The death of Staff Sgt. Christopher Cabacoy last Monday, July 5th, 2010 in Afghanistan hits close to home. He is a nephew of a friend’s friend, who proudly said that his nephew died defending the freedom of his country. A recipient of numerous awards and decorations, this young man’s life was cut short by an IED attack in Kandahar. He left behind a wife and a son.
There has been a spate of attacks on American servicemen this early part of the summer. At least 23 have died so far during the month of July. Yet in today’s Washington Post headline story, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai is resisting General Petraeus over his plans to expand, empower, and arm village defense forces that will guard villages susceptible to Taliban control. Karzai fears that the effort will lead to the formation of more militias, hence, to the strengthening of warlordism that he thinks is at the core of Afghanistan’s perennial state of insecurity.
His deeper fear, I think, has to do with potential threats to the central government that may come about through decentralizing power from the center to the periphery. By empowering local institutions such as those village defense forces, Karzai’s political hold at the center will diminish. His top-down approach is not working, however. And there seems to be no institutional check with which to curb the power at the center. The Afghans’ best and only defense against a corrupt, inept central government can be found at the local level, in and among themselves.
President Karzai needs to understand that as long as the United States government is underwriting Afghanistan’s security, with resources that include the precious lives of U.S. service men, General Petraeus has the right to call the shots in the way that he sees fit . . . for the success of his mission and for the welfare of Afghanistan.