Afghan apathy

"Afghan apathy" Continued...

Issue: "The Purge," Sept. 12, 2009

Karzai himself has made no secret of making deals with warlords, especially in the election runup. When Gen. Rashid Dostum, the Uzbek military commander with a reputation for extreme brutality, returned from Turkey in August to campaign on Karzai's behalf, U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke called his presence "appalling." Dostum is accused of ordering and destroying evidence of a massacre of 2,000 Taliban fighters who surrendered to U.S. and Afghan forces in 2001. Another reputed Uzbek warlord, Nagiballah Amani, is Karzai's minister of water and energy affairs.

Joya does not believe bestowing titles on the militants confers reliability: "After 9/11 they united but now they are against each other for power." Nevertheless, such alliances, she said, are a key reason Karzai signed in February a controversial law governing Shiites, who make up less than 20 percent of Afghanistan's population. Besides barring Shia women from having custody of their children, it permits child marriage and prohibits a woman from refusing to have sex with her husband unless she is ill. President Barack Obama called the law "abhorrent," as did many international groups, but Joya and others say Karzai pushed the bill through parliament to win votes from minority-and extremist-factions who endorsed it.

Despite distasteful alliances, Karzai continues to win approval from allies abroad and voters at home who fear the country's further unraveling under someone else. But Joya said she believes "the silence of good people is worse than the action of bad people," and that stay-at-home voters were signaling their distrust of the current regime and the two lead challengers, both of whom held posts under Karzai.

One reason Joya's campaign resonates with growing numbers of Afghans is that they are her generation. Median age in the country is 17.6 years old. "This is a young population, and many young Afghans would like to see a break from the former warlords that still loom so large over the political scene here," said Rachel Reid, Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch.

To retain his grip on power, Karzai "has relied more and more on doing deals with the old power brokers, former warlords, fundamentalists," she said. "To move the country forward there needs to be a real break with the past, a more democratic and transparent way of governing. Only then might he earn the support of the people and rely less on the support of criminal networks and warlords."

To average Afghans the incumbent is steadfastly arm-locked to the United States. Six weeks into the U.S. invasion in 2001, he became chairman of the transitional administration. He served as interim president from 2002 until he won election in 2004. He now symbolizes to many not only a stagnant political operation but an unending war led by U.S. forces.

That war is likely to get hotter before the year is out. U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, scheduled to deliver a war assessment in Washington by Sept. 1, is likely to formally ask for more troops. With post-election deaths of U.S. soldiers, the U.S.-led NATO coalition has lost more soldiers and Marines this year than in all of 2008. And August is likely to be the deadliest month for American troops since the war in Afghanistan began nearly eight years ago.


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