US Aid Money and Afghanistan

by: Dr. G. Rauf Roashan

Abstract: In December 2001, the United States well aware of the fact that the establishment of a democratic system of government in Afghanistan would not come about free of cost, committed itself to providing financial assistance to Afghanistan’s military and economic programs. Thus only in the first nine years the US commitment amounted to about $ 52 billion. (In local Afghan currency this amount is around 2.6 trillion Afghanis.) This paper looks in a quick way at the cost and effect of this input only. Input by countries in the coalition and some of the neighboring ones need another study.

A Congressional Service Report in August 2010 gave a breakdown of the US assistance and appropriations to Afghanistan by year from 2002-2010. The report is available online. As per the report, of the total aid in the amount of $ 51.9 billion appropriated for Afghanistan during those years $ 32.9 billion came through the Department of Defense while about $ 18.8 billion was allocations for economic support, development assistance and other areas including health, refugees, food, disasters, narcotics and law enforcement, demining and anti-terror, military education and training, foreign military financing, and other programs. In this section the major input was in economic support fund to the amount of $ 11 billion. Earlier this month, the US congress cut the financial aid to Afghanistan by half to around $ 1.2 billion.

The above can serve as an example of enormous financial input between 2002 and 2010 and of course one can add to it the amounts spent or allocated for the years 2011, 2012 and 2013.

As to what effects this assistance has had on the ground one could consider the following:

  1. The war on terror begun in 2001 resulted in the expulsion of Al-Qaida from Afghanistan. That Al-Qaida sought and found safe haven in Pakistan is another issue. But in Afghanistan the success was achieved due to the huge sacrifices in men and material by the United States and the young and developing Afghan National Security Forces led by the US military.
  2. While Al-Qaeda was defeated in Afghanistan, Afghan extremists and insurgents were not. Taliban that had found new safe havens in Pakistan under the direct watch of the Pakistani spy agency the ISI remained active. Its leadership hidden in Pakistan continued to provide direction and support to the Taliban who, at least ideologically found themselves in line with the Pakistani Taliban, entered Afghanistan under the nose of the Pakistani military to commit acts of violence, stage suicidal attacks and roadside bombings and retreat to Pakistan. Some of these groups also benefitted from the support of Pakistani advisers. The government of Afghanistan repeatedly brought the issue up with its US supporters but no definitive action was taken against the ISI in this regard.
  3. The economic aid, a good chunk of the financial assistance, was given for the most part through contractors which is an established procedure in the dealings of the US government. However, the contractors asked for huge allocations under the item for security out of the money that could have been spent for economic development only. The contractors also took out a good chunk of the money out of the country, as their profit and huge salaries for their personnel. The result was less money spent for development and also little accountability as for as the projects implementation was concerned. Defective buildings, supplies and equipment resulted in the ineffectiveness of the products for development.
  4. One of the major problems was the unavailability of national expertise, lack of transparency in spending by the governmental agencies and the inexcusable corruption in the national government that did not provide for law enforcement, implementation of justice and even kept its eyes closed to the actions of the corrupt officials many of them at the highest echelons of government and others belonging to warlords and the so-called Jihadists.
  5. The Afghan Police and Army became dependent on the salaries provided to them from the financial assistance of the United States. These wages, considerably higher compared to other government employees, made it possible to gradually increase the size of the security forces. While this was a good thing in the beginning now that the end of 2014 is near and in sight, and the government has not been able to identify stable sources of income, with the exit of the foreign forces from Afghanistan, the government would either have to cut other and sometimes more important developmental expenses to pay the rather higher salaries of the national security personnel or suffer the gravest attritions which by themselves would worsen the security in the country.
  6. The huge amount of aid that was poured into Afghanistan, if managed correctly, would have rebuilt the infrastructure, provided for balanced economic development, boosted agricultural productivity and industrial production, exploited the natural and mineral resources of the country and would have made Afghanistan a second example of success of plans such as the Marshal Plan after WW2 in Europe. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries of the world and excepting for a handful of warlords and politicians, its population is drowned in poverty.

A new administration is expected to come about after the April presidential and provincial council elections, but depending on how the elections would go, the date of its actual inauguration might be June or even at the worst case scenario August of 2014. It will inherit among other issues two important ones namely streamlining of Afghanistan-US relations, and tackling the huge problems of security and corruption. The question is whether economic development is of lesser importance to Afghanistan? Many would say no. Economic development and improvement of the lots of people would contribute very positively to security as well as Afghanistan’s international standing in the world. One of the important things in that regard would be working on effective use of economic and other financial assistance to the country whereby the results of the projects should be tangible even by the most vulnerable groups of population. It may also require taking of a bold stand against warlords and all those groups that stand against the country’s progress, unity, its democratic system and the people’s prosperity. The US needs to reconsider its strategy of assistance to Afghanistan whereby the Afghans consider it as true liberator, friend and supporter. A lot of good diplomacy is required towards that end.

1/30/2014 Fremont, CA