Friday, July 08, 2016

America's Longest War Isn't Ending... Not As Long As It Continues To Feed Endemic Corruption


Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Keith Ellison and Raúl Grijalva issued a statement after Obama's press conference on Afghanistan: "We are disappointed with today’s announcement that the Department of Defense will keep 8,400 troops in Afghanistan through the end of the year. Does the longest war in U.S. history-- nearly 15 years long-- have an end in sight? Peace in Afghanistan will only come through a comprehensive solution that does not rely on our military, but puts more emphasis on diplomatic political engagement, capacity development, and humanitarian relief. As a sovereign nation, Afghanistan must take full responsibility for its national security. Too many families have sacrificed for too long, and we have spent trillions of taxpayer dollars that could have been used to educate kids, help working people feed their families, and provide job training to our veterans. The sooner we bring our troops home and shift away from our large-scale military occupation mission, the sooner we can help the Afghan government achieve stability and focus on critical challenges here at home."

4 years ago, writing for Global Insight, our friend and occasional DWT contributor Skip Kaltenheuser wrote that America's long goodbye from Afghanistan was leaving a failed state crippled by corruption. Essentially, nothing's changed since then. It was in that piece he first introduced Nasir Shansab, an Afghan-American journalist. "Shansab," he wrote "knows the territory. His family, descended from Afghan kings, were lynchpins in the economy. In 1934, Shansab’s father built a small hydroelectric plant in Kandahar, then a large one in Puli Khumir, as well as a textile factory with 3,000 employees. Other ventures included Afghanistan’s largest industrial plant, in Golbahar, with 8,000 well-paid workers, an embarrassment to the Communist government and a ticket to a fast exit. Shansab took his family and fled in 1975. The big factory? Still locked up and deteriorating in a country that doesn’t know what to do with it." Today, in light of Obama's announcement Wednesday that he's committing the U.S. to an untenable status quo approach to Afghanistan through 2017, Nasir sent us a guest post from Kabul:

Afghanistan: State of the Nation
-by Nasir Shansab

I regret having to write this piece. I had hoped to present a positive picture of what Drs. Ghani and Abdullah had achieved in the two years of their unity-government.

I carefully searched to find valid reasons to praise the Ghani administration. I looked out for a few smiling faces-- people who would praise their government, not necessarily for any extraordinary achievement but for something simple, something worth mentioning.

My inquiries failed to produce the desired result. I didn’t find a single person willing to express the least sense of satisfaction for the Ghani administration.

I don’t wish to be the unrelenting critic. But I have to recount a situation as it is and not as I would like it to be. Therefore, I must admit that what I have found during the past six weeks I have spent in this country is a tragedy and, I fear, a disaster in the making.

The following examples will underscore my despondency:
The Taliban has successfully spread out its insurgency over at least 20 provinces, including the north of the country, an area formerly considered as a comparatively secure region. A few months back, the Taliban even occupied the northern city of Kunduz, the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban in the last 15 years. Kunduz was only freed after NATO and U.S. ground forces-- against their adopted policy-- came to the aid of the Afghan military and the U.S. launched a massive air attack on the Taliban.

ISIS attacked the Kot District of the south-eastern province of Nangarhar. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) counterattacked but failed to dislodge the ISIS fighters. The fighting displaced over 500 households, adding their numbers to the hundreds of thousands of other internal refugees.

The Afghani, the national currency, has gradually but steadily been losing value in relationship to the American dollar. When the slide began about eighteen moths back, 50 Afghanis equaled one dollar. Today, 69.40 Afghanis are needed to purchase a dollar. This slide in the value of the local currency is expected to continue.

Recently, it was discovered that an important Taliban intelligence officer, who had been wounded, was being secretly smuggled out of the country with the help of a high-ranking police officer.

Afghanistan is still by far the largest producer of illegal drugs. According to new reports, the country churns out 70% of the global illegal drug production;

Complaining before TV cameras, Afghanistan’s First Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum complained that Drs. Ghani and Abdullah had refused to give his party a share of government posts such as ambassadorships and the positions of deputy ministers of the defense and interior ministries. Then the First Vice President of Afghanistan ventured to speak of “black money” and complained that Drs. Ghani and Abdullah would divide even “black money 50/50” among themselves.

As the Taliban are ascending and money is getting harder to come by, internal tensions between the parties are intensifying. Recently, the armed units of Abdul Rashid Dostum’s Hezbe Jumbishe Millie Islami Afghanistan and Salahudding Rabani’s Jamiat-e-Islami engaged one another in an armed encounter. In this military-style skirmish the First Vice President of Afghanistan and Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister were at each other in an armed confrontation.
It should be noted that Afghanistan’s laws do not permit political parties to maintain armed groups. As is overwhelmingly the case in others areas of life in Afghanistan, the law does not apply to the powerful, not even when they are members of the same government.

Afghanistan’s enduring deterioration compels us to ask the indispensable question: What should be done to save the Afghan people from the torment they suffer at the hands of warlords and drug kingpins-- from within and outside the government-- and to prevent extremists from taking over the country?

The answer is simple if Afghanistan’s financial supporters remain true to their values, uphold their laws, and follow their oversight standards. The answer becomes complicated, even disastrous, if donor representatives persist in disregarding their principles and canons in handing out public monies.

What they know to be against their democratic and ethical principles, they should vigorously reject for they are the guardians of both the interests of their taxpayers and aspirations of the poverty-stricken Afghan people, a people whose opportunities have been destroyed and hopes shattered by the greed and ruthlessness of a heartless elite.

Here is why I feel my harsh judgment of the political leadership is justified:

Last year the office of the U.S.-based Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found that officials of the Afghan ministry of education had profited by listing for financial support a number of schools that didn’t exist.

Some time later, SIGAR discovered that the Afghan ministry of defense was inflating the number of soldiers and collected money for none-existing military personal.

Recently it was revealed that the actual number of police officers employed in Helmand Province was exactly one half of the number of officers officially reported.

In view of the continuing unbridled corruption within the Afghan government, donor governments must overcome their hesitancy in confronting the Afghan government. The donors’ polite silence and soft and indirect criticism, has been completely ineffective in impressing Afghan officials.

It has become a habit of the Afghan government to make speeches before a major donor conference and even creating a new organization, ostensibly to show its seriousness in fighting corruption. In reality, all that is just a flurry of meaningless activities to impress donors of its good intentions.

While there already is the High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption, President Ghani’s office just announced the establishment of another office to fight corruption. This is nothing more that a typical example of trying to impress donors just before the Warsaw and Brussels conferences.

President Ghani is intelligent enough to realize that constructing layers upon layers of bureaucracy will not solve anything. It is the political will that is needed to solve the country’s corruption.

When we look at cases such the Kabul Bank collapse, the multi-billion-dollar theft at the ministry of urban development and housing and the missing schools, soldiers, and police offers, Mr. Ghani’s unity-government has not shown the political will to tackle large cases of theft.

The fact is that in most significant cases a large number of powerful people-- from within and outside government ranks-- are involved and no one wants to rock the boat. The way Mr. Ghani’s administration is trying to solve these problems is letting time pass by and hope that they will vanish from memories and people will ultimately cease asking about them.

It is, therefore, essential, that donors ask the Afghan representatives about why the Ghani administration has failed to fulfill the solemn promises it had made to bring those festering cases to conclusion.

I hope donor representatives will not hide behind the claim of Afghanistan being a sovereign state and there were limits to what they could do. Afghanistan is not yet a sovereign country. The fact that the donor community pays for 100% of its military expenses and finances up to 80% of its regular budget, renders the country dependent.

  This gives the donors all the rights to enforce controls on the way Afghans handle the money they receive.

I sincerely wish that donor representatives will gather the courage to act in the interests of both the Afghan people and their own.

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