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Billions Down the Afghan Drain

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India is reported as being “one of the largest donors of civilian aid to Afghanistan” and has recently undertaken to give the Kabul government another billion dollars, which is extremely generous of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, because, as CNN points out, there is in India “a stark picture of widespread rural poverty and deprivation.” According to the site Poverties “70 per cent of Indians don’t have access to decent toilets (which inspires a multitude of bacteria to host their own disease party); 35% of households don’t have a nearby water source and 85% of villages don’t have a secondary school.”

India’s space program costs 750 million dollars a year, and it spent 4 billion dollars hosting the Commonwealth Games. But although 300 million of its 1.2 billion citizens live in conditions that are wretched to the point of barely credible squalor it can still send a billion dollars to Afghanistan which is ranked as the third most corrupt country in the world.

That billion, indeed, might replace the billion stolen from the Kabul Bank, which, according to the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) last week, “operated as a massive pyramid scheme;  hundreds of millions of dollars had been fraudulently lent to fictitious companies, with no loan ever paid off . . . while ordinary Afghan citizens’ deposits were used to fund the fraudulent loans. Two of the principal beneficiaries of the fraudulent loans were Mahmoud Karzai and Haseen Faheem.”  Mahmoud Karzai is brother to the then President, Hamid Karzai, and now lives in luxury outside Afghanistan. Haseen Faheem is a brother of former Vice-President Mohammad Faheem (who was a corrupt savage) and also lives in luxury outside Afghanistan.

India’s billion dollars were promised during a visit to Delhi by Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani who has been in power for two years and was reported by Reuters in October 2014 as “saying that he would re-open the inquiry into the theft of almost $1 billion from the bank, fulfilling a campaign promise to make fighting corruption a priority.”

As is clear from the SIGAR’s report, Ghani has done no such thing, and after fifteen years of US-NATO military operations and expenditure of colossal amounts of money Afghanistan is a catastrophe in which “the United States contributed to the growth of corruption by injecting tens of billions of dollars into the Afghan economy, using flawed oversight and contracting practices, and partnering with malign powerbrokers.”

As the UK’s Guardian newspaper highlighted : “In one damning episode in 2010, Hamid Karzai, the president at the time, ordered the release of an aide who had been caught on wiretap demanding a bribe to thwart an investigation into a money transfer firm accused of stealing $2.78 billion. Meanwhile, the same aide was also receiving payments from the CIA, even as he was targeted by US law enforcement agencies.”

Oh, what a tangled web is weaved, when the CIA is self-deceived.

Four days after the SIGAR’s indictment of US conduct in Afghanistan, the New York Times carried an Editorial titled The Afghan War Quagmire, which is an accurate description of the situation in the country.  But in all its 628 words of observation and comment the NYT didn’t once mention the SIGAR’s report. Certainly it regrets that “America’s longest war deteriorates into a slow, messy slog” — but it’s been a messy and catastrophic slog for years, and the NYT uses the word ‘corrupt’ once and ‘corruption’ not at all.

There is no criticism by the NYT of Washington’s crass incompetence over fifteen years of futile and poorly-directed military operations, or mention of the fact that 2,384 members of the US forces and 1,136 “Coalition” troops died in Afghanistan.  In its single use of the word ‘corrupt’ it observes that “The Afghan government remains weak, corrupt and roiled by internal rivalries. The casualty rate for Afghan troops is unsustainable. The economy is in shambles. Resurgent Taliban forces are gaining ground in rural areas and are carrying out barbaric attacks in the heart of Kabul, the capital.”  But that’s nothing new.  We’ve known for many years that the US-NATO war in Afghanistan was a lost cause.  (The NYT doesn’t mention NATO, either, which is extraordinary.)

The Editorial admits in its last sentence that “American taxpayers and Afghans, who have endured decades of war, need a plan better than the current policy, which offers good intentions, wishful thinking and ever-worsening results.”  Certainly there should be a plan to get Afghanistan out of its quagmire, but the NYT does not point out that American taxpayers were duped into supporting the fatuous US-NATO war by rabid propaganda, led by such as the NYT, which, we should remember, was an enthusiastic supporter of the war on Iraq.

It ignored the SIGAR’s report which records that over the years, among other things: US money flowed to the insurgency via corruption;  the Afghan government was so deeply enmeshed in corrupt and criminal networks that dismantling them would mean dismantling major pillars of support for the government itself; the United States collaborated with abusive and corrupt warlords, militias, and other powerbrokers who “gained positions of authority in the Afghan government, which further enabled them to dip their hands into the streams of cash pouring into a small and fragile economy;”  and, damningly, “People turned to the Taliban as a way of expressing opposition to the government.”

What the New York Times calls the “Afghan War Quagmire” has been caused by the US government and its NATO allies. The US Pentagon has been criminal in its incompetence.  The dead soldiers of US-NATO forces gave their lives for nothing.  Yet, in addition to Washington pouring its taxpayers’ money down the Afghan drain, the US-NATO military alliance has pledged “to help fund Afghan security forces to the tune of around $1 billion annually over the next three years.”  It is doubtful if many European citizens are aware of this generous commitment.

As the old saying has it : a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money. The 300 million Indians who live in bleak and dismal poverty have no idea that their government is throwing away a billion dollars, but India’s Prime Minister Modi and Afghanistan’s President Ghani declared that the money “would be used for building capacity in education, health, agriculture, energy, and infrastructure in Afghanistan.”

What is certain is that the countless Afghans who also live in bleak and dismal poverty will not reap the benefit of a single cent of that billion dollars.

As the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction put it so well : “Corruption is a corrosive acid — partly of our making — that eats away the base of every pillar of Afghan reconstruction, including security and political stability.”  The country is in dire straits, and the only hope is to persuade the Taliban and other nationalist militants to come to the negotiating table. The only difference that billions of dollars will make is to the bank accounts of corrupt Afghans living in luxury.

A version of this arrticle appeared in Startegic Culture Foundation on September 18.

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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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