We need a new guy in Afghanistan

It’s impossible to know what will happen next in Afghanistan, but it’s obvious new leadership is needed to turn the situation around.

A partial recount of last month’s election, ordered by Canadian election referee Grant Kippen, throws open the chance that President Hamid Karzai might have to face a run-off ballot against this rival, Abdullah Abdullah. There are troubling hints of a split between Britain and the U.S. on how to handle the recount issue. Hard to guess how that might turn out, but it’s looking messy.

Meanwhile, the top political proponents of the Western war effort against the Taliban are driven to plead for patience, even as many prominent observers lose theirs.

I see that Paddy Ashdown—whose promising nomination to oversee and unify international efforts in Afghanistan last year was inexcusably blocked by Karzai—is now among those warning that the good guys are in serious danger of losing outright.

Ashdown is a forceful Brit whose efforts to bring stability to Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 to 2006 won the respect of even those who find his outsized personality hard to take. (Interestingly, he worked closely in the Balkans with Richard Holbrooke, a chief architect of the deal that ended the Balkan war, and now the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan.)

I suppose it’s too late and Ashdown is too controversial to hope that he might yet be drafted to try to impose a new sense of coherence and purpose to coalition work in Afghanistan. But as we wait for a sorting out of the election, is it too early to start talking about appointing somebody, and I mean a heavy hitter, to inject some fresh energy into this draining struggle?

It might sound like latter-day colonialism to give up on the Afghanistan government’s ability to itself take the lead, but that just doesn’t look like a realistic hope. There will be a new government in Kabul, or a second stage of Karzai’s, and there should be a new face, too, representing international insistence on genuine reform and progress.

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