After 13 years, thousands of squandered American lives and billions of wasted dollars, Afghanistan remains a disaster and horrific backwater rivaled only by some of the failed nations in Africa where colonial rule gave way to gross corruption and often a worsening of local economies. Yet if one listens to statements by politicians and perhaps worse yet, military leaders, they continue the myth that America has accomplished something in Afghanistan and that democracy and societal modernization are just around the corner. Not only is such blather wishful thinking, its an outright lie. A column in the New York Times looks at the reality in Afghanistan and what politicians of both parties and the ever eager for war generals prefer Americans not understand. Here are excerpts:
John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, apparently is the only official in Washington who dares speak truth to power. In a Sept. 12 speech at Georgetown University, he said that Afghanistan “remains under assault by insurgents and is short of domestic revenue, plagued by corruption, afflicted by criminal elements involved in opium and smuggling, and struggling to execute basic functions of government.” His comments were largely ignored by the American media, and there was no immediate reaction from the Obama administration.And yet anything less than a heavy dose of honesty and fresh thinking by Afghans and their Western supporters will almost certainly mean the relapse of Afghanistan into civil war and the emergence of groups even more extreme than the Taliban, as has happened in Iraq and Syria.Moving from the lengthy U.S. military presence to full Afghan sovereignty was premised on the completion of four distinct transitions. But none has been successfully carried out, despite more than $640 billion in U.S. direct spending in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2013.The most critical transition, the one on which everything else rested, was political. Rather than build state institutions or carry out much-needed electoral reforms, President Hamid Karzai spent his long tenure encouraging a form of crony politics that failed to sap the power of the warlords. He won a second term in 2009, after a vastly fraudulent election. The following year, according to U.N. officials, he asked that the United Nations stop supervising elections in the country, and Washington and NATO went along.The second promised transition was military. U.S. forces were to hand over security matters to Afghan forces, proving that the new, U.S.-trained Afghan Army would then be able to hold back the Taliban on its own. Yet Interior Minister Mohammad Omar Daudzai told Parliament in Kabul on Sept. 16 that the previous six months had been the deadliest ever for the Afghan police. Today there is fighting in 18 of 34 provinces, Afghan and NATO officials have told me. In many areas, Afghan soldiers are barely able to secure their own bases, much less retake lost territory. Helmand, the critical drugs-producing province in southern Afghanistan, is at risk of being taken over by the Taliban. If it falls, all of southern Afghanistan might too.The third failed transition has to do with economics. . . . . here has been little large-scale investment in agriculture or basic industry; instead, the bulk of the economy has focused on servicing foreign troops and on their spending. And now the troops are about to withdraw.When I first visited Afghanistan in the 1970s, the country was desperately poor, but it was almost self-sufficient in food and had a small yet thriving export trade in fruit, handicrafts, furs and gems. Today, Afghanistan imports much of its food and it produces very few commercial goods. The service economy, which is run by the middle class, has been collapsing, as both educated people and billions of dollars in capital have left the country.The fourth contribution expected of the U.S. presence was insulating Afghanistan from foreign interference, which many Afghans fear as much as the Taliban . . . . that, too, has not happened, and the country remains vulnerable to meddling from outside.2015 is supposed to mark the start of Afghanistan’s “Transformation Decade.” But if the country is to even get to 2015 in one piece, its new leaders must act fast to correct course after the failed transformation of the last decade.