In a long piece for the NYT, Dexter Filkins writes that the US is done propping up the mayor of Kabul:
The world has changed for Mr. Karzai, and for Afghanistan, too. A White House favorite — a celebrity in flowing cape and dark gray fez — in each of the seven years that he has led this country since the fall of the Taliban, Mr. Karzai now finds himself not so favored at all. Not by Washington, and not by his own.
In the White House, President Obama said he regarded Mr. Karzai as unreliable and ineffective. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said he presided over a “narco-state.” The Americans making Afghan policy, worried that the war is being lost, are vowing to bypass Mr. Karzai and deal directly with the governors in the countryside.
At the same time as Karzai finds himself out of favour, NATO is facing a difficult situation over its high commander, General Bantz John Craddock. The German weekly SPIEGEL has reported on an order of his to kill drug traffickers, which was refused by German general Egon Ramms, head of the Afghanistan command centre, and the American Afghanistan command general David McKiernan.
The Afghan drug problem has always produced a split in NATO, with the Americans advocating more aggression than their partners would support. The solution advocated by John Pike, to buy up the poppy crop and turn it into morphine to be donated to poor countries, may prove to be workable. However, even to do that you would need to be able to protect the farmers from, say, being killed for doing so by the Taliban, or other drug lords. Which is where the 'surge' in Afghanistan could come in.
In Iraq, the success of additional troops relied upon the improvements in local security they offered, the funding and coopting of previously insurgent Sunni militias, and perhaps to some extent the increased homogeneity of neighbourhoods following ethnic cleansing. In Afghanistan, additional troops could be used to push the Taliban out of a few provinces, but at the same time more serious attempts to split off and coopt elements of the Taliban will have to be undertaken. This includes offering them a significant amount of autonomy in their area. A shift away from supporting the ineffective central government of Afghanistan is a first step in this process.