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IA Forum on Conference Call with Steve Coll & Peter Bergen: Withdrawal in Afghanistan
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June 23, 2011 Cynthia Iris, Senior Correspondent for International Affairs Forum, participated in a press conference call this morning with Steve Coll, President of The New America Foundation, and Peter Bergen, its National Security Studies Program Director. The subject: President Obama’s speech last night on the Afghanistan Troop Withdrawal. At the end of the call, Iris had the opportunity to ask Steve Coll a question: International Affairs Forum: If something happens to President Karzai that removes him from office within the next two years, before the U.S. military drawn down is complete, what would that mean for the United States? Steve Coll: There is a constitutional succession process that would deliver a not particularly appealing Vice President to temporary office. It would speed up a new round of presidential elections. It would also play out in the way that such events do, challenging the opposition and Karzai loyalists alike, to figure out how to maintain stability during a very complicated transition. More broadly, the United States is settled with its NATO allies on a perception that its political strategy in Kabul needs to be more broadly based than it has been. It needs to be de-personalized and not so heavily located in the personality of the President, whoever the President is. Afghanistan’s constitutional political power-sharing arrangements are far from ideal – membership in Parliament includes warlords and criminals. This is not in itself unusual in poor countries. The Parliament and the opposition are starting to congeal as a broader political force in the country that is more representative than the Palace. The trick in maintaining national unity, and sufficient to prevent the Taliban from taking power in major cities during this military transition, is going to be to broader political participation so that Afghans do not see their government as essentially a Palace-based, family mafia but they see it as a much more representative, geographically diverse, ethnically diverse, ideologically diverse government. Parliament is the only institution at the moment that can provide a basis for that political diversity. If Karzai were to leave the scene for any reason, it would only emphasize the need to create a transition in politics. Similar to the one you see in Iraq now. As messy as Iraqi politics is, it has proven to be a durable national compact among diverse ethnic, tribal, and political groups. Something similar is required in Afghanistan.

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