Sunday, September 12, 2010

Afghanistan = Vietnam

The same kind of local corruption that eats away at any attempt by the US (or any NATO ally) to build a proper civil government keeps coming to naught. Here's a bit from a post on Tom Engelhardt's blog
... “the pride of Afghanistan's financial system,” Kabul Bank, with more than a million customers, is undergoing a slow-motion collapse.

Part of a fledging banking system proudly mentored by American experts and Treasury Department officials, that sinkhole of a bank now threatens to take down far more with it. In 2001, according to the Washington Post’s David Nakamura and Ernesto LondoƱo, the Americans arriving in Kabul wanted to create a “Western-style banking sector... that would make it more difficult for terrorists to get money, while promising Afghans that a regulated financial system would be more reliable and trustworthy.” And, in a perverse sense, they succeeded.

We don’t yet know whether or not Kabul Bank is “too big to fail” and so will prove to be the Goldman Sachs or the Merrill Lynch of poverty-stricken Afghanistan. At the very least, it represents a fraying Afghan cloth woven from just about every disastrous thread of the American war and occupation: the deep corruption of the ruling elite, the looting of what wealth the country has and its squandering abroad, the tens of billions of dollars of drug money and reconstruction/aid funds that have washed over a land with a gross domestic product of only about $27 billion, and finally Washington's whole project in Afghanistan, which, as TomDispatch regular Nick Turse indicates below, promised so much and delivered so desperately little. (Of course, the very fact that the Taliban, the discredited former rulers of that country in 2001, should be experiencing a renaissance, tells you everything you need to know about the American disaster there.)

To provide protection for themselves in the snake pit of Afghan politics, the Kabul Bank’s two owners brought in (that is, bought) a brother of President Hamid Karzai (who has been living in a $5.5 million villa in Dubai purchased with bank funds) and a brother of Vice President Muhammad Fahim (to whom it loaned a mere $100 million). Its top officers also evidently loaned out millions to themselves, splurged on 18 “villas” and other property in Dubai just as the real estate market there was preparing to take a nosedive, while playing fast and loose with the bank's deposits. Since Kabul Bank holds government funds for salaries to be paid to the Army, police, government workers, and teachers, the possibility for popular discontent runs deep. In Kabul, the only remaining branch of the bank still open is now surrounded by barbed wire, and guarded by security forces prepared to beat back Afghans besieging the place desperate for their money or simply their salaries.

The Kabul Bank collapse is a genuine Afghan nightmare that threatens to engulf the major politicians of that land and possibly the rickety, rotting political system the Americans helped build over the last decade. It may, in the end, prove a symbol of everything the American war delivered to a tiny slice of Afghan society and almost no one else.
Why is the story always the same? Because the US government keeps trying to buy off the locals to achieve its goals. But this only seeds more local corruption. This is pathetic.

From the article by Nick Turse entitled "How Much 'Success' Can Afghanistan Stand?":
Between 2001 and 2009, according to the Afghan government, the country has received $36 billion in grants and loans from donor nations, with the United States disbursing some $23 billion of it. U.S. taxpayers have anted up another $338 billion to fund the war and occupation. Yet from poverty indexes to risk-of-rape assessments, from childhood mortality figures to drug-use stats, just about every available measure of Afghan wellbeing paints a grim picture of a country in a persistent state of humanitarian crisis, often involving reconstruction and military failures on an epic scale. Pick a measurement affecting ordinary Afghans and the record since November 2001 when Kabul fell to Allied forces is likely to show stagnation or setbacks and, almost invariably, suffering.

Almost a decade after the U.S. invasion, life for Afghan civilians is not a subject Americans care much about and so, not surprisingly, it plays little role in Washington's discussions of “success.” Have a significant number of Afghans found the years of occupation and war “successful”? Has there been a payoff in everyday life for the indignities of the American years -- the cars stopped or sometimes shot up at road checkpoints, the American patrols trooping through fields and searching homes, the terrifying night raids, the imprisonments without trial, or the way so many Afghans continue to be treated like foreigners, if not criminal suspects, in their own country?

For years, American leaders have hailed the way Afghans are supposedly benefiting from the U.S. role in their country. But are they?
Obama had a chance when he came into power to declare "victory" and march the troops home. He could have left saying "there! we taught the Taleban a lesson, and if they ever attack again we will come back with twice the punishment!". That would have closed to book, saved American lives, and probably helped the average Afghani more than anything the US has done or will do. But Obama decided to play at being Bush with his own "surge strategy". What a disaster!

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