First the good news: Richard Holbrooke has claimed a victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan. From the FT:
Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, warned of the heightened threat, saying the Taliban had “thrown everything” at ruining the country’s fledgling democracy. But he saluted Afghanistan for taking a big step in practising politics as they should be, despite leaving some polling areas unprotected.
“A ferocious offensive by the Taliban [was] designed to try to kill the elections. Their goal is to prevent the elections and they have failed in that,” he said on a visit to Islamabad.
Any defeat of the Taliban is a good thing, but let's pull back a bit and see what this election is about. From the NYTimes:
President Hamid Karzai, who is still the frontrunner, is the most vocal in calling for negotiations, pledging that if he is reelected he will hold a traditional tribal gathering and invite members of the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another opposition leader to make peace. And just in the last few weeks his government has started several initiatives to approach local Taliban commanders through tribal elders. The government also has started work to win over the tribes by hiring thousands of their young men to be part of a local protection force, primarily to ensure security for elections. But each of his three main opponents is critical of Mr. Karzai’s record in following through on such promises.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani, and Ramazan Bashardost all oppose the Taliban, but also promise if elected to do better and to make peace a priority. The candidates differ on how to pursue a settlement: by negotiating a comprehensive peace with the Taliban leadership; or by trying to draw away mid-level Taliban commanders and foot soldiers, an approach that has been tried with little success over the past seven years as the ranks of fighters have swelled.
Okay... so the central campaign issue is how best to appease the Taliban. Or, as Sec. Clinton said:
“We and our Afghan allies stand ready to welcome anyone supporting the Taliban who renounces Al Qaeda, lays down their arms, and is willing to participate in the free and open society that is enshrined in the Afghan constitution,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a speech last month.
And what does that "free and open society that is enshrined in the Afghan constitution" look like? Well, that's the bad news. In a nutshell, it's the right to murder your wife if she doesn't put out:
Last week, though, Human Rights Watch discovered that a revised version of the Shiite Personal Status Law had been quietly put into effect at the end of July — meaning that Shiite men in Afghanistan now have the legal right to starve their wives if their sexual demands are not met and that Shiite women must obtain permission from their husbands to even leave their houses, “except in extreme circumstances.”
The new law was signed by President Hamid Karzai, who is depending on support from Sheik Muhammad Asif Mohseni, the country’s most powerful Shiite cleric, in this week’s presidential election. Shiites, who were oppressed by the Sunni-led Taliban government, are believed to make up between 10 and 20 percent of Afghanistan’s population.
On the bright side, the religious right was unable to prevent a provision that banned the marriage of girls under the age of 16. Because, you know, growing girls need their dinner. Plus, women can vote in the elections so they'll be able to kick the bastards who are starving them to death out of office if they want to. That is, if their husbands permit them to leave the house on election day and they don't get killed by somebody else on the way.
So let's review the American/NATO mission in Afghanistan as it stands today: fight the Taliban to support the government that is trying to appease the Taliban, while supporting the Afghans' god-given, Constitutional right to