The South Asia Channel

Legitimacy and the Afghan Army

By Steve Coll I’ve got a new post on Think Tank on the legitimacy of the Afghan Army. When Margaret Warner interviewed Hillary Clinton on Newshour on Monday, Clinton said that no matter what the Obama Administration decided about its Afghan strategy or the numbers of troops required, it would not send new troops until ...

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By Steve Coll

I’ve got a new post on Think Tank on the legitimacy of the Afghan Army.

When Margaret Warner interviewed Hillary Clinton on Newshour on Monday, Clinton said that no matter what the Obama Administration decided about its Afghan strategy or the numbers of troops required, it would not send new troops until the disputed Afghan presidential election is on a clear path to resolution.

The logic here is easy to understand. American strategy until now has been rooted mainly in counterinsurgency doctrine. That doctrine is premised on strengthening the effectiveness of a legitimate Afghan government. The allegations of electoral fraud against President Karzai, as well as the continuing uncertainty about whether there will be a runoff vote, and how the opposition leader, Abdullah, will play his hand, mean that it is unclear what sort of government American counterinsurgency doctrine can attempt to support.

There are several plausible scenarios, which range from bad-but-not-disastrous to holy-crap. The least bad would be if, after a credible investigation of electoral fraud, Karzai was nonetheless declared the winner of the first round, Abdullah agreed to join a new unity government, and the international community then helped Karzai and his loyal opposition undertake deeper electoral reforms aimed at preventing a recurrence of fraud in the future. A similar outcome after a runoff round might mean greater instability for a few months, and the risk of another conflagration at ballot-counting time, but perhaps this would be bad-but-manageable. However, whether there is a runoff or not, Abdullah might ultimately refuse to recognize Karzai’s legitimacy as president and refuse to participate in the cabinet or even in parliament, and Karzai might, for his part, encourage such a split. There are some Afghan opposition figures-not Abdullah, but at the provincial level-who have even threatened an open revolt against Karzai if they conclude his reelection was stolen.

Read the full thing here

Steve Coll
is the president of the New America Foundation and a staff writer at the New Yorker.

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