The Karzai Problem

Doubts about the political legitimacy of Afghan President Hamid Karzai abound as the Obama administration is debating whether to send as many as 40,000 more American troops to Afghanistan.  Mr. Karzai claims he won the presidential election in August, but the outcome was marred by what Kai Eide, the top UN representative in Afghanistan, described as “massive fraud.”

The Electoral Complaints Commission, which was formed by the UN in accordance with the Afghan Electoral Law, is investigating reported irregularities.  But yesterday, Mustafa Barakzai, one of only two Afghans on the committee, resigned because he felt excluded from deliberations and thought that foreigners had an undue influence on the process, according to local news reports.  Grant Kippen, the head of the commission, said that such claims were invalid, but Mr. Barakzai’s resignation could ironically bring into question the legitimacy of the committee responsible for assessing the legitimacy of the election results.

Peter Galbraith, Mr. Eide’s former deputy, believes that the commission will probably declare that Mr. Karzai did not receive enough votes to avoid a runoff with his closest opponent, Abdullah Abdullah.  It is unclear if Mr. Karzai or the Independent Election Commission, which Mr. Galbraith referred to as a “pro-Karzai” organization, would accept such a conclusion and agree to participate in a second round of voting.  (More information about the Afghan electoral dispute can be found at

In addition to allegations of election fraud, the inability of Mr. Karzai’s administration to provide security and basic services to Afghans, as well as rampant official corruption, have made it difficult for the government to maintain popular support.  Mr. Karzai is mockingly referred to as the “mayor of Kabul” because his authority is weak outside of the capital.  This lack of confidence in the Karzai regime complicates coalition efforts to neutralize the Taliban.  Winning the “hearts and minds” of civilians is a critical component of classical counterinsurgency doctrine, which Gen. Stanley McChrystal is trying to implement in Afghanistan.  Deploying more American troops there will not be sufficient to defeat the insurgency if the US does not have a legitimate political partner to work with in the war-torn country.


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