Paddy Ashdown’s is one of the most distinct voices on Afghanistan; and although he resembles a crazed Cockleshell hero when in full flow, he provides much needed clarity. In an op-ed in this morning’s Times, he writes:
‘It is at the political, not the military, level that we are failing. And if we did not have enough problems already, we now have a Government in Kabul whose legitimacy has been fatally damaged and for whom respect has reached a new low. The international community invested hugely in blood and treasure in the recent elections, but only the Taliban have taken a dividend from them.
One might deal with the problem of the legitimacy of Karzai by making him matter less, through shifting our emphasis from national institutions to local ones. We have been trying to make a Western-style centralised government work in a country whose traditions have been local and tribal for 1,000 years. There are local elections next year. Could we turn the present Karzai problem into an opportunity, by rebalancing the government of Afghanistan away from Kabul and towards more local structures?’
There can be no doubt now that the coalition is seen by some as an occupation force, propping up an unpopular central government, the continuation of a historical narrative extending back to the 1970s. Yet Nato repeats its mistake like Gordon Brown trots out tractor statistics. Localism, not centralism, is the route to securing lasting security, and will not require such reliance on a corrupt central police force. Karzai’s success, and indeed aspects of the Taliban’s success, is instructive – bribing and flattering unsavoury local warlords is Afghanistan’s political currency. Nato must acknowledge that it is not dealing with the political culture of the Home Counties and apply Afghan solutions.