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After Karzai: The Warlords?

The Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Rosenberg (with aid from Yochi Dreazen) has a piece that I can’t recommend strongly enough: a profile of Gul Agha Shirzai, the “former” warlord who might end up replacing Hamid Karzai, that asks whether the alternative to a weak government of technocrats is a government of warlords. That gloss is a bit of an oversimplification, since Shirzai has been governor of Nangarhar province in the country’s east for five years, but he tells The Journal that the relative security and tribal-based graft he’s brought to Nangarhar will be what he offers Afghanistan as a whole:

“I will go to all the tribal elders, the way I have done it in Nangarhar. And we will negotiate with the tribes who are supporting the Taliban,” Mr. Shirzai says, sitting in his bedroom at the governor’s mansion in the provincial capital, Jalalabad. “We don’t have to rely only on fighting and bombing and jet planes. That we use only for those people who won’t talk.”

Interestingly, he’s directly in favor of a Sons-of-Iraq-style tribal-militia program, something that the current government is at least halfway uncomfortable with:

Speaking with a handful of American military officers and officials after the March 5 security meeting, the governor said he was considering setting up village militias in districts of his province where the Taliban are strongest. The central government, with U.S. support, is setting up a similar pilot program in another part of the country.

Anyway, Shirzai is what you’d expect of a warlord: he gets his kickbacks, intimidates his rivals and everyone’s happy. (A Jalalabad shopkeeper tells The Journal, “Every politician in Afghanistan is a thief, but our governor doesn’t take all the money for himself. He is building our city.”) A friend of mine always wonders why the press refers to some corrupt foreign leaders as “warlords” and others with the more dignified “tribal leaders.” While the two aren’t exactly equivalent in this case — Shirzai’s tribal ties aren’t in Nangarhar — here at least the shorthand used for Afghanistan will at least remain consistent if Shirzai ends up becoming president, not that I have any idea how likely that is or isn’t. A blow against euphemism! Maybe if he was born in London, Shirzai would be called a Wide Boy.

TWI’s Twitter feed strikes fear in the hearts of warlords everywhere. Follow it here.

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