After the fall of Kabul, there is a strong temptation to consider the failure of the West’s 20-year intervention in Afghanistan like something predestined. “There is no military solution” to the country’s challenges, says one version of this analysis. It is true: you are not definitely going to win a war in which you cannot win peace.
But there is a similar fatalism about the possibility that peace could ever have been won in Afghanistan. It is too tribal and traditional a society to ever become a functional democracy, some say. “Nation building” by outsiders is always doomed, others say.
Building a nation is undoubtedly the job of the people to whom it belongs. However, building a functioning state and economy is something the West not only was able to do, it had an obligation to do after expelling the Taliban in 2001. The sad reality is that we never really tried.
While the per capita income of Afghanistan is higher today than in the 1990s, it remains unchanged at around $ 600 in the last decade, according to the world Bank. As the economist points out Jeffrey sachsUS spending on economic development in the country looks very small compared to military spending, and even what was theoretically spent on reconstruction was largely spent on security.
Resilient state structures and economic activity require a stable and secure environment, but dependency goes both ways. A well-functioning state and economy for the Afghan people would have made military spending much more effective, giving the Afghan forces something worth fighting for and the Taliban less fertile ground for recruitment.
More importantly, it is not “that it is not so much about how much money you spend, it is how the money is spent,” he says. Sarah chayes, who spent a decade in Afghanistan as an advisor to the US military leadership and wrote a book on corruption there. That corruption, which undermines loyalty and fuels economic failure, ultimately also caused military failure.
“People were constantly telling me that the Taliban regime was authoritarian in ways they loathed, but it was not corrupt,” says Chayes. Other research supports that. According to an Integrity Watch Afghanistan poll conducted last winter, “more than half of citizens believe that levels of corruption are lower in areas controlled by the Taliban than in areas controlled by the government.”
In the same report, the total amount of bribes paid by Afghans to state officials is estimated at $ 2.25 billion. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported in 2010 that bribes totaled $ 2.5 billion in one year, nearly a quarter of the country’s formal gross domestic product. “Those charged with enforcing the law are considered the most guilty of violating it,” the report noted.
To say that highlighting corruption amounts to blaming the Afghans is wrong. The corruption of the Afghan state is due to its financial and security guarantors: the coalition led by EU.
“We had all the power,” he says Chayes, “And almost stubbornly we apply and allow that corruption.” This was done by channeling funds through preferred intermediaries, by interacting only with people in positions of authority and thereby intimidating Afghans from reporting abuses, and by failing to establish true checks and balances, such as training a police officer. independent in investigative techniques.
Said brutally, the corrupt state was a creation of American power. The special inspector general of the US Congress for the reconstruction of Afghanistan says the same: lack of patience led the government of EU to make “decisions that increased corruption and reduced the effectiveness of programs … when US officials recognized these dynamics, they found new ways to ignore conditions in the field.”
To say now that the effort to build a functioning Afghan state has always been doomed to failure is a perverse reduction in responsibility. EU and its allies were able to act differently, distributing money as individual cash payments instead of installing local guardians of resources, introducing robust transparency, monitoring and oversight mechanisms, imposing sanctions on corrupt officials at all levels.
The drama of the past week highlighted the end of what some call an unwinnable war, pointing to the ignominious history of foreign interventions in Afghanistan. The real shame is the West’s inattention for 20 years of winnable peace.