Corruption Could Push Afghanistan Back to Civil War, Top US Official Warns

America's top official overseeing Afghanistan's reconstruction warns return of civil war if President Ghani's government stops "lip service" to international donors and gets serious in fighting the endemic corruption in his country.

Posted on 06/25/20
By Jay Rover | Via ViewsWeek
Fifty-five percent of Afghanistan’s population lives below poverty line despite unprecedented spending on its reconstruction by the US and other International donors. (Photo by Mark Reidy, CC license)

 

At $137 billion and counting, Afghanistan has gained the distinction of being the most expensive reconstruction project in U.S. history. This amount is more than the entire Marshall Plan to rebuild western Europe after World War II. Industrial giants like Germany, France and Netherlands emerged out of the massive US investment under the plan. But what did the US get out of Afghanistan on its unprecedented investments in men and money, which it invaded in post-9/11 global push against Al Qaeda. May be not much. It was a risky investment.

The only prize, if the policymakers may call it, is the defeat of al Qaeda. The Taliban, who were ousted from power following the US invasion, are beck in Kabul even more powerful and legitimized under a peace deal with Washington. Today’s polarized Afghanistan has multiple power centers while the Islamic State has found dangerous foothold in the country. The tens of billions of dollars spent in the name of reconstruction have had little impact on this landlocked country, which remains weak, impoverished, and straddled between pockets of relative modernity and 19th century tribalism. Fifty-five percent of Afghans live below the poverty line, compared to 38% in 2012.

International donors provide approximately 75 percent of Afghanistan’s total public expenditures
“Even after nearly 18 years of U.S. and coalition military support and financial largess, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest, least educated, and most corrupt countries in the world, as well as one of the most violent,” says John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan’s Reconstruction (SIGAR). Sopko’s office has been auditing the American investment since 2008, the year when it was established under a congressional mandate.

In a speech to the Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio, on June 23, Sopko said the viability of the Afghan state does not depend upon bullets and bombs alone. “To put it simply, without the financial support of the international donor community, the Afghan government cannot survive.”

International donors provide approximately 75 percent of Afghanistan’s total public expenditures, and the World Bank has estimated that between $4.6 billion and $8.2 billion of donor funding will be required per year through at least 2024 – and that is in a post-peace-settlement environment.

Afghanistan’s economic growth rate averaged close to double digits for the first decade of reconstruction. Reason is pretty known: the development funds pouring into the country and a large international military presence that amounted to a sizable but impermanent fiscal stimulus. However, since the 2014 security transition and drawdown of foreign troops, its war-driven growth has been stuck in the low single digits.

The World Bank recently reported that Afghanistan’s GDP growth in 2019 was 2.9%, the second lowest in South Asia, which, excluding Afghanistan grew by 5.2%. And the COVID-19 pandemic now is dashing hopes for higher growth over the next several years. A panel of experts convened by the Wilson Center last month predicted that the Afghan economy would contract sharply in 2020, perhaps by as much as 10%.

Such gloomy economic forecast means that Afghanistan’s dependence on foreign aid will even increase in the coming months and years. “As my agency has repeatedly reported, despite receiving nearly $35 billion in U.S. assistance for governance and economic development, Afghanistan’s economy is floundering,” Sopko says. He says corruption is undermining the strength and legitimacy of Afghan government and that economic turnaround without tackling the scourge may remain a distant possibility.

Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Afghanistan as tied for 173rd out of 180 countries, ranking it less corrupt than only Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, and Somalia.
Afghanistan has huge deposits of minerals that can change the lives of common Afghans. In 2010, the US Department of Defense estimated, based on U.S. Geological Survey data, that Afghanistan held $908 billion worth of mineral resources. But Afghan government under President Ghani’s watch, has failed to capitalize on it.

Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index ranks Afghanistan as tied for 173rd out of 180 countries, ranking it less corrupt than only Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, and Somalia.

“Let me be perfectly clear here, corruption in Afghanistan is not just a criminal justice issue. Systemic corruption in Afghanistan goes beyond that. As we noted in our 2016 Lessons Learned report, corruption is a strategic threat to our entire mission in Afghanistan,” Sopko said.

If the rampant corruption is not dealt with, the private sector growth will not materialize, and the donor community will eventually tire of coming to Afghanistan’s rescue.
He pointed out that corruption was the most insidious threat the Afghan government faces “because it saps the support of citizens who are trying to go about their daily work, feed their families, and live free of fear and intimidation.” And certainly government corruption has been used by insurgent groups to undermine garner recruits to their cause.

He accused the government of President Ashraf Ghani of offering just a lip service to the UN and the rest of the donor community about its anti-corruption commitments. The donors might buy Ghani’s assurances but not the private sector which cares far more about its own bottom line than  about Afghanistan’s future.

“Afghanistan’s leaders must come to realize that in the end, private sector investment will matter far more to their country’s future than international donors, because after 18 years of war, foreign governments, including the United States, are growing weary of paying Afghanistan’s bills,” he added.

He said if the rampant corruption was not dealt with, the private sector growth will not materialize, and the donor community will eventually tire of coming to Afghanistan’s rescue. “When that occurs, the country’s economy and government could well collapse and a return to civil war, the rise of new or reenergized fundamentalist movements, or the full transformation of Afghanistan into a narco-state could result.”

 

Check Also

Afghanistan Peace Talks Begin on High Expectations, New Questions

Polling shows the Afghan people were willing to make some compromises for peace. But many question whether the Taliban can be held accountable for what they’ve promised.

Why Bangladeshis Are Unhappy With the Visit of India’s Top Diplomat?

Many in Bangladesh are criticizing the recent unannounced visit of India's Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla to Dhaka. Bangladeshis think India is pressing Dhaka to drift away from China.

2 comments

  1. Muhammad Alamgir Khan

    Excellent round up of prevailing corruption and its impact on Afghan economy. If anything can avert a looming civil war in Afghanistan is the willingness of future government of Afghanistan to attract investment in its economy which in turn will create stakes for an ordinary citizen in occupations other than being a foot soldier for one faction or the other.

  2. Why do Afghans blame Pakistan for their ‘Corruption’ Anything going wrong in any Institutions the Afghan media will accuse Pakistan of causing the problem. If Pakistan is the problem then why is US administration asking Pakistan to help bring ‘Peace’ between the Taliban and the Rest.

Leave a Reply