Shift­ing Fo­cus

The over­all se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan re­mains bleak even af­ter the coun­try has con­sumed bil­lions of US dol­lars. The time has come to shift pol­icy fo­cus to other im­por­tant is­sues.

Southasia - - CON­TENTS - By Hafiz Inam

One can draw a strik­ing com­par­i­son from the past by look­ing at the U.S. spend­ing on the on­go­ing war in Afghanistan. The Mar­shall Plan (of­fi­cially the Euro­pean Re­cov­ery Pro­gramme) was an Amer­i­can ini­tia­tive launched in 1947. It was aimed to re­build the wartorn Western Europe from the de­bris of World War Two, in an ef­fort to avoid­ing the spread of com­mu­nism. It was a four-year plan and the U.S. govern­ment ap­pro­pri­ated $103 bil­lion (in­fla­tion ad­justed) for the pur­pose. The suc­cess­ful plan not only helped the re­gion re­cover from the war trauma but also paved the way for forg­ing a strong po­lit­i­cal al­liance be­tween the United States and Western Europe which later played a key role dur­ing the Cold War. To the con­trary, the US-led war on ter­ror in Afghanistan, the long­est war in US his­tory, has con­sumed more than $104 bil­lion since 2001. And, still, it needs more funds. This is ev­i­dent from the Na­tional De­fence Au­tho­riza­tion Act 2017, sanc­tioned by the U.S. Congress, which ear­marked a fur­ther $3.4 bil­lion for the Afghan se­cu­rity forces oper­at­ing against the in­sur­gents.

A study con­ducted by the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice af­firmed the propo­si­tion that the war on ter­ror is the costli­est war the US has ever fought. It shows the U.S. had spent $4.4 tril­lion in the Sec­ond World War, $789.5 bil­lion in the Viet­nam War and $364.8 bil­lion in the Ko­rean War (all amounts are in­fla­tion-ad­justed). But the mul­ti­fac­eted War on Ter­ror be­ing fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, etc. has en­gulfed a whop­ping amount of $4.79 tril­lion

since 2001. Among all the other re­cip­i­ents, Afghanistan has re­ceived the lion’s share in aid on ac­count of im­prov­ing the se­cu­rity, gover­nance and in­fra­struc­ture. It had con­sumed $111 bil­lion till 2016, 70% of which was al­lo­cated for se­cu­rity op­er­a­tions in the coun­try. The re­main­ing 30% of the amount were spent on gover­nance, humanitarian as­sis­tance and de­vel­op­ment sec­tors. In spite of the pro­fuse for­eign aid to Afghanistan, the over­all se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion of the coun­try re­mains per­ilous.

The Afghan se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus which has been the big­gest ben­e­fi­ciary of for­eign aid has re­mained in a sorry state. Around $80 bil­lion have been spent on re­vamp­ing and re­struc­tur­ing the Afghan Na­tional Army, yet it lacks com­pe­tence in fight­ing and with­stand­ing the in­cur­sion of any en­emy. In the first eight months of 2016, the ANA lost 5523 soldiers on the ground, the high­est toll of Afghan soldiers in a year since 2001. The Afghan govern­ment, which is exercising a ham­pered sway over its ter­ri­tory, lost 2.2% ter­ri­to­rial con­trol to the Tal­iban in 2016. The loss of Kun­duz, a city in the north, in Septem­ber 2015 to the Tal­iban in­sur­rec­tion, later re­taken by the Afghan govern­ment with NATO sup­port, was an eye opener. It high­lights the fragility of 195,000 Afghan troops whose one-third com­rades de­serted the army in 2015 alone. The re­port of SIGAR (Spe­cial In­spec­tor Gen­eral for Afghanistan re­con­struc­tion), pub­lished in 2016, sheds light on the fledg­ling Afghan army. The re­port says: “The ASF (Afghan Se­cu­rity Forces) lacks a risk man­age­ment sys­tem and there­fore re­lies heav­ily on the U.S. forces to pre­vent a strate­gic fail­ure.”

Al­though the war has drained both hu­man and fi­nan­cial re­sources, the in­sur­gency has not been di­min­ished suc­cess­fully. Rather, the war has ramped up since the draw­down of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014. This in­di­cates the need for chang­ing the strat­egy of fight­ing the in­sur­gency in Afghanistan as the fight will re­main in­con­clu­sive with­out un­der­stand­ing the un­der­ly­ing fac­tors be­hind the Tal­iban in­sur­rec­tion.

The poor gover­nance has led to dis­con­tent among the Afghan na­tion­als who turned up in large num­bers on the Elec­tion Day in 2014 while exercising their demo­cratic right. The govern­ment, since formed, has failed to strengthen demo­cratic prac­tices and in­sti­tu­tions, re­store hu­man rights, es­tab­lish the rule of law and hold ac­count­abil­ity. In fact, te govern­ment has con­tin­ued to be a pup­pet in the hands of pow­er­ful war­lords who are in­volved in hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and re­tain per­sonal mili­tias to safe­guard their vested in­ter­ests. Cor­rup­tion in the govern­ment’s ranks has swelled to an un­prece­dented level. The re­port sub­mit­ted last year by the Spe­cial In­spec­tor Gen­eral for Afghanistan Re­con­struc­tion says: “Cor­rup­tion un­der­mined the U.S. mis­sion in Afghanistan by fu­elling griev­ances against the Afghan govern­ment and chan­nel­ing ma­te­rial sup­port to the in­sur­gency.” Among the many other rea­sons for ram­pant cor­rup­tion are the sheer vol­ume of aid, lack of over­sight and il­le­gal drug trade.

The cor­rup­tion-rid­dled judiciary of the coun­try has fallen short of pro­vid­ing speedy jus­tice. Pres­i­dent Ashraf Ghani said: “Cor­rup­tion in the judiciary paves the way for in­se­cu­rity.” His state­ment holds wa­ter be­cause the dis­grun­tled peo­ple who seek swift jus­tice are now turn­ing to­ward the Tal­iban’s “shadow jus­tice,” a term coined for a par­al­lel ju­di­cial sys­tem be­ing run by the Tal­iban in the coun­try. “Shadow jus­tice: How the Tal­iban run their judiciary,” a re­port pro­duced by the NGO, In­tegrity Watch Afghanistan, states that many vil­lagers whose cases were pend­ing be­fore the lo­cal courts ap­pre­ci­ated the quick jus­tice pro­vided by the Tal­iban. It is not a pos­i­tive sign for a demo­cratic coun­try and must ring alarm bells in the govern­ment cor­ri­dors.

An­other as­pect of a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan is its po­lit­i­cal frag­men­ta­tion. The coun­try mainly com­pris­ing Push­tuns, Ta­jiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras is di­vided on eth­nic ba­sis. Push­tuns be­ing the largest eth­nic group in Afghanistan have dom­i­nated the mil­i­tary and civil es­tab­lish­ment. Tra­di­tion­ally, Afghanistan has en­joyed rel­a­tive peace un­der the Push­tun regime. The ar­chi­tect of mod­ern Afghanistan, Ah­mad Shah Ab­dali, was a Dur­rani Push­tun. The Tal­iban who ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001 were also Push­tun. The post-Tal­iban era has brought the eth­nic di­vide to the sur­face with dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties striv­ing hard against each other. The Push­tuns are gen­er­ally dis­cour­aged to join the nascent Afghan Na­tional Army on the premise of be­ing pro-Tal­iban whereas Ta­jiks and Uzbeks are given pref­er­ence. Even in the cab­i­net, nonPush­tuns like Rashid Dos­tum, Sar­war Dan­ish and Salahud­din Rab­bani oc­cupy key posts. This has posed a se­ri­ous threat to the so­cial fab­ric of the coun­try which is at the brink of civil war if the coun­try is left on its own by the re­gional pow­ers.

Noth­ing has changed for the poor Afgha­nis since the fall of the Tal­iban emi­rate in 2001. Afghanistan has re­mained the largest pro­ducer of opium and cannabis in the world as 90% of world­wide hero­ine comes from here. The coun­try is plung­ing into the abyss of vi­o­lence and law­less­ness. The govern­ment ap­pears hope­less in the face of foul play by the pow­er­ful war­lords. For­eign funds be­ing re­ceived by the coun­try are not prop­erly chan­nelled. Un­der these cir­cum­stances, the USA needs to re­visit its Afghan pol­icy so that col­lec­tive ob­jec­tives of both Afghanistan and the USA are ac­com­plished.

The writer is a mem­ber of the staff.

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