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.
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.