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When You Sleep With...

Against the backdrop of the replacement of top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan with Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal by Defense Secretary Gates, as well as the recognition that Pakistan teeters, there is the stark pronouncement by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that he plans to power share with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a warlord who is on the U.S. "most wanted terrorist" list.

This really should not be surprising. Almost from the moment when NATO assumed the lead in Afghanistan, the concern has been whether Karzai lived or died at the "pleasure" of the warlords. Travel back in time, and a reasoned position would have been that:

1) The Taliban had not been defeated and therefore weren't gone from Afghanistan;
2) The Warlords hadn't been neutralized;
3) The tribes, especially in the mountainous region were a dangerous and unstabilizing element in Afghanistan;
4) The future of Afghanistan was still unfolding

This power sharing deal follows the announcement that Mohammed Qasim Fahim, another warlord, was to be Karzai's running mate in the upcoming elections in August 2009. Fahim has been cited numerous times for human rights violations and for his involvement in massacres and other criminal activities.

"All the people most responsible for getting Afghanistan into the mess it's in are coming back," said a western diplomat.

None of this should be news since reports from 2003 from the Council on Foreign Relations and 2005 from the Government Accountability Office both raised questions of the stability of the Karzai government outside of the capital of Kabul. From the CFR report:

Although Karzai is trying to assert his authority outside Kabul, he lacks the means to compel compliance by recalcitrant warlords and regional leaders who control most of the countryside. Current policy for the 9,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan rules out support for Karzai against the regional warlords and also active participation in the planned effort to demobilize the 100,000-strong militias. In the Afghan setting, where the United States has the primary military power, this approach is mistaken and leaves a dangerous security void outside Kabul

The resurgence of the Taliban was among the themes of the Afghanistan Study Group's Report in January 2008.

The most immediate threat to Afghanistan comes from an anti-government insurgency that has grown considerably over the past two years....the Taliban rely on terrorism and ambushes, launching over 140 suicide bombings in 2007, with numerous attacks in the heart of the capital, Kabul....As a result, the prospect of again losing significant parts of Afghanistan to the forces of Islamic extremists has moved from the improbable to the possible.

As the next months unfold and the August election approaches it will be interesting to see how this power sharing arrangement will work out. The fragility of the Afghan government is apparent, although the implications may be less severe than the possibilities of Pakistan failing. But it needs to be recognized that tribalism, and not democracy or federalism, rule in a country like Afghanistan.

One thing however seems certain, "when you sleep with dogs, you could get fleas." Then again, maybe its sort of a "life insurance policy."