December 21, 2008

Sarah Chayes went to Afghanistan to report for National Public Radio just a few weeks after 9/11, then stayed to become one of the few Westerners running a business there. In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post she wrote that the big problem in Afghanistan isn't the resurgence of the Taliban. That's just a symptom of an epidemic of government corruption and the consequent failure of the rule of law, a gap which the Taliban are doing a better job of filling than either Karzai's government or US-led military forces.

In an interview with Bill Moyers on Friday, she expanded on her article.

SARAH CHAYES: Our democracy is famous for one thing in particular, checks and balances. That was the genius of the American system.

BILL MOYERS: Rule of law.

SARAH CHAYES: Rule of law but also recourse. If one branch of government is abusing you, you've got other branches of government that you can turn to.

BILL MOYERS: And Afghanistan?

SARAH CHAYES: Doesn't. So what we've really done is set up a kind of monopoly on the exercise of power. I mean, it's the opposite of what everything that we consider to be democracy, we've allowed an abusive concentration of power in the hands of, in particular, the executives, be it, in particular, on a local level like the provincial governors and their acolytes. Because we've convinced ourselves and often we have to - by "we" I mean us and our NATO allies - convince our own public opinion that this is a democratically elected representative government of Afghanistan in order to justify the sacrifices in money and troops and things like that. But the Afghans see it differently. The Afghans say you brought these people in here. We repudiated-

... SARAH CHAYES: The ordinary population. The people I work with are villagers. They're semi-literate, illiterate, these are really ordinary men and women. And they all are telling me, "You brought these people back into Afghanistan. We had repudiated them in the early 1990s. We knew what these people are. They're"-

BILL MOYERS: Warlords, right?


BILL MOYERS: The criminal class.

SARAH CHAYES: Exactly. So you brought them in and now you're backing them up. And you are making it impossible for us to make our voices heard and to have any leverage on the behavior of these people.

The Obama administration has said that it will dramatically increase the US military presence in Afghanistan, and Admiral Mike Mullen told reporters in Kabul on Saturday that there will be up to 30,000 more US troops in the country by midsummer. Which will go some way to treating the symptom - that resurgent Taliban presence - but won't get at the underlying causes at all. Instead, those troops will help prop up the criminals and warlords currently in charge of the official Afghan government (even President Karzai's brother is widely accused of being heavily involved in the opium trade but protected by the government) while continuing to alienate the common Afghan people through indiscriminate attacks on civilians. In turn, the Taliban's hand will continue to strengthen as people turn to what is actually the lesser of two evils - and the whole cycle renews itself indefinitely.

Thanks as ever, to Heather for the vid clips.

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