ISLAMABAD: The United States has spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan to cushion the sinking ship of the landlocked country’s economy, but there are no visible signs of improvement.
An immediate workable solution for Afghanistan to boost its economy is forging better relations with Pakistan. Instead Kabul has resorted to blame game, holding Pakistan responsible for almost all recent terrorist attacks in its territory.
According to a report published by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar), created by the US Congress for an independent oversight of Afghan reconstruction projects, multibillion-dollar American investment in Afghan economy was spent uselessly and not followed by any significant results as expected by the international society and the Afghan people.
Though the US poured $113 billion into the Afghan economy from 2002 to 2015, the socio-economic situation in the country showed no signs of improvement and continued to worsen, it said.
From a total of 44 projects sponsored by the US, only 20 were completed and received by Afghan officials. The report cited different problems for the failure including illicit and unprofessional planning of the programmes and baseless projects that had nothing to do with restoration of the Afghan economy, for instance, the Taliban reintegration support fund.
It also pointed to the low efficiency of anti-drug projects on which billions of dollars were spent and stealing of huge amounts of money invested in the construction of schools and hospitals by local officials that mostly gave the projects to companies of their relatives.
John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction who reports to Congress on how US aid money has been spent, told Irin news agency that US-funded programmes were successful, but overall reconstruction had been characterised by mismanagement and waste.
“Such a scattershot approach has led directly to the current economic crisis. While USAID and other agencies may have had their own strategies to ease Afghanistan through the transition period, there seems to have been little coordination and no overarching plan,” he said.
According to the World Bank, the deteriorating security environment and persisting political uncertainty continue to undermine private-sector confidence and affect economic activity in Afghanistan.
Domestic demand remained weak with no sign of a pickup in private consumption and investment. The number of new company registrations, as a proxy for business activities, indicated only a small increase in new investment activities in 2015, but it remained significantly below the levels of 2012-13, the bank said.
Time for strong cooperation
However, instead of focusing on the issues highlighted by Sigar, Afghanistan is engaged in a blame game with Pakistan. This is a time for integration and strong cooperation in order to steer out of the economic problems.
Afghanistan is a transit country and can become a trade hub as China has taken over control of Gwadar Port. Pakistan and China are working on a gigantic economic corridor project called CPEC that offers myriad investment opportunities for all countries in the region, including Afghanistan.
Almost all Central Asian states have expressed interest in becoming part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Beijing is also keen to reach Central Asia and Afghanistan provides a suitable transit route. Peace will prevail in Afghanistan in the long term if it goes for economic development. Kabul should welcome Islamabad’s offer to join the CPEC as it will have multiple options for using the ports.
However, rather than capitalising on the opportunity, Afghanistan has become part of the Chabahar port deal between Iran and India to show its muscles to Pakistan and China.
the writer is a staff correspondent
Published in The Express Tribune, September 26th, 2016.