairly powerless... in other words, they might be termed "neutralized".

Posted by: Al | Sep 23, 2004 3:54:06 PM


Fahim is hardly "neutralized". He commands the largest militia in Afghanistan today (outside of the National Army). Within Afghanistan, he is widely held to be the most disruptive element against disarming "the warlords". In other words, he's the most powerful warlord. According to people who work for the UN's DR (disarmament and reintegration) Program inside Afghanistan, Fahim controls between 10,000 to 20,000 militia members. It is unclear how many are currently armed for battle or ready to be called up (like reserves), but it is clear that militia members with loyalties to Fahim have refused to disarm.

Furthermore, Fahim has refused to induct his militia members into the Afghan National Army for fear that he would lose control over them.

The US initially agreed to fund Fahim and the other warlords' militias after the Taliban were dispersed because they felt that the power vacuum would create great instability, as well as problems for US troops who were operating in Afghanistan hunting down Al-Qaeda and Taliban. The funding was supposed to be temporary until an Afghan National Army was ready. However, since Fahim stands to lose from this, both by losing funding for his militia and losing power to the central gov't, Fahim has hindered the disarmament process as well as hindered the proper training of the Afghan Army (even though nominally he is the Minister of Defense).

Just an FYI ...


Posted by: shaitaangul | Sep 23, 2004 4:18:34 PM

U.S. Hand Seen in Afghan Election
Some candidates say the embassy pressured them not to run against President Karzai. American officials deny the accusations.

Los Angeles Times (subscription)

Posted by: salbert | Sep 23, 2004 6:05:07 PM

I'm wondering if he is also wrong about Ismael Khan "resigning" his governorship. I've googled quite a bit and can only come up with Khan being engaged with fighting another western warlord and being very pissed off that the National Army under Karzai is treating each side of this regional conflict like they are both renegades. I'm going to look around some more, but I would be pleased to learn that the central Afghan govt is finally puttting the squeeze on Khan. He has forbidden women to go to school again, enforced that horrid burka, and collects more "taxes" on commerce than the national govt.

Posted by: Abigail | Sep 23, 2004 6:06:37 PM

The Khan stuff is legit. After a period of struggling he's now sitting in his house in Herat greeting supporters and plotting a comeback.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Sep 23, 2004 6:36:01 PM

Wow, people are actually talking about Afghanistan in this election? That seems so... serious.

Posted by: PG | Sep 23, 2004 7:18:26 PM


Ismail Khan is actually a popular leader in Herat, for unlike the other warlords, he has reinvested a significant amount of the customs revenue back into reconstruction. Furthermore, his militia does provide much more security than the roving mafia bandits of some of the other warlords. That being said, Khan has declared himself the "Emir" of Herat, and basically runs the place very much like a feudal lord seen in the 1500s in Europe. He holds court in his administrative office and people come to him directly and appeal for his intervention or aid.

The central gov't got tired of this and basically demoted the guy.

Posted by: shaitaangul | Sep 23, 2004 8:06:37 PM

OT: What happened to the Atrios website.

Posted by: Dan the Man | Sep 23, 2004 9:19:23 PM

Atrios website is - intermittenly - hacked.
Sometimes you get the proper website.
Sometimes you a strange 1/2 black and 1/2
white portrait of Bush. (arrgh ... not TOS)

Posted by: pragmatist | Sep 23, 2004 9:46:31 PM

I just want to know that opium production won't be interfered with. As for the burqa, didn't you all see the cover of Time and Newsweek? Nobody has to wear burqas in Afghanistan any more. Please don't be messing with simplistic storylines about freedom enjoyed by tens of millions of American consumers. You could try printing that type of information in a French newspaper.

Posted by: John Isbell | Sep 23, 2004 10:56:01 PM

If this story is true, I think it's wonderful. I've always maintained that the best thing we've done in both of Bush's wars is install Hamid Karzai. He has hardly been an American puppet and we've denied his additional aid requests on a pretty regular basis, so it's clear that most of the rebuilding has originated from within.

I did find it interesting that the only mention of US troop presence in this article is at the Kandahar airport base. Either the rest of the country is so stable US forces are not needed to provide additional security or they are not welcome. Reports of of the Taliban regrouping in the East on the Pakistan border and the booming opium poppy crop seem to indicate that our troops may not be very safe outside the military base.

I also might mention that Osama Bin Laden, who Bush once wanted "dead or alive," is still at large, probably somewhere on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. Presumably this can be explained because "he hides."

Posted by: Matthew Brothers | Sep 24, 2004 9:59:08 AM


Glad to see your taking comments again. It seems to me you're setting the bar for success in both theaters of the WOT a little bit higher than you would have under Clinton or Gore -- we never promised to turn either place into Santa Barbara, CA in 18 months - but as an average citizen of either country I'd rather live with the current prospects than what came before.

Posted by: wayneseib | Sep 24, 2004 10:28:46 AM

" . . . but as an average citizen of either country I'd rather live with the current prospects than what came before."

You might wanna speak to some Iraqis before sprinting ahead with this claim, made, I'm guessing, in place where electricity runs 24/7, where foreign jet fighters are not bombing yr. neighb, where local gangs are not blowing up bldgs and kidnapping the local teen girls, where sewage doesn't flow down yr. street, where DU isn't mixed liberally with the dirt in yr. yard . . . and so on.

Posted by: santo | Sep 24, 2004 10:44:22 AM

I think we have been doing as well as could be expected in Afghanistan. We left the warlords in power, but the alternative would have been fighting them all, and this might have led to a civil war that left things even more screwed up than in Iraq. The future path (if Karzai can do it) is to change things slowly: at first, to hold the warlords' behavior to some moderately civilized standard, and then to gradually reduce their power. The corresponding process took centuries in the West, and expecting to accomplish it in three years in Afghanistan is the height of optimism.

Of course, the situation is still unstable, and could deteriorate quickly, but so far we seem to have made decisions that didn't result in a total disaster. Does anybody know how this happened? Did the neoconservatives not have an ideological stake in Afghanistan, and thus let the State Department wage the peace according to their plans? Or were we just lucky?

Posted by: Peter | Sep 24, 2004 12:34:23 PM

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