Monday, August 31, 2009

Surprising? No. Disappointing? Yes.

It is hardly shocking that significant electoral fraud may have occurred in Afghanistan. But it is disappointing nonetheless. No one expected a perfectly clean election or anything close to it, but systematic fraud may be another nail in the coffin. Support of the mission in the West is declining--no doubt. But success in building a stable political system--stable enough so that the violence decreases--actually does not hinge so much on Afghanistan becoming a democracy but on a perception of legitimacy and of competence. This election does not do much to help then.

When people talk of reduced expectations, of moving away from armed statebuilding to something less, they can and do point to the challenges of one of the three key "pillars" of the effort--governance. Just as in Iraq, we can expect in the medium term that the international forces will get a handle on the violence--that this new surge is likely to work. But it can only provide breathing room for governance to develop. And just as in Iraq, we may find that despite the difficult of the fighting, the military side will appear to be easy when compared to figuring out and actually reforming the police, the Ministry of Interior, and the rest of the key elements of the government.

To be clear, some patience is required, as this all takes time. The question of the day after tomorrow (after the election) is how will the President (probably Karzai) will govern. So far, it is not looking good.

One of the purposes of having a blog is to force me to think through various issues--such as which Indiana Jones movie was the best. And it has been useful here for clarifying, for me anyway, the challenges ahead. Again, I will stubbornly stick with the notion that we have not really tried hard enough yet to get it right and that some patience is required and that leaving is as complicated as staying. But, unlike my critics in the comments section of the Globe and Mail, I can see the strengths of the competing arguments.

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