Doha// “The Bush administration is guilty of a dereliction of duty,” said Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan Administration, referring to the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
“It was criminal, what the United States did,” Korb explained. “A lot of the problems we're seeing today are a result of the fact that we went in there, created a vacuum and then walked away...President Bush promised a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan, and then never followed up.”
A full house packed the Education City studio of the BBC's Doha Debates this week as an accomplished panel took up the motion: “This House does not believe that this Afghan government is worth fighting for.” More than eight years after the US-led invasion, international forces are bogged down in guerrilla warfare with a resurgent Taliban while the President Hamid Karzai-led government is charged with election fraud, corruption and ineffectiveness.
Assisted by their host, BBC presenter Tim Sebastian, the panelists engaged in verbal battle on the legitimacy of the Karzai government, the need for international forces and the components of democracy, before a slim majority of the audience – 51 percent to 49 percent – voted to carry the motion.
“Afghanistan never wanted to be host for long to foreign troops – this is the history of Afghanistan, this is our nature,” said Shukria Barakzai, Mr Korb's co-panelist and a member of the Afghan parliament.
She was responding to a question from the audience about why the Afghan people do not protest against the continued presence of US-led forces. “But right now, we are a little baby,” she said, “and until we can stand on our own feet, we need it.”
Mr Korb pointed to the example of Iraq, where US forces had begun pulling out and would be out completely by the end of next year. “I'm very happy that President Obama, in announcing a troop increase in Afghanistan, also talked about a deadline,” he said. “The message is that this government has to clean up its act.”
Mirwais Yasini, deputy speaker of the Lower House of the Afghan parliament who briefly ran for Afghan president last year, did not see that happening anytime soon. “There is no security, there is corruption, there's no reconciliation, there are no services for Afghan citizens,” he said. “Democracy is just a slogan...we are establishing a very dirty precedent.”
Yasini's co-panelist, former US Ambassador Peter Galbraith, was fired last year from his post as a United Nations envoy to Afghanistan for accusing his boss of concealing election fraud. He said the government could not provide the security, rule of law and services necessary to support the US-led war.
“A government that is ineffective and in office by fraud cannot win the support of the population,” said Mr Galbraith. “It cannot do what it needs to make a counter-insurgency strategy work.”
Standing up from his seat in the audience, the Afghan Ambassador to Qatar, Wali Monawar, asked what sort of alternatives Mr Galbraith might offer to the current government. Mr Galbraith suggested a new election or a power-sharing political system.
Mr Sebastian pressed the point. “There is no other government,” he said. “This is the Afghan government, however ineffective or corrupt, however it fails to meet your expectations.”
Mr Galbraith pointed to the one million phoney votes estimated by European Union monitors. “Tim,” he said, “you cannot say that a govt that is in office by massive fraud is a legitimate government.”
“What do you expect?” responded Mr Sebastian. “It's hard enough to get a fair election in the United States.”
Ms Barakzai pointed out that President Karzai had received the support of the Afghan people three times – in a 2002 loya jirga, or meeting of elders, in the first presidential election, in 2004, and again last year. “Democracy is not a product,” she said. “It's always a process and this process takes decades and generations.”
“But why must it take decades and generations?” asked Mr Sebastian.
Ms Barakzia responded, “How long did it take your country to establish democracy?”
A BBC/ABC poll released this week found 68 per cent of Afghans saw the government as heading in the right direction. And Mr Korb viewed the Afghan Parliament's recent rejection of 17 of Mr Karzai's 24 proposed cabinet members as a “great step forward” for democracy. “We tend to confuse elections with democracy,” he said. “It's civil society that you have to build, that's the key thing.”
Meanwhile, Amnesty International, a rights group, said the Karzai government shows “blatant impunity” for human rights, and has released at least five major drug leaders. Further, Mr Galbraith said last year's election fraud “disenfranchised every Afghan who cast an honest vote.”
Yet more than 500 international troops died in Afghanistan in 2009.
“They're dying for the chance to give Afghans a chance to choose their own destiny,” he said. “We're interested in helping the Afghan people make their own choices, and they have a limited amount of time..after a few years we will have done all that we can.”