What are we to make of the latest episodes in the far-too-long-running soap opera that is the government of Afghanistan? And why can't we, as the chief sponsor, simply cancel the show?
As Bob Herbert notes in his New York Times column, no one seems to be watching anyway. Isn't that the normal rationale for axing a bad show? Seven American soldiers die in one day in Afghanistan and the news is submerged under an oil slick, a horror caused by the corporate greed, incompetence, indifference, and possible criminality of BP, which, by the way, makes hundreds of millions of dollars supplying overpriced petroleum products to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Casualties there are mounting, costs are out of control, and the plot line, if there ever was one, seems to have been lost. No one knows where the story is headed except on, and on, and on.
The Afghan lead, Hamid Karzai, is the perennial favorite for the Emmy for Best Costume, but his lines of dialogue seem to be ripped from old Marx Brothers scripts. He has, at various times, threatened to run away and join the Taliban, accused NATO of providing helicopter limo service to Taliban leaders, and invited America's Public Enemy Number One, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to tea at the Arg Palace. Lately, as reported by Dexter Filkins in the June 12 NYT, he appeared to suspect the U.S. of staging a rocket attack on the loya jirga, or grand assembly, that met recently in Kabul. The body of evidence pointed straight to a Taliban faction led by Jalalhuddin Haqqani, but Karzai scoffed at the facts as presented to him by his director of intelligence, Amrullah Saleh; minutes later Saleh and Interior Minister Hanif Atmar resigned in disgust.
The soap opera's cast of characters, all vying for the lead role, include the ISI, the shadowy Pakistani intelligence apparatus; the various factions of the Taliban; and of course Osama bin Forgotten, who was once the archvillain of the drama but who now seems almost irrelevant. He appears to hold fewer and lower cards than anyone in this latest version of the Great Game for control of Afghanistan.
The "clear strategy" for Afghanistan promised by President Barack Obama has not yet made an appearance in the script. In fact no one can even find the script, if one exists. If this show were on Comedy Central it would fall into the category of "improv." But despite some of the gag lines uttered by Hamid Karzai it's no comedy. It's a tragedy, a terrible waste of lives and resources, and no one seems able to bring down the curtain.
The success of the vaunted "surge" operation in Marja has turned out to be ephemeral. The Taliban, who never went very far away, are back and once again in control of large swaths of territory there. Now the coalition forces are aimed at Kandahar, but not for a military "offensive," as originally stated. The latest mumbled ad lib mentions something about reconstruction.
Let's face it: the current Afghan government, Afghan National Army, and Afghan National Police are all hopeless and show every indication that they will remain hopeless very far into the future. The loya jirga, whose 1,600 delegates were mostly Pashtuns, as are the Taliban, generally endorsed President Karzai's call for a political settlement with the Taliban, seeing a military victory unachievable. If such a thing comes about it will of necessity involve Pakistan, which has housed, clothed, fed and armed the Taliban for years; it may also cede de facto control of Afghanistan to Pakistan for years to come.
Or it might produce a very different outcome. Retired Pakistani brigadier Asad Munir, writing for the online edition of the Daily Times, a liberal Pakistani newspaper, said:
Pakistan is likely to play a very significant role in the peace process. It should, because a peaceful and stable Afghanistan would minimise the terrorist activities in Pakistan.
But perhaps the general should be careful about what he wishes for. There's a chance that giving the Pakistan-based insurgents a lead role in a peace process would encourage them to set their sights on Islamabad as well as Kabul. And that could mean a sharp rise, not a decrease, in terrorist activities in nuclear-armed Pakistan.
The above might be taken as a rationale for the U.S. and NATO forces to remain in Afghanistan. But our continued presence there, with its over-reliance on military action, creates more problems than it solves and is a terrible drain on our blood and treasure. The producers of this turkey have a clear choice of what words to put on the big screen. It's either The End - or, The Endless.