All that has something to do with this tormented country of Afghanistan and its region is misfortune.
My flight from Frankfurt to Kabul via Istanbul left late. The up-and-coming Turkish Airline never explained to us—its customers—the reason for it. In fact, Turkish Airline personnel never communicated with us that there would be a delay.
Alas, time, by its own irresistible force of forward movement, solved the nuisance. We ultimately boarded our plain and left. Because of our late departure from Frankfurt, I missed my connecting flight to Kabul.
Then, a seemingly everlasting exploration for what to do next began to haunt me through the long halls of the crowded and splendidly disorganized Ataturk International Airport.
After receiving several misinformed, even outright erroneous, directives from airline and airport personnel—which superfluously made me run around for two hours—I found out I needed a visa to be able to leave the airport to spend the night in a hotel. The overnight visa cost 25 euros ($28). It was 1:30 a.m. when I was dropped off at a small, quite passable hotel.
The lack of management I encountered at this Turkey’s largest and reportedly most modern airport told me that Turkey had still some distance to cover to reach the level of the modern world. It wasn’t just the absence of proper organization that made me reach that conclusion. I also was disappointed by the remarkable deficiency of maturity and sophistication that airport personnel displayed when serving travelers.
Alas, the following day, my departure for Kabul progressed normally. Even my arrival in Kabul was normal. I had gone through the proceeding many times and knew that, after clearing passport and customs control, I had to walk a distance to get to a taxi or meet my friends who might have received my message and had come to pick me up.
Of course, if you’re a warlord or the son or friend of one and arriving from abroad, you would be received at the plane and driven home without going through the hassle of passport and customs controls. And, as such a person, if you departed from Kabul for abroad, you would enjoy the same privileges. You and your luggage would be driven to the plane without any controls. That’s how the powerful and politically connected squirted out of the country about $5 billion in cash during 2014 and 2015.
For a country whose local economy is just about $20 billion, the lost amount for the Afghan economy equals to one quarter of the nation’s yearly economic output. If my math is good enough to transpose this figure on the American economy of $14 trillion, the cash, if had been taken out of the U.S., would amount to $3.5 trillion.
All that money that was illegally taken out of the country had been part of the funds the U.S. and its European and Japanese partners had disbursed for Afghanistan’s reconstruction.
But now back to my present trip to Afghanistan. I returned to Afghanistan in mid-May.
This is a time when the Taliban has been rapidly gaining ground and ISIS, despite the “mother of all bombs,” has been fortifying its position in the south-east of the country.
During my present visit to Afghanistan, I came across the following incidences. Except in one case, I am not mentioning names of places and persons to protect the identity of those involved in the collection of the information.
According to official records, in one provincial district where should have been 450 uniformed security personnel stationed, there were only 230 serving. This fact coincides with SIGAR’s (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) recent finding which seems to have unearthed that the Afghan government has been charging and the U.S. paying the cost of 200,000 non-existing uniformed personnel.
The cost of maintaining an Afghan soldier or police officer is fixed at $15,000.00. In our district-level example, the cost for the non-existing uniformed personnel would be $3,450,000.00, an amount we may consider negligible and not necessarily bother about.
However, on the national level, the cost of 200,000 non-existing uniformed personnel amounts to a massive $3 billion. This charge, if true, is a sign that corruption reaches the highest levels of government. This would not be a case that a deputy minister, even a minister, could handle. If accurate—even if partly accurate—this massive theft would have to involve the president and most of his government colleagues and could not and should not be overlooked.
In another case, the district governor had been absent for three months. Both his salary—45,000 Afghanistan Afghanis (Afs) or $672—and his entertainment allowance—Afs 50,000 or $746—were paid to him in Kabul, where he was staying. He could afford doing that as he was the provincial governor’s relation. A close look at who is who in Afghanistan reveals that nepotism is the norm in that country.
Another district governor was on vacations in Dubai. I don’t begrudge him for wanting to spend a few weeks in a clean, secure, and organized environment. However, I do question how he could afford the high cost of vacationing in Dubai with a salary of $672?
Besides, it seems a fairly common rule that once the district governor is absent the rest of his officials don’t show up for work either—as, in fact, was the case in this instance. The door of all offices, except for the district military commander, was locked and no official was available to do the people’s work. As unbelievable as it may sound, this district’s judiciary had adjudicated a single case in all of 2016.
Under these conditions, it is difficult to fault the people for preferring to deal with the Taliban shadow government rather than using the official, internationally-sanctioned, and financially supported Afghan administration.
An officer of one of Afghanistan’s southern districts issues, against payment, Afghan national identification cards (Taskeras) to Pakistanis. If thigs of this nature happen, no one will ever be able the flow of undesirable people into the country.
The above occurrences may appear unimportant transgressions by some corrupt provincial officials. However, if similar things occur regularly nationwide, those offenses assume gigantic proportions, devastating the underpinnings of the nation’s social peace and economic life.
The Kabul-based national government is no better than the virtually nonexistent provincial administrations. There is no rule of law. There is no justice. There are no functioning courts. Corruption is at its highest level. The large numbers of non-existing schools, police officers, and soldiers, for which mainly the U.S has been paying, is a sign of high-level corruption.
All government leaders do is fight for control of ministries and government departments.
The lack of progress is witness of the leaders’ absence of interest for the people’s work. As a matter of fact, their lordly treatment of people and imperial approach to handling their jobs are unambiguous indicators of their contempt for their people.
The Trump administration has recently begun thinking about what to do with a country where the U.S. is fighting its longest war, a struggle that is scarcely registered in the minds of most Americans, yet has cost them $ 1 trillion and to which they have lost about 2,400 of their young men and women.
The suicide bomber, who detonated his enormous bomb on May 31 in a busy intersection of Kabul, killing 90 people and wounding 460 others, is a reminder that Afghanistan isn’t doing well. Two days later, the Afghan security forces opened fire on unarmed and peaceful demonstrators, killing 6 people and wounding many more. The sense of insecurity had reached such alarming levels that the American military reportedly felt it prudent to remove President Ghani and National Security Advisor Atmar from the presidential palace, flying them by helicopter to Bagram, the American central base in Afghanistan.
Yet, the tragedy didn’t end there. On Saturday, June 3, during the burial of the Afghan Senate’s Deputy President’s son, whom the national security forces had shot dead the day before, three suicide bombers killed another 20 people and wounded over 100 more.
These terrorist attacks and the resulting despair were a compelling signal of what is critically—possibly fatally—wrong with what transpires in this tormented country. What is wrong here is that a criminal enterprise has commandeered this poverty-stricken country, abusing it in ways the larger public outside Afghanistan doesn’t see and the country’s foreign patrons refuse to acknowledge.
Recently, the media reported that the Trump administration has been thinking about what to do in Afghanistan. U.S. National Security Advisor General McMaster, who had once been stationed in Afghanistan, might agree with me that with the present assemblage of leaders nothing good will happen in Afghanistan.
To free itself from this quagmire, the U.S. must begin searching for the people who have the education and management experience to run an administration under the difficult conditions, such as exists in Afghanistan.
The U.S. must also carefully study the background of those people to establish that they truly have the ethical constitution to run a clean government and the guts to fight the corruption that, over the past 15 years, has permeated the whole governing system of this country.
It would be of decisive importance if Washington also looked at itself. In its conduct with the Afghan administration, the U.S. must make financial and security support for Afghanistan firmly and irreversibly depended on ethical and transparent handling of financial matters. Washington must abandon its present neglect of Afghan officials’ corruption, which, indeed, amounts to disregarding the interests of both the American and Afghan people.
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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