BY ASAD PASOON
Published November 15, 2012
During the third round of presidential debate, President Barack Obama reiterated his strategy for Afghanistan — withdraw combat troops by end of 2014. Part of the strategy involves reaching a peace agreement with the Taliban before the withdrawal to ensure a smooth transition of power to the Afghan government. The prospect of reaching such a deal, however, is bleak.
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But, the U.S. government is still determined. As Vice President Joe Biden said during the vice presidential debate, “We are leaving Afghanistan in 2014. Period.” The reasoning behind the decision is twofold: the United States has accomplished its goals of eliminating al-Qaida network in Afghanistan and there is an increasing level of frustration with the Afghan administration.
The urgent pressure on the United States to withdraw has been heightened by the failure of President Karzai to curb corruption within the Afghan government. The increase in the number of insider attacks on Allied forces by the very Afghan security forces they’ve trained has only added to this pressure. Given the costs the United States has incurred both in funds and human lives, these are understandable concerns on the part of the American people and the government.
Rampant corruption is something that significantly impacts local Afghans as well. Corruption has led many Afghans to lose confidence in their government. The scope of the corruption isn’t just limited to bribes offered to public servants. Instead, at higher levels, the Karzai administration has made money from the bidding on lucrative government procurement contracts.
One would be amazed to see the outrageously expensive armored vehicles traveling Kabul’s bumpy roads. The number of large multi-storied houses built during the past few years has also increased. All of this is happening in a nation where the average annual income is still only $425 per person.
Needless to say, much of the taxpayer money spent by the U.S. in Afghanistan is misused by the well connected. To add to the problem, none of well-known corrupt public officials have been indicted for their fraud.
What’s more, recruitment based on nepotism and favoritism rather than merit is also a source of disappointment for many Afghans. The disappointment increases as both the international community and the Afghan citizens see that there’s no political will on the part of the Karzai government to fix the current situation.
Despite the international outrage in 2009, President Karzai chose most of the former warlords and Mujahideen commanders — some of whom are categorized by the Human Rights Watch as repeat offenders — to serve appointed positions in his cabinet. Even some of the Western-educated Afghan technocrats who received Ph.D.s from the best U.S. universities and are currently leading Afghan governmental institutions have increasingly proved corrupt and failed to fix the system.
Given this background, any rational person should be asking, “If the elite and well educated superintendents in charge of Afghan government institutions are corrupt, then who can be counted on as a reliable partner?” That is the very position that the United States and its allies currently find themselves in. The United States has to face a formidable opponent in the Taliban and the corrupt Afghan government. And this is largely the reason for the Obama administration’s stubborn insistence on a 2014 exit strategy, regardless of what may happen in Afghanistan after the United States leaves.
Knowing the 2014 deadline, former warlords have recently called for a regrouping to defend the country after the Allied forces withdraw, which may take the country back to where it was before the original 2001 invasion. With that, the gains of the last decade that cost billions of dollars and tens of thousands of U.S. and Afghan lives will be lost.
The United States is facing a multidimensional problem in Afghanistan — be it resurgence of the Taliban, the corrupt Afghan administration, the failed economy, the regrouping of former warlords after 2014 or the collapse of Kabul government. Abandoning Afghanistan after 2014 is not an option.
The right course of action would be to withdraw U.S. forces according to predetermined schedule and provide support to the Afghan security forces in form of logistics, training and air support if necessary.
The United States should also increase or maintain the level of developmental aid to the country — at least in the short term. To deal with the corruption, however, the aid should be conditional upon meeting certain benchmarks, such as eliminating corruption in the Afghan government or bringing fraudulent high-level officials to trial.