Thursday, October 14, 2004

Progress in Afghanistan and, of a sort, in Iraq 

The Christian Science Monitor has consistently produced the most intrepid reporting from Afghanistan and Iraq, going where more, shall we say, corporate journalists are loathe to tread. Tomorrow's issue has two very interesting stories that paint quite a different picture from the rest of the mainstream media.

Scott Baldauf writes that the Taliban are no longer able to make good their threats.
Afghanistan's first ever presidential elections were an unmitigated disaster - if you're a hard-core Taliban fighter.
Far from staying away from the polls, the Afghan voters came out in droves. Instead of being intimidated by threats of violence, villagers walked for miles to the nearest voting station to give democracy a try. Worst of all, from a terrorist's perspective, the Taliban were unable to deliver on their promise to spread election-day mayhem. In fact, it was the calmest day in recent memory. (emphasis added)

The good guys (which in Afghanistan is an "enemy of my enemy" kind of thing) scored some impressive victories:
[T]he main story of election day was what didn't happen. A fully loaded fuel truck with explosives packed in the tires didn't explode outside a polling station in Kandahar. Instead, it was stopped by Afghan forces on the road from the Pakistani border. In Khost Province, a 12-year-old boy didn't carry explosives into a busy polling station. Police arrested him before he left his house, acting on a tip-off from neighbors.

And a group of Taliban commanders, meeting in the village of Charasiab, an hour outside Kabul, did not fire hundreds of rockets onto Kabul or nearby polling stations in Logar Province. Instead, they were arrested on the morning of election day, after a four-hour gun battle with Afghan special Task Force 333, an elite group in the Afghan National Army.

As even this optimistic article admits, the war is far from over. Civil insurgency comes and goes in Afghanistan. But the Taliban are getting weak and tired, and Afghanistan is no longer a "haven" for terrorists. Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, the CSM also sees progress in Iraq, notwithstanding tonight's attack in the Green Zone.
But despite continued insecurity, the steady US military pressure against insurgents, coupled with efforts of the Iraqi interim government to negotiate, may be gaining at least some degree of traction.

Among the signs of progress in the conflict:

• Fighters loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr this week turned over many heavy weapons for cash as part of an agreement to stop fighting, and bring more aid and government control to impoverished Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad.

• Rocky negotiations had continued in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, spurred by almost nightly US air raids.

There is no question that there is enormous trouble in Iraq, even if we might argue over the extent to which it is attributable to Bush Administration errors. One of those alleged errors was our decision to back away from Fallujah in April -- we might reasonably wonder whether that retreat prevented a huge surge in American casualties six months ago at the cost of continuing instability and loss of life in the time since. This CSM article does, however, reveal the different wisdom in Allawi's more deliberative strategy of negotiation combined with coercion. In particular, the article elaborates at some length on differences between the Shiite rebellion among al Sadr's followers and the Sunnis in Fallujah, and the growing divisions in the latter. Indeed, StrategyPage made much the same point earlier today, before the CSM published its story:
Sunni Arabs in Iraq are becoming more agitated about being caught in a war pitting an alliance of Saddam supporters and Islamic radicals, against the majority Shia Arab and Kurds who want peace and prosperity, at any price. The Sunni Arabs are increasingly desperate to do something about their situation. Despite the threats from Saddam's old enforcers (almost all of them Sunni Arads), and the al Qaeda influenced Islamic radicals; tribal and religious leaders are suggesting that the Saddam hardliners and foreign Islamic radicals leave. Leave Sunni Areas, leave Iraq, leave this life, it doesn't really matter.... The Sunni Arabs have been cowed by the terror, but not completely immobilized. Deals are being cut, to be finalized when Iraqi troops and police enter Sunni Arab towns under the shadow of American firepower. Will the Sunni Arab leaders remain with the Iraqi majority. Considering the alternative, they probably will.

Beneath the surface of the Ramadan offensive and the apparently rising violence there is a game being played, deeper than than we can understand from any newspaper. As in Afghanistan, the forces of Islamic fascism are fighting hard to prevent the establishment of a broadly legitimate, pluralistic, representative government. They are fighting so hard because such a government is possible, notwithstanding the scorn heaped on Bush for this belief, and its success will be devestating to Islamist jihad.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds, writing in The Guardian, thinks he knows why there has been so little press coverage, favorable or otherwise, of the elections in Afghanistan:
The election may not have been perfect - the UN apparently needs a better ink supplier - but international monitors pronounced it fair.

As a result, it is getting rather little attention in the western media - because if Afghanistan is obviously not the "quagmire" people have been calling it for three years, Bush must have been doing something right. That raises the troubling possibility that he might know what he is doing elsewhere, a notion that must not be entertained - if at all - until after the US elections.



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