According to the terms of the Washington-Taliban agreement signed in Doha in February 2020, the US is bound to continue to fund Afghanistan during and after its withdrawal. But it has gone back on the pledge.
The reason for this concession was too obvious, as even after 20 years and a staggering US$2.23 trillion spent in a “forever war” persistently claimed as promoting democracy and benefiting the “Afghan people,” Afghanistan had remained the world’s 7th poorest nation. Indeed, 47% of the Afghan population lives below the poverty line. No less than 75% of the dissolved Kabul government’s budget was coming from international aid. And that aid was responsible for the turnover of 43% of the economy – one that was mired in massive government corruption.
The Afghan state had been hollowed out by one of the oldest diseases of governance—corruption—as the war seemed like continuing forever.
And it was the same old story: From your birth certificate to your death certificate and whatever comes in between, somehow you have to bribe, officials and police routinely demanded baksheesh (a “tip”) and as the Taliban advanced, the pay-off required for a passport rose to thousands of dollars.
Worse, a government job itself had become a valuable commodity. Officials often bought their posts and must extort kickbacks to recoup their investment. It can cost $100,000 to become a district police chief. Officials’ main goal became extorting revenue to distribute to their families and patronage networks.
Afghanistan was partly run by such networks, even before 2001. But America strengthened them by paying off warlords, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). In 2009 ISAF, the coalition of NATO-led forces in the country, set up an anti-corruption unit called Shaffafiyat (transparency), with modest results. The government’s anti-corruption prosecutor mainly pursued political adversaries. By the end the country was so corrupt that governors were seen cutting deals with jihadists. The army’s numbers were inflated by “ghost soldiers”, absentees listed on the payroll so that commanders could pocket their salaries. Police and soldiers profited from the heroin trade.
Scholars such as Francis Fukuyama see corruption as a throwback to pre-modern governments where power is based on personal ties rather than institutions. In this way Afghanistan resembled mafia or a feudal state of medieval Europe. States like these lack the cohesion needed to defeat a disciplined insurgency such as that of Taliban.
Another problem was that corruption was too knotty for military officers focused on their nine-month rotations. On the other hand for their part, aid agencies too often judged success by how much money they disbursed. A vast influx of American dollars caused a surge in inflation, wiping out public-sector salaries. Public servants had to demand kickbacks to support themselves.
Now, within days of the retaking of Kabul by the Taliban the US has gone back on its pledge (signed and sealed in Feb.2020 agreement) to continue with funding Afghanistan during and after withdrawal of occupying troops.
Seemingly, the US wants to win with economic sanctions what it could not in the battle field. But who more than the US would be in a position to know the futility of trying to bring to book the violators of the global norms as understood and practiced by the so-called ‘free world’ using the tactics of forcible regime changes or economic sanctions? The lessons learnt over the last 45 years starting from the Vietnam War to Iranian sanctions should be too fresh in the US mind to have been ignored in 2021 while dealing with the Taliban violators.
The Twin-Tower calamity of 9/11 was perpetrated by a bunch of law breakers and that is how they should have been handled as law breakers rather than bestowing on the perpetrators the respectability of having been inspired by a religion whose followers in number world-wide are perhaps second only to those of Christianity. In fact, the way the war was declared by the US President George W. Bush in October 2001 against what was called ‘Islamic terrorism’, it had appeared, for a time, as if the Crusades fought by Europeans during 1095-1291 to recover Jerusalem and its surrounding area from Islamic rule were back in action.
Of course, one cannot absolve the Taliban of its injudicious refusal to hand over Osama Bin Laden to the US when demanded by Washington in October 2001. And the current Taliban leadership too cannot be absolved of the error that it committed by insisting that the intra-Afghan talks should be held minus President Ashraf Ghani.
And since Ghani was not prepared to withdraw, things had started getting delayed with the Taliban expanding its control of the country-side and cities reaching the outskirts of Kabul within a week or so of the announcement of withdrawal time-table by President Biden.
However, more than the US and the Taliban, it must be the IMF which should be blamed for Afghanistan’s looming economic crises as it has denied the Afghans their legitimate share of Special Drawing Rights (SDRs).
With the IMF not “recognizing” the new government and the seizure of Afghan gold by the New York Fed – actually a collection of private banks – one sees echoes of the looting of Libya’s and seizure of Venezuela’s gold. It is, to say the least, an abuse of the international monetary system by the IMF– which is supposed to be a public utility and not serve as an arm of NATO run by the US.
Now, since the IMF recognition of Afghanistan is virtually frozen, banks all over the world will hesitate to do business with Kabul. This move, it is believed, provides the US with leverage to re-negotiate the done deal with the Taliban.
Accusing the IMF of abusing the international monetary system in this particular case should not be misconstrued as a plea on behalf of Taliban (still a designated terror organization) but instead as an argument, in fact, in defence of the legitimate rights of the hapless people of Afghanistan.
The Taliban have been operating outside of the Western banking system for the last two decades now. The bulk of their income reportedly comes from transit tax on trade routes (for instance, from Iran) and fuel levies. Profits from opium and heroin exports (domestic consumption not permitted) reportedly account for less than 10% of their income.
In countless villages across the deep Afghan countryside, the economy revolves around petty cash transactions and barter.
According to Pepe Escobar (Forever war ‘benefiting Afghans’? Follow the money, published in Asia Times on August 23, 2021), a high-level Pakistani academia-intelligence paper examining the challenges facing the new Afghan government noted that “the standard route of development to be followed will be very pro-people. Taliban’s Islam is socialist. It has an aversion towards wealth being accumulated in fewer hands” – and, crucially, also an aversion to usury.
On the initial steps towards development projects, the paper expected them to come from Russian, Chinese, Turkish, Iranian and Pakistani companies – as well as a few government sectors. The Islamic Emirate “expects infrastructure development packages” at costs that are “affordable by the country’s existing GDP.”
Afghanistan’s nominal GDP in 2020 was $19.8 billion, according to World Bank figures.
New aid and investment packages are expected to come from Shanghai Cooperation Organization member nations (Russia, China and Pakistan) or SCO observers (Turkey and currently Iran – scheduled to become a full member at the SCO summit next month in Tajikistan). Inbuilt is the notion that Western recognition will be a Sisyphean task.
The paper admits that the Taliban have not had time to evaluate how the economy will be the key vector deciding Afghanistan’s future independence.
But the following passage of the paper is expected to hold the key: “In their consultations with the Chinese, they were advised to go slow and not rock the boat of the Western world system by talking too soon about state control of capitalism, interest-free economy, and de-linking from the IMF-based financial system. However, since the West has pulled back all the money from the Afghan exchequer, Afghanistan is likely to apply for short-term aid packages against their resource base.”
The most concise assessment of the ‘forever’ war, however, may have come from the leaker of the WikiLeaks, Julian Assange himself:
“The goal is to use Afghanistan to wash money out of the tax bases of the US and Europe and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. The goal is an endless war, not a successful war.”
The “forever war” may have been a disaster for the bombed, invaded and impoverished “Afghan people,” but it was an unmitigated success for what someone so memorably defined as the MICIMATT (Military-Industrial-Counter-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think Tank) complex. Anyone who bought stocks of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and the rest of that crowd made – literally – a killing.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021