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Afghanistan: Karzai, Solution or Problem?
President-elect Obama has always emphasized Afghanistan as "the right war"and vowed to divert resources from Iraq to better fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But that war effort has not been going well, and many analysts warn that one of its key weaknesses is that it is focused on propping up the Western-friendly government of President Hamid Karzai a government many analysts see as a liability because of its corruption and ineffectiveness, which have alienated it from the local population in much of Afghanistan. The weakness of the Karzai government may be one of the most important political factors boosting the Taliban's current resurgence.
With Karzai due for re-election in the fall of 2009, the Obama Administration will face some tough choices. Karzai has indicated his intention to run again, and there are no real national figures who are serious alternatives. He could conceivably run against a largely symbolic opposition, as Yasser Arafat did in the Palestinian elections of 1996. Although there was an opposition candidate, the main opposition Hamas stayed out of the race. So, too, would the Taliban, and the political contest would be between voting and boycotting an election associated with an increasingly unpopular foreign military presence. On the other hand, a renewed Western focus on creating a more viable Afghan government as the anchor for its counterinsurgency strategy may yet see other candidates step forward to challenge Karzai. But more important than the election will be the efforts, already underway, to negotiate a new political compact with more moderate elements of the Taliban on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. An election aimed at reaffirming the mandate of an increasingly unpopular President may prove to be more of a hindrance than a help in finding a political solution to the seemingly intractable Taliban insurgency.