The special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, John Sopko, released his quarterly report to Congress. According to Sopko’s investigation, the US has now spent more on the reconstruction of Afghanistan than it did on the Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild 16 European countries after the Second World War. Afghanistan’s nation-building has exceeded $104 billion, which surpasses the $103.4 billion current-dollar value of the Marshall Plan. While the Marshall Plan successfully lifted western Europe from the aftermath of the World War II, the same cannot be said of the US investment in Afghanistan, a country that continues to be defined by catastrophe.
American nation-building in Europe led to the development of outstanding infrastructure and the establishment of thriving economies. By contrast, empty buildings, a string of failed projects and a decrepit government are all that’s left of the billions of dollars sunk into Afghanistan. Most of the American investment was poured into beefing up the rag-tag Afghan security forces. We’re within months of the US withdrawal and the Afghan security forces investment is still backfiring. Just last week, a US major general was murdered by an Afghan soldier.
The US has spent $626 million to provide weapons and equipment to the Afghan forces, including 465,000 small arms. However, the US has failed to keep track and properly record the serial numbers of 43 per cent of this weaponry. Sopko has made it clear that undocumented American-supplied weapons are prevalent within Afghanistan. In an interview with Time magazine, he stated: “We’re not talking just handguns and M-16s and AK-47s … we’re talking some high-powered stuff — grenade launchers, RPGs, machine guns.”
Meanwhile, opium production is booming in Afghanistan and continues to grow. The US spent $7.6 billion on projects to counter opium cultivation, but production has charted upwards to new heights over the last three years. Most of the projects offered as alternatives to poppy crops were bizarre or not fully thought through. In one instance, $34.4 million was allotted for a soybean project despite evidence suggesting that the crop was “inappropriate for (climate) conditions and farming practices in Northern Afghanistan”.
Economic turmoil aside, allegations of corruption and fraud in the June elections have destroyed any prospects of a smooth political transition in Afghanistan. The outcome of the vote is dependent upon the result of the much-awaited UN audit of eight million votes. This delay complicates US withdrawal from the country as it is dependent upon the new president signing a bilateral security agreement. Without the agreement, no US troops will stay behind by the end of the year. Even with the agreement, only around 10,000 are expected to remain.
No respected authority on the region has illusions that the fighting will come to an end once the American troops exit. The US Congress has proven how quickly it can act when properly motivated, by passing a last-minute military aid bill for Israel. Aid to Afghanistan does not share near the same political support. A recently conducted poll indicated that 66 per cent of Americans think the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting. Americans also came out in record numbers to prevent President Barack Obama from entering Syria last year. How many times must history repeat itself before leaders of the Western world understand that a lasting solution to militancy requires a sustained dedication to correcting socioeconomic deficits, which allowed it to thrive in the first place?
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2014.
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