Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A preemptive plea against praising Karzai

By Peter Henne

I'm interested to see what the reaction will be to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's ban
on private security companies. Karzai is apparently tired of sharing the legitimate use of force in Afghanistan, and has ordered all such actors to cease operations within four months. This includes notorious US-based companies like Xe (formerly known as Blackwater), as well as Afghan groups.

The Washington Post covers the usual concerns. Many worry that this move will undermine what little stability the country has, strengthening the Taliban as the people turn to them for protection. At the same time, there have been notorious incidents of private security firms killing civilians and ignoring local regulations, so criticism of these groups is hardly unreasonable.

I anticipate this action being cheered by many on the left. Private security forces have become a symbol of Bush-era failures. A move away from their use could be seen as correcting for international overstretch in US foreign policy; see my colleague
Fouad Pervez's useful analysis for more on this point.

I share these concerns about the use of private security forces. At the same time, anyone who has read anything I've written should not be surprised when I say I don't agree with criticisms of US military interventions; I think they are often necessary, if tragic, and am hesitant to join in a call for a withdrawal from Afghanistan. At the moment, my biggest criticism of the war is over whether our troops should be fighting to prop up this guy.

What worries me about Karzai's move is that the distaste for private security forces may lead some to perceive Karzai as a champion for seemingly-progressive values. Instead, this ban needs to be seen for what it is: the latest in a string of cynical and self-serving policies by a leader who seems more concerned about his own prosperity than the welfare of his people or the international forces fighting to secure Afghanistan. The 2009 Presidential election was widely seen as flawed--likely due to Karzai's efforts--and he has reacted to US calls to clean up his act since then by threatening to
join the Taliban. Now he is attempting to appear the Afghan nationalist while eliminating actors outside of his control. Whatever your views on the war, please don't praise Karzai.

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