Who is More Legitimate: Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela or Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan?

Objective legitimacy

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro controls all of his country’s legally defined territory in spite of political protests from the opposition (many of which are being funded from abroad)

–At present, the Kabul “administration” of Ashraf Ghani is thought to control less than 50% of all Afghan territory whilst by some estimates, the Taliban control upwards of 60% of all Afghan territory.

–Nicolas Maduro recognises the legally defined borders of Venezuela’s geopolitical neighbours

–Ashraf Ghani does not recognise the Durand Line – the internationally recognised border between Afghanistan and Pakistan

–Nicolas Maduro does not call for illegal meddling into the foreign affairs of any other nation

–Ashraf Ghani just issued a provocative Tweet dog-whistling violent separatism in Pakistan. It has been condemned by the Pakistani government.

–Ghani won his only presidential election due to the fact that the largest military in the world had to patrol parts of the nation putatively under his control, whilst the voting process itself was fraught with violence and irregularities.

–Nicolas Maduro won re-election in 2018 in a peaceful contest

Subjective legitimacy 

While both Ghani and Maduro are the UN recognised heads of state of their respective countries, in reality, in spite of the present crisis, Maduro remains more in control of Venezuela than Ghani has ever been in control over Afghanistan. Beyond this, whilst the US has gained global attention for “de-recognising” Maduro as Venezuela’s president after Washington rapidly recognised a self-proclaimed opposition figure as the head of state, the US is doing something more subtle but far more meaningful in respect of slowly “de-recognising” and instantly de-legitimising Ghani.

For very different reasons, both the US and Russia have a unique stake in resolving the current crisis in Afghanistan. For Russia, it is a matter of bringing stability to an otherwise vulnerable frontier with its ally Tajikistan and for the US it is a matter of economic prudence as America’s longest war has become an expensive stalemate that has ultimately failed to retard regional south-south connectivity measures including Belt and Road.

As such, both the US and Russia are hosting a series of peace talks with the opposition Taliban and in both cases, Ghani and his representatives are noticeably absent. The fact is that as Pakistan has long stated, real peace in Afghanistan can only come from an all-parties peace process that ultimately revolves around a settlement that is inclusive of a Taliban that has embraced political moderation and realism. By contrast, Ghani is essentially a figurehead who is in office but not in power. As such, both the US and Russia (with China and Iran in tacit agreement) have welcomed a peace process which involves the only party capable of bringing some measure of stability to Afghanistan. Likewise, the US and Russia are largely ignoring (beyond a bit of meaningless lip service) Ghani’s fledgling regime that can barely exist with the aid of the world’s most powerful military and certainly would cease to exist entirely if the US were to withdraw its physical support.

Just as the USSR’s puppet Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah began complaining of betrayal by his former masters when they withdrew their physical support for his regime in the late 1980s and material support in 1992, so too is Ghani becoming ever more hysterical now that he clearly sees the writing is on the wall in respect of the US openly ignoring him whilst paving the way for a settlement in which he will have no major role.

Like Najibullah before him, Ghani is becoming more insistent in respect or pretending that he has power beyond office, whilst even his US approved predecessor Hamid Karzai has been photographed praying beside members of the Taliban at the recent peace conference in Moscow. Clearly, Karzai knows which way the wind is blowing and is rushing to join the “winning side”. Ghani too probably knows which way the wind is blowing but for the moment he is attempting to rally the support of his increasingly disinterested western puppet masters who are openly distancing themselves from him, just as was the case in respect of the breakdown in Najibullah’s relations with the former USSR.

The Taliban vs. Juan Guaidó

The fact is that even prior to their renunciation of extremism, the Taliban have been the only force in Afghanistan capable of governing without the monetary or military aid of a foreign power since the 1970s. Between 1978 and 1992, Afghanistan’s putative leaders were only able to secure their positions due to Soviet/Russian support. Similarly, between 2001 and the present day, Afghanistan’s putative leaders have only been able to secure their positions due to American support. And yet between 2001 and 2019, the Taliban have refashioned themselves and in so doing have won genuine political support without the direct aid of any foreign power, let alone any superpower.

Even between 1996 and 2001 when it was alleged that the Taliban received Pakistani support, it is important to remember that unlike the case with Soviet and American puppet regimes, Pakistan’s army was not an occupying force in late 1990s Afghanistan, whilst the Taliban government of the late 1990s did not recognise The Durand line – something that is self-evidently of vital importance to Pakistan’s territorial unity and national security.

Yet while Nicolas Maduro has won two consecutive elections without outside help, in Venezuela it is self-appointed “president” Juan Guaidó who has secured  his name in international headlines, only because the United States decided to instantly recognise his self-proclaimed leadership. If the US did not recognise Guaidó, outside of Latin America, few in the world would even know his name. Thus, Maduro has shown that he can survive and win elections without foreign aid whilst the same cannot be said about Ghani. Regarding the latter reality, even the US can barely deny this anymore.

Conclusion 

In Afghanistan, the US and Russia have adopted a pragmatic point of view that has clearly been learned after both countries tried and failed to secure puppet governments in Afghanistan. Moscow failed in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the US has been failing since the early 2000s. While Juan Guaidó requires US support to maintain his political momentum, the US has a long history of getting its way in respect of staging coups in Latin America that achieve Washington’s goal. By contrast, in Afghanistan, the US like the USSR before it has not got its way. This helps to explain why according to America’s own actions, Ashraf Ghani has no de-facto legitimacy whilst Nicolas Maduro’s speaks for itself, in spite of the current crisis.

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