"The first challenge is corruption," Ambassador Bernard Bajolet, representative of France to Afghanistan, stated as he completes this assignment and prepares to return to Paris for another post. Diplomats are generally paid to be discreet, polished and smooth – in short, diplomatic.
Bajolet by contrast is blunt, stating that most of those governing Afghanistan do not believe in their own country’s future. As if on cue, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai at the end of April confirmed reports he has received cash directly from the CIA.
Karzai’s office elaborated vaguely that funds have been used for "operations, assisting wounded Afghan soldiers and paying rent." While amounts are described as small, unnamed advisers testify the total runs into millions of dollars and is used for bribes.
Meanwhile, violence continues in the beleaguered country. On April 29, seven Americans were killed in a plane crash, and the next day three British soldiers on patrol were killed by a roadside bomb. On May 1, Afghan government peace council member Malim Shawali was murdered by insurgents.
The Taliban also carries out spectacular raids. In early April, gunmen attacked a court house in western Farah province, and killed or wounded nearly 150 people. In September 2012, a sophisticated, coordinated ground attack against Camp Bastion in Helmand Province killed two U.S. Marines and destroyed aircraft valued at about $200 million. Highly effective attackers in three teams wore U.S. Army uniforms. A second attack two days later in southern Afghanistan killed four NATO soldiers.
Insurgent attacks, however, are not continuous and have not yet resulted in detectable cumulative gains. The Taliban and associated factions remain unable to mount an offensive which recaptures and holds territory.
By definition, this struggle reaches beyond military operations. Afghanistan strategic efforts, sponsored and supported by both the UN and NATO, involve vital political and economic as well as military dimensions. In a visit to Kabul in July 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Afghanistan and the United States are now formal allies.
The new partnership facilitates closer cooperation, including more rapid delivery of military equipment, supplies and weapons. This becomes more important as American forces leave that country. After the announcement, Clinton and Karzai attended a conference in Tokyo, where donor nations pledged $16 billion in new assistance to Afghanistan.
This formal alliance and substantial economic assistance occurs while the United States is disengaging from direct military combat. President Barack Obama remains firmly committed to the policy of withdrawal in 2014. The lengthy and often frustrating nature of the war can also mask positive political changes. Recent elections have been reasonably honest. Women steadily become more active in various fields.
Bajolet’s blast should be evaluated with his professional background in mind. His recent career has publicly involved intelligence work, not conventional diplomacy. Before going to Afghanistan, he was security adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy. His next job will be head of France’s Direction Génerale de la Sécurité Extérieure, the national intelligence service.
From an historical perspective, British expeditions to Afghanistan were frustrated through the 19th century. London eventually achieved a cooperative regime in Kabul by combining economic incentives with diplomatic and military tools.
British officials employed shrewd calculation and patience. The Americans, French and others must do the same in Afghanistan today.
As for Bajolet, if his ploy helps reduce corruption, he deserves special commendation, probably best awarded in private.