I had visited Afghanistan in May and stayed there three months. When I returned in October, I realized that the country’s economic situation had further deteriorated. Money had become scarcer than even two months before. Almost anywhere my accompanying friend parked in the city, we were surrounded by kids, no older than 12 and13, begging or offering to shine our shows for ten Afghanis which, according to the present exchange rate, amounts to approximately 15 cents.
The Afghani, the local currency, has declined 32% in value in relation to the dollar. According to a professor of economics I met, the country’s economic growth rate has fallen to 0%.
As we continued our discussion, the professor closed his eyes, rubbed his forehead with his left hand and said, “Revitalizing our economy would be manageable if we had the right people at the top. What I worry about is what we will do after another fifteen years if we continue on the same path of corruption and lawlessness.”
I wasn’t sure why he chose the term “after another fifteen years” and asked what he meant by it.
“We’d had a free ride for fifteen years with other peoples’ money,” he said. “The corrupt assholes leading this country, are dreaming of at least another fifteen years of theft and brutality. They want to see their children put in positions of power to secure their standing and impunity for another generation. Should these callous warlords continue governing us for another fifteen years, the country will remain as broken as it is today.” He thought for a moment, then continued, “But by then, our population will have grown to 45 perhaps even 50 million. I lose my sleep when I think about it. 40% of our people already lives below the poverty line. How can we, one of the poorest nations on the planet, afford such an explosive population growth?”
Raising his eyebrows, the professor continued in an almost begging voice, as if I possessed the power to change things. “If we want to build an economy that could employ our rapidly growing population and if we want to avoid a disaster, we must act now and get rid of the mafia that holds us in its grip.”
Frankly, I wasn’t particularly surprised. In November 2014, while attending a dinner at the 5-star Kabul Serena Hotel, I found myself placed opposite the ministry of finance’s president of national revenue. I couldn’t resist the temptation to ask him whether he had thought about what the government would do after, as announced, the U.S. and NATO had withdrawn most of their troops from the country at the end of the year, and the flow of dollars slowed down drastically.
He looked at me in an arrogant manner, and said, “After 2014 is 2015, after 2015 comes 2016…”
Before he could continue, I interrupted him and said, “Even a child knows that. I wanted to know whether you have deliberated on how you would pay your bills when the flow of foreign money slowed down or even dried up.”
He looked at me, got up, left, and never came back. I felt badly because he was a guest, as I was. I had no right to anger another guest. To my defense, I must add, however, that I had asked a very simple question and had done so with a friendly demeanor. I had no intention whatever to put him in an uncomfortable position.
The reason I had asked the question was because I felt he was the perfect candidate from whom I could get an accurate explanation of what the Afghan government’s plans were in view of the changes that were taking place. From His response, I realized that the Afghan government didn’t care and expected that donors, especially the U.S., would continue bailing them out.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Today, the situation in Afghanistan is rapidly reaching a boiling point, requiring urgent rethinking of U.S. policy.
My talks with many thoughtful people during my present visit to Afghanistan reminded me of the responsibilities the U.S. shouldered when it invaded that country in October 2001. In the meantime, the U.S. has fought the longest war in its history, have lost about 2,300 Americans and caused the death of uncounted Afghans.
Yet, we have failed to fulfill our pledge to ourselves and the Afghan people. Indeed, we have failed our promise to the global community since the United Nations Security Council had sanctioned our invasion of Afghanistan so that we could rid that country of terrorism, revitalize its institutions, and rebuild its economy.
Despite America’s considerable human sacrifice and enormous monetary expenditures, that country is top among other nations in corruption, illegal drug production, and government criminality. There’s no wonder that it’s one of the two poorest countries on the planet.
Recent publications on Afghanistan’s problems by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) make for interesting reading and our staggering failures in that country is astounding indeed.
During my present trip to Afghanistan, I was fortunate to meet many knowledgeable and dedicated people. They all believe that both the Karzai and Ghani governments have betrayed the Afghan people. All of them hope for America to find the political resolve to change its approach to their country.
My strangest and perhaps most hopeful experience was a meeting I’d had with a member of the Taliban. For reasons of the safety of the people involved, I can’t reveal where I met him and who arranged the meeting. But I can say it was a friendly meeting. What I thought was relevant was that he said they, the Taliban, desired no more than a government that is not corrupt and worked for the benefit of the people. He added that that would be acceptable to them to lay down their arms.
My findings during this trip convinced me more than ever that Washington must begin following an avenue different from the present format we have been working with.
I also more than ever believe that the U.S. consider supporting people outside the country’s established leadership. It is important to initiate the right changes before the pressure cooker explodes in our faces.
Nasir Shansab has maintained homes, business interests and dual citizenship in both the United States and Afghanistan for the past three decades.
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