During the past thirteen years a large part of the investment of more than a hundred billion dollars in Afghanistan’s reconstruction has been wasted. Afghanistan’s government has neither built a functioning economy nor created a self-sufficient financial foundation to cover the country’s public expenditures.
The depth of Afghanistan’s economic malaise could lead to the collapse of the country’s government, possibly leading to another civil war.
A British politician once said, Afghanistan was a “13th Century” country and we didn’t need to stay there any longer. The Briton’s observation may be accurate. I had placed Afghanistan in the 11th Century. As unimaginable this fact may appear, it constitutes no reason for the U.S. to abandon Afghanistan. Before taking such a dramatic step, we must first consider U.S. interests.
When the Red Army left Afghanistan and the communist regime in Kabul collapsed, Washington withdrew its support of that country. Had the U.S. helped rebuild that country, the subsequent civil war, the emergence of the Taliban and Bin Laden’s escape from Sudan to Afghanistan may have not happened, and the tragedy of 9/11 could have been avoided. Leaving Afghanistan was a grave mistake that should not be repeated.
However, for the sacrifice not to be again in vain, the coalition must radically change the way it has been managing Afghanistan’s problems.
Despite the new, so-called unity government, many unsavory characters still remain in positions of power and influence. To free Afghanistan from the lawlessness and corruption that these warlords have unleashed upon the Afghan people, Washington must disarm and destroy their personal base of power. Only then could the democratization process, the establishment of pluralistic institutions, and the rule of law be realized.
Questions of sovereignty should not stand in the way. In the past thirteen years, this attribute was used when Washington needed to intervene but didn’t have the stomach for it. Afghanistan is not a sovereign state. It is unable to pay its bills. It cannot defend its borders and has no legal economy to speak of. It is a ward of the international community. Washington has the right and obligation to demand necessary changes.
When the ground is prepared for economic development, Washington could plan the ways to rebuild Afghanistan’s economy. The plan must include power production, the construction of power grids, and the connecting of the gas fields with major population centers. Hydroelectric power and clean-burning natural gas could power the cities and modernize rural communities.
The swiftest result for a more productive and efficient economy would be investments in agriculture. The country’s cotton yield was once a valuable commodity, serving a vibrant textile industry. Today, the country’s cotton production is about 15% of its pre-war harvest.
Once, fresh fruits were air freighted to foreign markets. The production and exportation of nuts and dried fruits was a profitable economic activity and provided reliable jobs to large numbers of workers.
To revive these sectors, the growers and producers must be provided with improved seeds and saplings to upgrade their products and rebuild their tree stocks. They need refrigerated storage centers to prolong the shelf life of their merchandise and sell it gradually at stable prices.
Mechanization of farming would raise the country’s agricultural productivity. The creation of an agricultural bank could provide the farmers with the financial means to invest in modern equipment.
Private investment in agro-industries would be another way to lift the country from its poverty. Investments in fruit and vegetable processing plants and in machinery for sorting, cleaning, and packaging dried fruits would add value to agricultural products and provide jobs for the country’s growing population.
Because of Afghanistan’s dry season between May and October, Afghan farmers rely on mountain snow for water. However, the system is unreliable. Every seven years or so, the country experiences mild winters with little snow falls, causing devastating droughts. Other times, the summer arrives too early, melting the mountain snow too rapidly unleashing devastating floods. To remedy the situations, dams and irrigation canals must be built to control and regulate the flow of water.
Finally, Afghanistan’s natural resources could, if handled honestly and professionally, provide a sustainable source of growth and income, dramatically altering the Afghan people’s lives.
Earlier, I suggested that the first step toward succeeding in developing Afghanistan’s economy should be freeing the government from warlords, drug kingpins, and other strong men of questionable ethics.
I want to end with the suggestion that that first step must also include a determination on the part of the U.S. and its allies not to tolerate corruption and illegal actions by Afghan authorities. As the U.S. sustains the Afghan government with heavy subsidies, it must gather the courage to use its power of the purse unhesitatingly and firmly to safeguard the interests of the Afghan people as opposed to filling the coffers of the country’s power holders.
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