There’s a new Afghanistan war plan. Last fall, NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal rolled out more restrictive rules of engagement, heralding a “population-centric” approach to the war. U.S. President Barack Obama announced more U.S. troops. While U.S.-led forces in eastern Afghanistan doubled their efforts to prop up faltering local governance, troops in the south identified Taliban strongholds in Marjah and Kandahar and went on the offensive. “Has the U.S. broken the Taliban’s momentum?” reporter Nathan Hodge asked. Maybe. But there are new risks, too: the Dutch might pull out of a key southern province, and Afghan national leadership remains weak. The war might be going our way, for once, but it’s far from over. David Axe and Greg Scott head to “The ‘Stan” to see for themselves.
by DAVID AXE
Haji Zaki, at left in the photo, is just 26 years old. But politically, he’s an old hand. His father was a famed general and powerbroker, and little Haji benefited from an early exposure to Afghanistan’s wheelings and dealings. In an election two months ago, he snagged the presidency of the Parwan provincial council.
It was not a painless ascent. An old rival in the council, a man named Farid Shafaq, was the incumbent president and did not take his loss to Zaki sitting down. Shafaq promptly accused Zaki of bribing his way to victory to the tune of $200,000. Meanwhile, Shafaq urged his allies on the council to boycott future proceedings.
Zaki countered that it didn’t make sense to spend $200,000 for a $300-a-month job. But everyone knows the unofficial pay exceeds the official salary. Zaki’s family owns a big logistics firm that supplies NATO forces. There are plenty of ways to exploit political power for personal gain.
NATO grew concerned over the escalating dispute. Smooth governance is a prerequisite to reconstruction and, eventually, the handover of security operations to Afghan forces. Ethan Glick, a U.S. State Department adviser to the U.S. Army’s Task Force Gladius, met with Zaki on Wednesday to gently inquire whether the dispute were settled. “We’ve been watching very closely, but we don’t want to get involved,” he said.
Zaki assured him things were fine. Besides, Zaki added, if the rebel counselors declined to attend meetings, he would simply stop paying them. “In Afghanistan, this kind of political struggle is typical,” Zaki joked. “Even kids do it.”
Axeghanistan ‘10: Parwan Patrol Video
Axeghanistan ‘10: Air Bridge Video
Axeghanistan ‘10: Easier by the Day
Axeghanistan ‘10: Moon Shot
Axeghanistan ‘10: Down Side of the Surge
Axeghanistan ‘10: “Now You Know More than You Did Five Minutes Ago”