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Leaving the Volatility Behind

Written by Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq  •  May 2013 PDF Print E-mail

Foreign presence in Afghanistan has dealt a severe blow to development, stability and peace in the country. Where has U.S. funding really been utilized?

U.S. Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta and Joint Chief of Staff, General Martin E. Dempsey, while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 7 February 2013, demanded that “the State Department and Intelligence community must be provided with the resources they need to execute the mission we expect of them.” On 30 April 2013, many leading newspapers exposed how funds provided over the last decade, in the name of fighting the ‘war on terror’, were abused. The Guardian, in a report published on 30 April 2013, made the startling revelation that “the CIA and MI6 have regularly given large cash payments to Hamid Karzai’s office with the aim of maintaining access to the Afghan leader and his top allies and officials, but the attempt to buy influence has largely failed and may have backfired.”

On various levels, the war in Afghanistan (2001-present) is proving to be a failure. The payments by British intelligence on a smaller scale compared to CIA’s handouts, reported in the New York Times to the tune of tens of millions, have failed to finance peace initiatives, which have so far proved abortive. “The U.S. is quitting Afghanistan, and the morning after it does, the Taliban will begin the reconquest of that tragic land,” says Ms. Fawzia Koofi, noted lawmaker and human-rights activist of Afghanistan.

Talibanisation in tandem with terrorism is a real threat to the global community. The U.S. and NATO forces initially arrived in Afghanistan to eliminate Al-Qaeda and strengthen democracy as an alternative to Talibanisation. After 11 years of war, spending $600 billion, a toll of over 2,000 Americans dead and 18,000 wounded, the prime danger still lurks, even if weakened.

According to Reuters, the Afghan Taliban vowed to start a new campaign of mass suicide attacks on foreign military bases and diplomatic areas, as well as damaging “insider attacks,” as part of a new spring offensive this year. The announcement comes at a time when the NATO-led military coalition is in the final stages of its fight against the Taliban-led insurgency that began in late 2001. After announcing their spring offensive last year, the Taliban launched a big attack in Kabul involving suicide bombers and an 18-hour firefight, targeting Western embassies, ISAF headquarters and the Afghan parliament. These events prove the failure of the U.S. and its allies both on military and political fronts. Tragically, as the long U.S. war in Afghanistan winds down, it poses more uncertainties and greater ramifications to world peace and stability.

The failure, diplomatic circles claim, has raised questions among “some British officials over whether eagerness to promote a political settlement may have been exploited by Afghan officials and self-styled intermediaries for the Taliban.” The U.S. is, however, not ready to admit it was backing corrupt circles in Afghanistan and elsewhere rather than adopting pro-people policies. It is thus not surprising that anti-American sentiment is so high in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Political parties in Pakistan that support U.S. policies continue to suffer heavily during the election campaign with their rallies and congregations regularly targeted by extremist groups. In a post-election scenario, Pakistan is likely to live under a constant shadow of onslaught of Talibanisation -- a fact that has serious repercussions for all South Asian states as well. The U.S. and its allies have created a legacy that is bound to haunt this region for many years to come.

War-ravaged Afghanistan has not been reconstructed in the last 11 years to counter the Taliban threat. Instead, the payments, referred to in a New York Times report as “ghost money”, helped prop up warlords and corrupt officials, deepening Afghan popular mistrust of the Kabul government and its foreign backers, thereby helping drive the insurgency. This truth cannot be denied by the U.S., its allies and those who were supporting their policies in Pakistan and elsewhere. One American official even told the New York Times: “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States.”

Taliban intermediaries were the main beneficiary of the funds secretly provided by the MI6 and the CIA. With the Afghan people suffering innumerable injustices, many questioned why they should support the U.S. The naivety of the so-called champions of peace was exposed in 2010 when the MI6 discovered that a would-be Taliban leader, in talks with Karzai, was actually an impostor from the Pakistani city of Quetta. Instead of winning the hearts and minds of the common people, policy makers in the U.S. were preoccupied with promoting the Taliban’s cause and wasting billions of dollars in secret funding. More than often, money audits are usually weak thus facilitating intelligence officers to make personal fortunes by not transferring the entire funds to the beneficiaries.

Vali Nasr, a former U.S. government adviser on Afghanistan, aptly noted, “Karzai has been lashing out against American officials and generals, so if indeed there has been funding by the CIA, you have to ask to what effect has that money been paid. It hasn’t clearly brought the sort of influence it was meant to.” In The Dispensable Nation, criticizing U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Nasr further adds, “If the terms of such payments are not clear, the question is how well do they tag with U.S. policy … The CIA has a narrow, counter-terrorism purview that involved working with warlords, but that is quite a different agenda, on how we conduct the war or how we build a government.”

Kate Clark, an analyst at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a think-tank in Kabul, recently commented, “It is one thing to conduct covert operations in a hostile country. I’m flabbergasted that the CIA is running these kinds of covert operations in a friendly country. It runs counter to accountability, democracy and the rule of law, and is damaging what the U.S. is trying to do.” Fouad Ajami, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, observed that in November 2011, Karzai gave the quintessential Afghan statement about the place of the Americans and their coalition partners in his homeland saying, “The lion doesn’t like it if a foreigner intrudes into his house. The lion doesn’t like it if a stranger enters his house. The lion doesn’t want his children to be taken away by someone else in the night, the lion won’t let it happen. All the lion would tolerate is for the outsiders to “just guard the four sides of the forest.”

If Afghanistan is left to the Taliban and warlords, the situation within the country will undoubtedly have devastating effects on Pakistan and other South Asian states. It is imperative for all regional states to work out a solution and ask Western powers to completely disengage from conflict in Afghanistan. According to a recent statement issued by President Karzai, “The coalition forces were predators inflicting pain and ruin on the Afghans. At times, the foreign protectors ranked lower in esteem than the Taliban.” It seems then that foreign presence and engagement is counterproductive to any peace initiative in Afghanistan. 


Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq are partners in the law firm Huzaima & Ikram (member Taxand) and Adjunct Professors at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

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