Abdullah Abdullah Withdraws from Runoff

On Sunday,  Hamid Karzai was declared the winner of the presidential run-off election in Afghanistan, which was scheduled for Nov. 7, after his last remaining challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew. Mr. Abdullah cited his belief that the election process would be fraudulent as the basis of his decision to withdraw. Evidence of widespread fraud in Mr. Karzai’s favor partially invalidated the results of the first round of balloting on Aug. 20, which initiatlly gave Mr. Karzai the number of votes needed to win another term as president without a runoff.

The US, the UN and other members of the international community have congratulated Mr. Karzai for his victory. But there are concerns that many Afghans view him as an illegitimate leader at a time when the Obama administration is considering deploying an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan to fight insurgents who are trying to overthrow the weak central government.

The Karzai administration has been corrupt and ineffective. But Western officials continue to back Mr. Karzai because they do not see a better alternative. Like Richard Gere’s character in An Officer and a Gentleman, the West believes it has no place else to go.

To date, the US has spent nearly $250 billion on the war effort, but the results have been disappointing to say the least. There are only 50,000 Afghan soldiers capable of fighting insurgents independently, and the national police force is corrupt and incompetent. Economic development has been slow because of the violence, and the security situation is deteriorating rapidly. Thus far, attempts to create a strong central government capable of securing the country and delivering services have failed.

Perhaps a new approach is needed. As an alternative to trying to build up Mr. Karzai and the government in Kabul, the US and its NATO allies could work closely with tribal leaders and other local powerbrokers to combat the Taliban. Training tribal militias might be quicker and easier than trying to beef up the Afghan National Army because there would be fewer ethnic tensions and tribal leaders are more respected than government officials. Militiamen would also have the advantage of knowing the local terrain and people better than soldiers from other areas, and they could be counted on to stay in their localities permanently and prevent the Taliban from carrying out reprisals against those who cooperate with anti-Taliban forces.

There is no guarantee that a bottom-up strategy would work in Afghanistan, but there is a good chance that it would yield better results than efforts to create a strong central government given the history of the country and the social conditions there.

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