Farewell to Afghanistan

The United States budget deficit for 2010 is $1.4 trillion borrowed from China, 8% of which was spent on the Afghanistan war alone. Over the past decade, the national debt has soared to $12.9 trillion, more than a trillion spent in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To offset national worries about the ballooning budget deficit, President Obama recently announced salary cuts for federal workers, which amount to $2.5 billion dollars a year, compared to $100 billion dollars being spent in Afghanistan annually. Moreover, his deal with recalcitrant Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts (even for the wealthiest 2%) for two years in return for continuing unemployment benefits deprives the government of badly needed funds, widens the income gap currently threatening the American middle class, not to mention plunges the nation further into debt.

In a published report in August of 2010, the Afghanistan Study Group astutely pointed out that the United States government spends $100 billion annually to fight a war in Afghanistan whose GNP is $14 billion. The cost of the war in Afghanistan, now running into its 10th year, is neither justified by the security needs of the United States nor the wellbeing of the Afghan people. The Afghanistan Study Group recommended that the United States should withdraw American troops, while pushing for reconciliation between the Karazai government and moderate Taliban elements. A small fraction of the money currently spent on waging an aimless war can go to economic development in Afghanistan, where it is sorely needed. The report also recommended that the United States keep special forces to work with Afghan and Pakistan intelligence to target the small number of Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, estimated to be around 100 individuals by US intelligence officials.

A barrage of Wikileaks documents, released in August 2010, described large numbers of civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Pakistan due to American drones strikes, alienating the population and facilitating recruitment by the Taliban. Furthermore, the United States? military push against the Taliban without offering a political option have led the Taliban to shift their war deeper into Pakistan, destabilizing this nuclear-armed nation. Recent Wikileaks documents describe Afghan President Hamid Karazai as ineffective, weak, paranoid, and hopelessly corrupt.

The WikiLeak revelations and the Afghan Study Group recommendations have been recently endorsed by, none other than, the Afghan people themselves. In a December 2010 poll, the majority of Afghan people want the United States and NATO troops to withdraw by mid-2011, a sign that the presence of American troops helps fuel the Taliban?s recruitment efforts. Three quarters of the country support negotiating with the Taliban and two thirds support the appointment or election of Taliban officials to public office. The Afghanistan Study Group was concerned that a Taliban not invested in the Afghanistan government will work to fuel the insurgency, a view that is shared by a sizeable majority of Afghans in the poll.

While a silver lining in the poll showed that the security situation has improved in the southern provinces since last year?s surge, two thirds of respondents view the economy as deteriorating even as security is enhanced. Most telling perhaps, a full two thirds believe that a good chunk of the United States? annual $4 billion for development in Afghanistan is siphoned off by corrupt politicians. This small fraction of the total $100 billion annual bill of the Afghan war can properly aid in the development of Afghanistan if administered transparently to the people, rather than the Karazai government.

As President Obama cuts the wages of federal employees and Republicans threaten to interrupt the unemployment benefits of millions of Americans, the United States continues to hemorrhage billions of dollars a month in a senseless war, where many troops have perished. President Obama and congress should push to include the Taliban in the Afghan government, prepare for a troops withdrawal, maintain strong intelligence ties with the Afghan government to capture the few Al-Qaeda operatives, and invest in the development of Afghanistan with the local population. Extricating the United States from this war, with its ever-shifting justifications, will be good for the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The only loser may turn out to be our Chinese bankers.

SAMA ADNAN, Ph.D. is Executive Director of NewPolicy.org.