The Economist has an article on the recent election in New Zealand’s current region of conflict – Afghanistan.
The title of the article says it all really, so that is the title of the post. But here are a selection of depressing quotes from the article to make people realize why this is currently a conflict with no perceptible realistic outcome.
Across Kabul, turnout was sluggish. But at Haji Janat Gul the lack of voters had not dented the tally of votes. Only an hour after voting began, 6,000 had been cast. Yet not a voter was in sight. Staff insisted that the 6,000 had all come at 7am, when polls opened: ‘The Taliban said that they would cut off the fingers of people voting so they came early.’
This was impossible. Typically it takes four minutes to vote. For 6,000 to have voted in an hour at the 12 ballot boxes, they would have had an average of seven seconds each. The Electoral Complaints Commission later received allegations that the ballot boxes had been stuffed for President Hamid Karzai before polls opened, at the instigation of a local MP and tribal leader.
Indeed some unstable areas have returned more votes than early estimates of turnout would suggest. In Helmand, for instance, Western officials believe that in the district of Garmser about 5,000 people voted. But the ballot boxes arriving in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, contain about 20,000. In Musa Qala the discrepancy was between 9,000 and 18,000. Mr Hadee, the IEC official, now says that turnout in Helmand was 25%. Some Western officials reckon 20% of votes nationally may be fraudulent.
This feels like the Vietnam war all over again. NZ is sending combat troops in to support a government made up of warlords and corrupt politicians. At present we seem to be doing it at the behest of a US administrations which have little or no idea about what they are trying to achieve. The Economist leader says “Helping build a credible government is as important as fighting the Taliban“, but there appears to be little effort by anyone to make that happen.
The US general commanding the NATO operation in Afghanistan seems to have the same issues about the mission. He is calling for a new strategy. About the only good news is that the Taliban leadership in their base in the tribal areas of Pakistan are playing a robust game of internal politics. However that will make little difference to the turmoil and insurrection inside Afghanistan where the insurrection appears to be very locally organized.
Our soldiers and civilians who are there will be doing a good job, as they always do. The question really is one of the politics of outcomes. To date, John Key and Murray McCully have not managed to articulate any vision about why we’re sending troops to Afghanistaniania (as John Key helpfully renamed the country).
Murray McCully in a recent and dreadfully uninspiring speech in the house seemed to say that the reason we’re there to protect our tourists from terrorism. But that merely fits with his usual style of convoluted and ineffectual logic. He also said that we’d be withdrawing the military component from protecting the civilian component over the next 3 to 5 years. That hardly seems likely if we’re trying to help to move a country from this type of election to stability over the same time period. It is simply fatuous waffle.
The government needs to articulate a clear understanding of why we have a presence in Afghanistan and what we hope to achieve there. It has to have more substance than simply greasing up to the US for trade concessions. The last government did articulate a far better rationale and took actions consistent with it, including withdrawing the SAS when they were not required. A lack of a clear rationale will cause a widespread movement to pull both the infrastructure mission and troops out when we get a body bag arriving home.
I support our continued presence in Afghanistan for a number of reasons. However brown-nosing the US for trade reasons is not one of them. To date McCully does not seem to have a better reason for putting our people in danger for.
PS: Could his minders also get John Key a simple book on the country and force him to read it. It is embarrassing to explain to people that this in fact our PM when he doesn’t seem to know bugger all about where our troops are going into combat there.