Is Afghanistan in danger?

| Thu Mar. 17, 2005 3:18 PM EST

Small-but-important news item: Afghanistan is delaying its parliamentary elections once again, this time until September:

The government and its international backers have also argued for a delay to allow for more time to disarm irregular militias and reduce the influence of the so-called jihadi, or Islamic militant, parties and of powerful regional commanders. International peacekeepers from the 5,000-strong, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force ruled out elections in July or August, when there will be a change of command.

Afghanistan's initial presidential election went smoothly, mainly because there was a good deal of shrewd horse-trading among the country's various warlords, and a wide consensus cropped up around current president Hamid Karzai. As a result, minor discrepancies in the polls didn't really matter all that much—it wasn't like Karzai's victory was ever in serious doubt.

The parliamentary elections, by contrast, should be far, far more contentious, since every vote counts, and many observers worry that they'll only grant legitimacy to the regional rule of the various Afghan warlords, who will be much better organized and able to influence the election than anyone else. Understandably, then, the government wants to disarm those militias before they enter politics and cement their rule once and for all, but the catch is that disarmament hasn't gone well thus far. (Polls show that Afghans consider the still-feuding warlords a greater threat to peace than the now-marginalized Taliban.)

Meanwhile, this was a while ago, but it's worth noting that Afghanistan envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is moving to Iraq, where he'll replace Ambassador John Negroponte. Odd move, since by all accounts Khalilzad has done very well in Afghanistan, though he's been criticized for meddling too heavily in Afghan affairs. Meanwhile, I've heard it suggested that Iraqis will sniff at receiving an envoy from a "less-important" country like Afghanistan, but whether they'll actually feel disrespected is anyone's guess. More significantly, though, Khalilzad had the ear of the White House, and was fairly adept at getting people to pay more attention to Afghanistan. Perhaps not the best of moves at a time when Afghanistan's future still remains quite precarious.

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