Why Al Qaeda Hates Nation-Building
As a spate of news reports and a congressional committee warn that depression "looms" in Afghanistan, my question is: how do you tell the difference? Is a "depression" in Afghanistan when 90% of the children are clinically malnourished instead of fifty percent like it is now, or when unemployment among young men is at 80% instead of the present 40-50 percent? Or when only 10 percent of the country has access to clean drinking water instead of the only 20 percent who do today?
As the media plays up the hundreds of millions of dollars of waste in Afghan civilian assistance rather than the hundreds of billions wasted on the war (over $400 billion to date, your tax money,) little is said about how we got the Taliban in Afghanistan in the first place. After the Russians were driven out in the Nineties, with the help of billions of dollars worth of weapons and cash given by the US to the mujihadeen, once our little game of global chess was won, we left the factions to fight over the rubble. The US ignored the pleas of the government for something other than bullets to shoot Russians with, like help for works projects to create jobs.
No one in Washington talked about corruption as long as teenagers in Russian uniforms were getting their throats cut. And if a warlord pocketed a few million here or there, well what the heck.
To make a long story short, the country was plunged into one of the most brutal civil wars in modern history, which might have been avoided had many young Afghans had better things to do than fight for warlords who now were the only people with money to pay them. Liz Gould and Paul Fitzgerald, husband and wife team authors of "Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story" say in a Mother Jones interview:
The US during the Bush years blew it. Afghanistan was Washington’s to lose and they lost it. Can they get it back? The Afghan people are very nationalistic, but they have lost faith in the genuineness of the US effort to help them. They know that the U.S. is there for its own interests and nothing else. We empowered the warlords and we never actually implemented real security or reconstruction. They still don't have enough electricity, enough water. The roads are not rebuilt. The whole economy is still very weak. This is the main reason why the Taliban idea keeps popping up as competition. In most cases this is not even an ideological issue, this is an economic issue.
By the time the Taliban came along, as a result of the chaos, over 2 million Afghans had starved or died of exposure in the harsh winters. By then, the Taliban's brand of stability actually looked good.
Gould-Fitzgerald were the first western journalists allowed into the country after the Marxist takeover in 1977, and have reported for the BBC as well as NBC's Nightline. "Invisible History" is the one book you need to read if you want to understand Afghanistan.
As the US and the Karzai government now bicker over corruption, the bright spot in Afghan development getting missed and is threatened with falling victim is the Afghan National Solidarity Program (NSP,) which the World Bank has called "a government within a government." Even the recent report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which unleashed the main fusillade against the Karzai government for wasting American money has the kind words:
"The theme echoed throughout this report is that our strategies and projects should meet the conditions of being necessary, achievable, and sustainable before funding is allocated. The report describes how these principles have been applied in practice through...the National Solidarity Program..."
And the hard-nosed Special Inspector General for the Afghanistan Reconstruction, appointed by the president, just issued a glowing report.
The NSP, in short, are the dedicated Afghans doing the work while everyone else on both sides bicker politics.
As usual the poorest of the poor in Afghanistan, which is still most people,are caught in the middle of a fight, this time between international donors and corrupt warlords. It is they who will suffer most if all aid is cut off, even the kind that works. The beauty of the NSP is no funds are released at any stage of a project until the World Bank (which runs the donor account, the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund) is satisfied that previous milestones have been met. So there is little reason to worry that funds will be stolen, since the World Bank itself representing international donors makes the determination that they are being well-spent.
Play hardball with Karzai and his cronies. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. The NSP is money Karzai and the boys can't get their mitts on. The politicians keep saying they are looking for an exit strategy. Here is the exit strategy. We can leave, as we should and as Obama promised we would begin to this summer, without leaving behind chaos. Where there is chaos, that is where Al Qaeda goes.
In the end, the tragedy is not that we keep repeating history. It's that we keep repeating the stupidest, most avoidable parts of it.
VIDEO: Poverty in Afghanistan today