Gen. Stanley McChrystal has admitted that there is no significant al-Qaida presence in Afghanistan. He implies that al-Qaida does maintain some links to the guerrillas fighting the Karzai government. But McChrystal's statement rather undermines the hawkish argument of Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Joe Lieberman that the Afghanistan war is being fought against al-Qaida presence in Afghanistan and only needs more troops and firepower to succeed. In my own view, the Afghanistan training camps were not that important to al-Qaida's 9/11 plot. The key had been recruiting an Egyptian and a Lebanese engineer in Hamburg, Germany, and getting them flight training in the U.S.
Meanwhile, the real al-Qaida is threatening a war of attritition against U.S. troops in the Middle East. The message was far more oriented toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue than toward Afghanistan, which seems to be positioned as the place where U.S. troops are punished for alleged American misdeeds elsewhere. Whenever al-Qaida foregrounds the Israeli-Palestinian issue, it is a sign of the organization's weakness. Everyone knows that they haven't done anything practical for the Palestinians, and that the Palestinian leadership doesn't want them grandstanding on the backs of the Palestinians. Bin Laden is increasingly irrelevant. In the new audiotape (note: not videotape) attributed to him, he accuses Obama of failing to honor his pledge to end the wars. But in fact Obama only pledged to get out of Iraq, and there is every reason to believe that he will do so. Al-Qaida knows that that step will virtually drain its support and recruiting ability (only 4 percent of Arabs say they care deeply about Afghanistan).
In an ominous development for Afghanistan, presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has accused incumbent President Hamid Karzai of using state resources to engineer the stealing of the Aug. 20 presidential election, accusing Karzai of treason. Abdullah said that Karzai bribed tribal elders between $4,000 and $8,000 each to throw the election to Karzai. Abdullah is likely stealing a page from Mir Husain Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the losers in the Iranian presidential elections, who refused to accept the officially announced results and who alleged that the election was fixed in favor of incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Whereas the result of this dispute in Iran was that hundreds of thousands of mostly peaceful demonstrators repeatedly gathered in the streets until brutally repressed, in Afghanistan protests are likely to be rather more violent.
I think it just got substantially less likely that the West will be able to get Karzai and Abdullah to form some sort of national unity government together.
Abdullah wants there to be a runoff election, which likely will not be necessary by current rules, which require it only if no candidate receives at least 50 precent of the vote. But Abdullah believes that the votes that put Karzai up to 54 percent were at least in part fraudulent and the result of vote-buying with state monies. A runoff is also becoming difficult to hold unless it is scheduled very soon, because winter snows will limit the mobility of much of the population until the spring. But the Independent Electoral Commission is warning that a complete count of the first round may still be weeks away. For Afghanistan to be without a president all winter and spring could be disastrous, not only for the country but also for the Obama administration's military strategy.
Even generally pro-Western Pakistani newspaper editors are accusing Western politicians who are defending the legitimacy of the election process in Afghanistan of living in another universe.
Meanwhile, Deirdre Tynan at Eurasia.net argues that the increasing dependence of the U.S. and NATO on supply routes coming down from Central Asia into northern Afghanistan has helped destabilize the north, especially Kunduz province, which earlier had been relatively calm. The hijacking of fuel trucks and the subsequent German-ordered U.S. airstrike on the trucks in Kunduz all stemmed from the turn of the U.S. to the northern supply routes. I am alarmed by her suggestion that for the U.S. to depend ever more heavily on Central Asian routes for supplies could impel the anti-government militants to begin hitting Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, etc. That is, the Afghanistan war effort could eventually create a new silk road, in the form of a highway of death that destabilizes the whole region.