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Balming an Afghan Legitimacy Crisis, Kind Of

Remember when I reported that the Obama administration and its allies were looking to salve legitimacy concerns in the Afghan presidential election by encouraging a broad coalition government? In Paris, a meeting of foreign envoys to Afghanistan produces this:

There was a sense at the Paris meeting that Mr Karzai would remain in power and that it was vital that he should create a broad, reformist administration, diplomats said. Kai Eide, the UN special envoy, said that Afghanistan’s next leadership must embrace reform. “What we need as the international community is a government of more forward-orientated . . . politicians, and not politicians that keep you in the past,” the Norwegian diplomat said.

Mr Karzai would be encouraged to show magnanimity towards Dr Abdullah and other opponents and undertake a national “coming together”, an official said. This could mean offering a role to his opponent.

There are over 2,100 official fraud allegations under investigation by the Afghan electoral commission. Investigating them — or, to be cynical, appearing to investigate them — will prompt weeks of delay in announcing a winner.

But note what’s happening in Paris: the foreign governments that effectively sponsor the Kabul government are hinting at terms. They’re ultimately toothless, since no one’s talking about pulling out troops or finances if the winner of the election doesn’t accept them. But the next government will go into office with 2,100 legitimacy clouds hanging over it, and for all the campaigning against the United States, the easiest way to smooth over those concerns will be increased foreign backing, so the terms being implicitly set by NATO and the United Nations still have a force to them.

Notice, though, that the logic of sponsorship is to about counterbalancing the government’s popular weakness. This isn’t the Bonn conference that quickly backed the original Karzai interim government in 2001. Eight years in power, a constitution, two rounds of elections and an intensifying war have left Afghanistan impatient with government weakness and corruption. A government seen as illegitimate has reduced leverage to make some of the technocratic reforms that the envoys in Paris want to see enacted. And then we’re talking about a hollow government that continues being outperformed by the Taliban. Counterinsurgencies are armed contests of governance. If the cycle doesn’t get broken: game over.

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