The government of Afghanistan and its armed forces are almost totally dependent on outside funding and could not survive without massive outside financial support from the United States and other donors. This was confirmed in a revealing report issued last week from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The report was released quietly, but it should have aroused an uproar of debate. It casts further doubt on the viability of U.S. strategy in the region. It also exposes the fecklessness of supposed budget hawks in Congress who block the flow of a few billion dollars for disaster relief here at home while ignoring the flood of tens of billions into the sink hole of failed policy in Afghanistan.
The numbers. Over the past five years the United States and other donors have funded 90 percent of the Kabul government’s budget. Total spending by the Afghan government in 2010 was $14.3 billion. Domestic revenues for the government that year were just $1.66 billion.
The GAO report notes laconically, “Customs duties and taxes such as income and property taxes provided the largest share of domestic revenues. However, domestic revenues funded only about 9 percent of Afghanistan’s estimated total public expenditures.”
Talk about deficit spending! Not to worry, though, Kabul has a permanent bailout fund, courtesy of Western taxpayers.
The United States and its allies are the paymasters of Kabul. The U.S. funds 62 percent of the total Afghan government budget and an estimated 90 percent of the costs of maintaining Kabul’s large security forces. The Afghan army and national police currently number nearly 300,000, and have expanded greatly in recent years at Washington’s insistence. The Obama administration has proposed expanding these forces even further, but has no suggestion for how such a force can be maintained without U.S. funding.
The toll. The Kabul regime is in effect a wholly owned subsidiary of the West. It is utterly incapable of being able to stand on its own. No government can be considered legitimate or sustainable if it is so completely dependent on outside funding.
Keep in mind that Kabul’s doleful financial condition comes after ten years of effort, and amidst claims of success for U.S. policy. After a decade of supposed nation building and the vast human and material sacrifice that has been poured into the country, the Kabul regime is able to fund only about 10 percent of its own budget.
In December dozens of nations will gather in Bonn to mark the 10th anniversary of the formation of the Kabul government. What have they wrought after all these years? How much longer and at what cost will Western taxpayers be expected to foot the bill?
General David Rodriguez, recent commander of international forces in Afghanistan, claims in the current issue of Foreign Affairs that American troops have achieved “indisputable gains everywhere we have focused our efforts.” There are clear signs, the General writes, that U.S. and Afghan forces have
“regained the initiative” and that the current counterinsurgency strategy is working.
Contrast that Panglossian assessment with the report from Kabul two days ago of the most direct and sustained insurgent attack on the U.S. embassy in 10 years of war, and the news a few days before of a truck bomb attack in Wardak that wounded 77 U.S. troops (the largest number of injuries in a single day since the war began), and the shooting down in early August of a Chinook helicopter that killed 8 Afghan and 30 U.S. troops (the largest single day loss of American life in the war).
Insurgent forces are stronger than ever. They control much of the Afghan countryside and benefit from a vast network of support in neighboring Pakistan. The government of Afghanistan remains one of the most corrupt in the world and is incapable of providing the viable political alternative that is necessary for counterinsurgency success.
Blinded by their false optimism, Rodriguez and other U.S. commanders plan to continue fighting the war for years to come. President Obama has started a necessary drawdown of troops, but there is no recognition of the need for a fundamental change of direction.
Here are the outlines of an alternative peacebuilding strategy:
- Pledge to withdraw all foreign troops if insurgents cooperate in suppressing Al Qaida and respect basic political rights for the Afghan people.
- Begin immediate direct negotiations with the insurgents for a ceasefire and a political power sharing arrangement within Afghanistan.
- Negotiate a diplomatic compact among neighboring states to stabilize the region, and deploy a Muslim-led interim peacekeeping force under UN authority to protect civilians.
- Maintain large-scale economic assistance to help the people of Afghanistan rebuild from decades of war.
It is long past time to end the delusions and face facts. The war cannot be won and must be ended as soon as possible.
I’ve been invited to The Hague this week by the International Center on Counter-Terrorism for the presentation “Reflecting on the Effects of Counter-Terrorism Measures since 9/11: A Civil Society Perspective.” My talk focuses on the erosion of political freedom and human rights in many parts of the world resulting from repressive counter-terrorism measures.
It feels strange to be here in Europe during such a traumatic week in the U.S. The constant commemorations are reminding us of that terrifying time, what we were doing when the planes hit, how we responded to the horror of so many lives lost.
In that time of foreboding ten years ago, many of us felt a double fear—from the menacing threat of al Qaida’s murderous attacks, but also from the risk of an overly militarized reaction from the U.S. government. Our fears were sharpened soon after the attacks when President Bush declared a ‘global war on terror.’
During that time of fear I worked with friends in the religious community, Reverends Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches, to help craft a statement appealing for “sober restraint” and warning against indiscriminate retaliation that would cause more loss of innocent life. The proper response to the criminal attacks of al Qaida, the statement argued, is not war, but vigorous international police efforts to apprehend perpetrators and prevent future attacks. “Let us deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image,” the declaration read. It was eventually signed by more than 4,000 people and published in The New York Times on November 19, 2001.
Ten years later that message remains relevant and necessary. The ill-fated military occupation of Iraq is finally coming to an end, but American troops continue to fight and die in Afghanistan, and U.S. forces are launching a dozen or more drone bombing strikes and commando raids every day in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries. Civilian deaths in Afghanistan are at their highest level since the UN began reporting such figures, and many are dying under our bombs in Pakistan as well. More innocent lives are lost, and more seeds of revenge and future armed conflict are sown.
When will we learn that war is not the answer? That policies of civilian law enforcement and conflict transformation offer a better strategy for preventing violent extremism?