The global war on terror fought under the command of the United States of America (USA) in Afghanistan is expected to come to an end as America evacuated Afghanistan on August 31, 2021. One of the foremost reasons to start this war on Afghan soil was the denial by Taliban leadership to hand over Al-Qaeda stalwarts involved in plotting the 9/11 attacks on USA. The humiliating withdrawal of US and its allied forces after 20 years paved the way for Taliban to regain control although after few weeks post 9/11 event, Taliban rule came to an end, leading to formation of interim Afghan government. This created an opportunity for the Afghans to elect their leadership through ballot. During this period, the US injected enormous funds for development that was used to rebuild Afghanistan. As per the quarterly report released on July 31, 2021, by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the US has appropriated approximately US$ 145 billion of funds for reconstruction and related activities in Afghanistan since FY 2002. It includes US$ 88.6 billion for security, US$ 36.29 billion for governance and development, US$ 4.18 billion for humanitarian aid and US$ 16 billion for agency operations.
This also includes a total budget assistance of $17.28 billion to Afghanistan since 2002 which includes government-to-government support of US$ 11.30 billion, (Department of Defense contributed US$ 10.44 billion, USAID US$ 776 million and US$ 85.19 million by state) and multilateral trust funds of US$ 5.96 billion.
Similarly, the same report states that the cumulative obligations for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan including the US war-fighting and reconstruction have reached US$ 837.3 billion. The department of Defense (DOD) and SIGAR jointly provided for security-related funding of US$ 83.3 billion of this amount whereas other civilian agencies report cumulative obligations of US$ 49.6 billion for Afghanistan Reconstruction and after adding the DOD amount these result in US$ 132 billion.
The roadmap designed by the USA for the rebuilding of Afghanistan was structured through funding of each sector differently. Therefore, the US launched different funds and initiated different projects for the progress of Afghanistan, such as Afghanistan Security Forces Fund, Commanders Emergency Response Program, Drug Interdiction, and Counter-Drug Activities, funds, Economic Support Fund, National Disaster Assistance Fund, International Narcotics Control, and Law Enforcement of US$ 82.20 million, Migration and Refugee Assistance fund.
The US also aided Afghanistan in nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, demining, and related programs and International Reconstruction Funding for Afghanistan. Through these programme, US spent a huge amount of money on the modernisation and rebuilding of Afghanistan. The USAID report states that they have completed three-generation projects and before Kabul took over, they were working on the building of three solar power plants and windmills to produce around 110 megawatts of energy. Similarly, a few years back solar power plant in Kandahar was made operative which saves around 1.4 million gallons of oil serving around 75,000 people with clean energy. USAID also built around 2,000-kilometer roads from 2003-2017 to boost economic activities in the most populous provinces of Kandahar. Similarly, the USAID with the cooperation of UNICEF facilitated around 650,000 people to have access to clean drinking water while around 1.2 million people have access to basic sanitation services.
It is pertinent to note that it was taxpayer money of Americans that was provided to improve quality of life for the people of Afghanistan. It was the joint responsibility of Afghanistan’ political leadership, armed forces, law enforcement agencies including civil society to take full advantage of this opportunity by playing their role in educating their people, ensuring security, law and order and governance in all sectors—more importantly, the indomitable defence capability. However, despite the support of the USA and its allies, the Afghan governments miserably failed and rather than improving law and order situation and governance, the country was ranked 165 out of 180 on the corruption perception index of Transparency International.
Afghan financial institutions were involved in corrupt practices to facilitate politicians. Similarly, billions of dollars were illegally moved from Afghanistan to places known as safe havens for money laundering. Even the SIGAR report mentions that the US acknowledged corruption as a strategic threat, as security and political goals consistently trumped strong anti-corruption actions. In reality, US efforts to combat corruption had limited success due to absence of its political commitment and that of Afghan governments.
This entire scenario sadly reflects on the political leadership of Afghanistan in handling their affairs related to peace and stability in their country. In this situation, the US had two options as a way forward to handle the affairs of Afghanistan. The first option was to continue injecting Americans’ tax money to feed the corrupt Afghan leadership so that they could keep increasing the size of their bank accounts maintained in offshore havens whereas the other option was realistic which ultimately was adopted by the US i.e. to withdraw its forces leaving the decision to choose the way to run their country, on Afghan leadership.
The issue of achievements of US and its allies is debatable. Few circles claim that the global war on terror was a complete failure whereas, others have a different view. However, the very existence of Al-Qaeda in the region raises questions about the ultimate success of this venture. Similarly, despite the presence of US and its allies, how did ISIS-K strengthened itself in the region and is suddenly posing serious threats to peace in the country as well as the surrounding areas? There might be a new organization that may emerge to fight with the Taliban led by the dissenting forces who are unhappy with these arrangements.
At present, President Biden and his administration are under criticism on the process of withdrawal from Afghanistan. Though he has lost his acceptance rate and he might face criticism, the Americans are questioning why the people of Afghanistan are left at the behest of the clemency of Taliban. Notwithstanding all concerns and doubts, the US implemented its agreement of February 29, 2020. The agreement for bringing peace to Afghanistan was executed between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state.
The contents of the Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the US for bringing peace to Afghanistan were also implemented. The US and its allies have withdrawn all their military forces, released prisoners and did not use any threat and force against the whole process. However, commitment concerning sanctions and collaboration with other members of the United Nations Security Council regarding removal of the names of the members of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States seems to be the next phase of the full and final implementation of the plan. Though the US has completed its part of the agreement, now the responsibilities lie with the new rulers of Afghanistan. The scope of their commitments is extensive, as they have agreed that their soil would not be used for terrorist activities. They further ensured that no group, organization including Al-Qaeda was to use their territory for recruiting, training, or fund-raising purpose to harm US and its allies.
After all, the years of spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan, the local institutions are unable to meet challenges of internal conflicts. The people of Afghanistan deserve the democratic right to decide about their choice of representatives. Democracy not only promotes fundamental universal values, religious freedom and workers’ rights, but also helps create a more secure, stable, and prosperous global arena in which the US can advance its national interests. Now that the power is handed over to Taliban, it is clear that all the progress and funding made in last 20 years was simply not enough and we are now back to square one! But on an optimistic note, the new era of US-Afghan relationship will begin from the decision of future political road-map as agreed in the negotiations and the face of the future Government in Afghanistan will be much different from what it is being visualized today.
(Huzaima Bukhari and Dr Ikramul Haq, lawyers and partners of Huzaima, Ikram & Ijaz, are Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), members Advisory Board and Visiting Senior Fellows of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE). Abdul Rauf Shakoori is a corporate lawyer based in the USA and an expert in ‘White Collar Crimes and Sanctions Compliance’. They have recently coauthored a book, Pakistan Tackling FATF: Challenges and Solutions)
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021