The Free Press, Mankato, MN


June 18, 2014

Our View: The Afghan challenge has changed

Why It Matters: As the United States draws down its military presence in Afghanistan, critics fear we're leaving an open field for the Taliban's return.

Afghanistan held its presidential runoff election over the weekend, and, as was the case in the first round of balloting, the turnout was reportedly high (some 7 million votes cast) amid a relative lack of violence.

As Kevin Sieff of the Washington Post reported this week, the Taliban is not a viable threat to the Kabul government. It can make attacks, it can cause pain, but it cannot overthrow the government.

The most realistic threat to the Afghan government is ... the Afghan government.

Whoever is declared the winner when the vote count is announced next month, be it former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah or former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, needs to clean up the corruption and incompetence of the outgoing administration of Hamid Karzai.

The West's tendency is to view Afghanistan largely through the prism of our immediate concerns, which is terrorism. We went to war there because the Taliban provided shelter if not outright aid to al-Qaida as it planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks.

But the realistic issue there is domestic. It's establishing a legitimate, competent government in a "nation" long resistant to such an entity.

The United States has spent considerable blood and treasure in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past 12-plus years. It will leave Afghanistan as it left Iraq: with a militant presence not entirely quashed, but sufficiently weakened that the new government should be able to cope with it.

That didn't happen in Iraq. Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, followed a policy of sectarian division. He alienated the Sunnis and created an environment in which the militants could regenerate. The crisis in Iraq today is political rather than military; al-Maliki failed to establish a government worth fighting for, and so his army didn't fight as the militants captured city after city.

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