Yesterday, the Pentagon released a 152 page report on the progress being made in Afghanistan by U.S. and NATO forces. The progress, positive as it is, comes with caveats, the biggest of which is the Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Now it looks like we've been through this before: earlier this month there was a bit of a PR fiasco when Karzai was bad mouthing the hand that feeds and the hand started having mixed reactions. The White House officially stated that Karzai was a respected partner (i.e. necessary and tolerated evil) and would continue working with him.
Where the majority of previous Karzai criticisms were accepted ad hominems, the Pentagon measures Karzai's effectiveness by polling citizens in the 121 Key Terrain and Area of Interest Districts on their support for and perception of the effectiveness of the Afghan government. Only 29 of these districts held Karzai and his government in any amount of positive light. Reasons? Corruption and inefficiency. None of this is particularly new but this is an official report citing a survey conducted by the military with the Afghan civilian populace. We no longer have Ambassador Eikenberry shouting fraud, we have the Afghan people themselves expressing extreme discontent. This also isn't the public scuffle of a few weeks ago.
The unclassified report comes barely two weeks before Karzai's Washington visit, giving Obama significant leverage in that meeting. I wrote about Karzai and his outbursts when they occurred and suspected they might be a grab for legitimacy and some politicaly leeway, but with this report it can be argued that Karzai has little legitimacy as it is--at least in these important districts. Karzai's poor reputation, coupled with the relative military and security progress mentioned in the report, gives him little wiggle room with which to respond.
All I can say is I hope Obama reacts harshly in private. I'd like to see some of Karzai's funds getting flagged if the corruption doesn't abate. Obama needs to push for more transparency or even force it. We can criticize Karzai all we want, but this man's put up with it for a while and still gotten away with pretty much anything. At this point I don't think we risk deligitimzing the Afghan government more than Karzai already has.
Obama wants to see Afghan security forces taking over operations and security by 2011? They damn well better be in someone else's hands and not Karzai's.
(From the Executive Summary:)
Key Terrain Districts (80): Defined in military terms as those areas that afford a marked advantage to whichever party controls them – are those districts where the bulk of the population is concentrated, and that contain centers of economic productivity, key infrastructure, and key commerce routes connecting such areas to each other and to the outside world. These districts roughly follow the line of the three major highways in Afghanistan through the most densely populated portions of the country.
Areas of Interest (41): In general, these are districts that, for a variety of reasons, exert influence on Key Terrain districts to a degree that renders it necessary to focus information collection and operational resources upon them to support operations in the Key Terrain districts.