The Skeptics

Another Death Another Reason to Leave

The second assassination in a week has claimed the life of a senior Afghan official and a key ally of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. These targeted assassinations underscore the fragility of a Kabul-centric government reliant on an endless stream of foreign-aid dollars.

After a decade of war, that top Afghan leaders are being assassinated one-by-one does not bode well for the “stability” Washington is attempting to create. The senior Afghan official killed was Jan Mohhammed Khan, the former governor of Uruzgan province. This came days after a Taliban infiltrator killed President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, in Kandahar. In May, a bomb planted in the office of Takhar province’s governor killed Gen. Daud Daud, an anti-Taliban northern Afghan military commander. In April, a bodyguard/suicide-bomber killed the police chief Khan Mohammed Mujahed of Kandahar.

These assassinations send the unequivocal message that insurgents have the upper hand—which they’ve always had. It signifies the extent of their local knowledge, connections, and influence among the population, even among high-level elites. Many of these individuals were well-connected powerbrokers who helped to consolidate the central government’s authority but who also inspired animosity among the population for their corruption, ineptitude and wrongdoing. Moreover, whoever replaces Ahmed Wali Karzai and the others may be just as harmful to Bonn Agreement proclamations of “national reconciliation,” “lasting peace,” and “respect for human rights.”

Within the Beltway Bubble, hawks will claim that these targeted assassinations show why the United States and its allies shouldn’t leave, and why the president’s withdrawal is too aggressive. If anything, these targeted assassinations underscore how “fragile and reversible" Washington’s tactical gains have been. The general atmosphere is shaky and it has been for some time. As retired General Stanley McChrystal wrotein his 2009 report on the war:

"The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power–brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and [the International Security Assistance Force’s] own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government."

Local elites who manipulate the mission in order to protect their powerful vested interests are often those with the closest business ties to donor countries. Development experts and war hawks have overlooked the extent to which foreign aid inflows have the perverse effect of maintaining corruption in regimes that might have fallen without external support.