THE slogan ‘Yankee, go home!’ has resurfaced. Afghanistan has joined the voices of Vietnam, Cambodia and Iraq to repeat that chant. Today, US foreign policy and defence strategists must be twiddling their thumbs, wondering what to do with themselves for the next 20 years. For the past 20, they were busy creating a secular, democratic Afghanistan out of its disparate ethnic parts. What they have produced is a Frankenstein monster with a recycled brain.
Afghanistan — the graveyard of empires — is now the cemetery of democracy. No one can accuse the US and its 36 altruistic Nato allies of not spending enough to bribe Afghanistan into modernity.
Between 2001 and 2020, the US spent $144 billion revivifying Afghan security forces. Since 2014, the Nato coalition managed a non-combat Resolute Support Mission. From August 2020, RSM deployed 10,000 personnel, operating from Kabul/Bagram and four local centres. They provided “training, advice and assistance activities at the security-related ministries, the country’s security institutions, [and] senior elements of the Afghan army, police and air force”
Nato channelled through an ANA Trust Fund $3.4bn to feed Afghan security personnel. Separately, subventions were disbursed through a Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan, administered by the UNDP and the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund. LOTFA paid the salaries of police and justice personnel and to the interior ministry. The ASFF paid for equipping and running Afghanistan’s security forces.
What has the US produced in Afghanistan?
This month, when faced with a real enemy, the overfed Afghan army and security forces exercised their democratic rights. They voted, with their feet. There was a time when countries fought wars. Now, it is combat by contractors. In Afghanistan, contractors employed by the US Department of Defence often equalled and sometimes exceeded DoD personnel. In 2012, for example, 85,600 DoD forces were supported by 117,227 DoD-funded contractors. Over 2011-2019, the DoD paid them above the table $891 million.
KBR heads the list of 100 top contractors, followed by Fluor Corporation (seven). Blackwater (12), and Boeing Company (50).
The US and Nato countries also employed Afghans as translators. Those employed directly by the US were offered a special immigrant visa which guaranteed them and their dependents permanent residency in the US. Those who worked for or on behalf of the US were fobbed off with a temporary visa. In 2008, 198 Afghans availed of SIVs and took an equal number of dependents with them. In 2017, the numbers jumped to 4,120 with 12,050 dependents. This year the number shrank to 360 with 1,626 dependents. Over 12,000 hopefuls queuing outside the temporary US embassy in Kabul airport must content themselves with crumbling expectations. Germany has accommodated 446 local employees and their 1,804 dependents. Some gamblers want visas but no plane seats just yet.
How could a superhuman Gulliver have been defeated by a gaggle of Lilliputians? How could muscular wealth be hounded out so ignominiously by a turbaned rabble? One US journalist’s explanation is that the Taliban systematically subverted Ghani’s papier-mâché administration, at every level. Deals disguised as ‘ceasefires’ allowed Taliban leaders to buy time and support from government functionaries — first at the district level, then provincial, and finally at the national level. This erosion culminated “in a breathtaking series of negotiated surrenders by government forces”.
How did the Taliban come by such potent lucre? A Nato report purported to know its sources. In a breakdown provided by Taliban members of revenues amassed by its financial wizard Mullah Yaqoob, “the militant group during the last financial year  earned some $464m from mining, $416m from drugs, $240m from foreign countries and individuals, another $240m from exports, $160m from taxes, and $80m from real estate”. That amounts to $1.6bn, hardly enough to buy a state, but enough to reassure the World Bank that the new Afghan government has the requisite broad-based expertise to manage a diversified economy.
Pakistan’s gratuitous involvement in Afghanistan’s internal affairs is too well-known to be repeated. For Afghanistan’s neighbours, the withdrawal of US and Nato forces is being viewed through separate lenses. Russia, its fingers having recovered from previous burns, wants the Iranians, Indians and Pakistanis to singe theirs. It is encouraging them to meet and lay the warped foundations for Afghanistan’s predictably unstable future.
China, never having stepped into Afghanistan, accepts the present situation as “an awkward reality”. As one Chinese expert put it: “How you want to rule your country is largely your own business; just don’t let that affect China.” Sage advice, as sound as Afghanistan’s appeal to international busybodies: ‘Go home, and do unto yourself what you have done to us.’
The writer is an author.