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The West is starving Afghanistan America's petulance will cause a famine

Welcome to Operation Mind-blowing Hypocrisy (HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)

Welcome to Operation Mind-blowing Hypocrisy (HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)


November 17, 2021   5 mins

According to Clausewitz, war is “the continuation of diplomacy by other means”. In Afghanistan today, we have the opposite: diplomacy as the continuation of war. After 20 years, the US and its allies acknowledged that their Afghan Project had failed, and they left. But it seems they can’t let go. Like a controlling, embittered divorcee, America seems determined to do everything to stop its ex from prospering, no matter the collateral damage.

Whether we like it or not — and I certainly don’t — the Taliban now preside over a country devastated by decades of conflict: its new government cannot rely on the structures in place, which have been crippled by the abrupt departure of so many educated and trained managers and professionals.

Public safety, always hazardous in the tumultuous days after a major transition, needs intense policing and patrolling. Isis remains a huge threat, while the new regime’s young Taliban foot soldiers — born in remote villages, raised on nothing but combat and now amazed to find themselves in the shining metropolis of Kabul — have to be closely monitored.

Meanwhile, the disruption to trade is causing massive inflation and price increases for basic goods. A long drought has led to a poor harvest. Covid is still rampant. Winter is coming and the poor — 72% of the population, according to the UN — will look to the Government to provide them with firewood and food.

But good news: Afghanistan has money! The country has $9 billion in financial assets, of which $7 billion are in US banks and $2 billion are deposited in Europe. This is because Afghan banks traditionally keep the bulk of their funds in foreign financial institutions, drawing on them monthly for ongoing liquidity. Then there is the aid money already set aside for Afghanistan. The World Bank administers a Trust Fund for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which was supposed to pay $800 million this year, while the IMF has around $400 million designated for Afghanistan.

There’s just one problem: on the orders of the US government, all this cash has been frozen.

And that’s not all. So much money has been ferried out of the country in recent years by corrupt officials that there is now a cash shortage. People can only withdraw a small portion of their savings. The country can’t print new bills to replace what was stolen, because the country’s currency is printed by a European company that also falls under US sanctions. It’s economic strangulation.

America likes to give names to its overseas efforts. The Afghan venture was called Operation Enduring Freedom until 2015, and Freedom’s Sentinel thereafter. What shall we call this new phase? Operation Enduring Anger, perhaps. That, after all, is what US military officers, and many in the policy community, are: very angry. It’s a blow for a superpower to have to acknowledge that it could not gain mastery over 90,000 unshaved, minimally equipped fighters, and wasted $2 trillion dollars in the process. It’s embarrassing.

But we should save our empathy for the Afghan people. Their country has been in unrelenting continuous war for more than 40 years. With 70% of its population under the age of 25, most people alive in Afghanistan have never experienced peace. We may not like their new government. But their last leaders were awful in a different way: more educated, yes, and savvier — but they used those attributes to pad their bank accounts in the UAE.

The Taliban government prior to that made women wear burqas and beat men if their beard was too short and executed adulterers in the sports stadium. Before that was a civil war and before that a proxy superpower conflict between the Soviet Union and the US. If the Taliban refrain from their previous behaviour – which so far they have largely been careful to do – and if they honour their promises to reopen girls schools, clamp down on terrorism and not persecute their former enemies, they could turn out to be Best in Show.

Granted, the return of the Taliban is not the solution the US had hoped for: to create a beautiful, free and democratic Afghanistan that would be rich on the basis of its mineral wealth. Yet that project stalled. The Taliban reappeared, won recruits, took territory, inch by inch, year by year. Until 2021, when, at long last, the US faced the facts. They pulled out their military and their diplomats and their contractors, closed the embassy and departed, taking with them nearly 200,000 local staff and supporters and accidental stowaways in a sloppy and casualty-riddled evacuation.

For punctuation, they launched one last faulty drone strike that killed three completely uninvolved non-combatant adults and seven children. The US Inspector General investigated the “incident” and described it as an “honest mistake”. The Costs of War Project estimates a total of 71,000 civilian casualties from direct military action during our little interlude. That’s a lot of mistakes.

But now that we’re out, and winter has arrived, Afghanistan is braced for things to get worse. Last week, David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, told the BBC’s John Simpson that the situation “is as bad as you possibly can imagine: 95% of the people don’t have enough food, and now we’re looking at 23m people marching towards starvation. The next six months are going to be catastrophic. It is going to be hell on Earth.”

For his part, Simpson, a veteran reporter who has reported from 120 countries and 30 war zones, broke down on BBC Radio 4’s Today program as he described the plight of an Afghan mother-of-seven facing famine. “I came across a woman whose name is Fatima and she’s a widow. She’s got seven kids – five girls and two boys – and they’re grindingly poor already,” he said. “She used to make money by weeding the area for a local farmer. He can’t pay her now because he’s not able to grow the crop that he was growing. She’s got no money – she’s having to beg for fuel to make a fire and beg for flour which used to be delivered under the old government before the Taliban came in.”

Widows. Little girls. Hell on earth. Afghanistan is clearly in trouble. But let’s step back for just one moment. This woman used to work for a farmer, who used to farm, but now she doesn’t because he can’t — and it’s not because the Taliban “ascended” to power. It’s because we are sitting on their country’s money and won’t let go. It’s because we, in our determination to starve the Taliban, are starving this widow and her seven children. And 40 million others like them. Operation Mind-blowing Hypocrisy.

Now we think we have the solution: sure, we just left, but now we’re going right back in. To prevent the looming humanitarian crisis. That we made.

So money can now go into Afghanistan — as long as it is administered and dispensed by international organisations, companies and agencies. That means international staff with their Western salaries and entourage of drivers and guards and fixers and translators. That means rented houses and offices surrounded by hired security, and fleets of armoured cars and international conferences that add up to an overhead that consumes 60% or more of the total funds.

And this will never end, because humanitarian aid does not relate to economic development. Afghanistan, in effect, is being positioned as a permanent welfare state. Perhaps, then, this is not about hungry Afghan children after all. Perhaps this about us — our contractors and the huge aid and development machinery that thrived in the country and now sees a way back in.

But we have to let go. We left. That was our decision. Now let’s leave them in peace. Give them their money. It’s all very well to tell them we won’t trade with them, and their government won’t be recognised, if they violate international law and prevailing international standards of human and women’s rights. And yes, it is regrettable that there are no women in their cabinet. But the same is true in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Brunei, Papua New Guinea, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Vietnam and Yemen. No one is freezing their assets, and they are all comfortably seated in the UN.

For Afghanistan to prosper, we need to stop telling them what to do and how to do it. They are not on our continent or in our cultural sphere. They have not gone through the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the Age of Revolutions, or any of the other transformative steps that made the modern West. But they shouldn’t be punished for that. As we did, they too must find their path. And, in the meantime, we shouldn’t put boulders in their way.


Cheryl Benard is an academic and an author.

 


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J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

Afghanistan, in effect, is being positioned as a permanent welfare state. Perhaps, then, this is not about hungry Afghan children after all. Perhaps this about us â€” our contractors and the huge aid and development machinery that thrived in the country and now sees a way back in.
For me, this is the most insightful paragraph in the article. It rings true. We’ll make the Afghans subservient to the NGO army aka international aid. I wonder if the Taliban understand that game? I wonder if they’ll sit back and let it happen?
So sad for ordinary Afghans who just want to live their life and support their families, and who’re tired of a game they never even heard of–The Great Game.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

Cheryl Benard is an academic, a lifelong feminist and supporter of Afghan women.”

I gave up posting on Afghanistan pretty much – I feel too close to it from my very distant times there…

But in my thinking of it all – watching it go from 1973 when the Kings cousin formed his Communist Parliament, till they exiled the King in 1979, they were being removed in 82 by civil war so invited the Russians in to hold the gov up – and then began that Civil/Russian war, and then USA and KSA set about using this as a proxy war (for USA to break the USSR cold war bank, for KSA to bring in Deobandi Salifism by Whabbi influenced Madrassas and support and create an Islamic State – ) Then the USA insane post 9/11 war….

And I feel the biggest reason for the 20 years of the USA being mired there is Because the Feminists, via the MSM, and the NGOs, made the new war in Afghanistan happen because they just had to try to ‘Liberate’ the Afghani women.
\
Like USA used Afghanistan/Russian war of 20 years to bankrupt USSR, for Cold War reasons – – The Western Feminists caused this last 20 years of Afghan/Taliban/USA war to try to ‘FIX’ the Afghani in their Men/Women situation. USA did not want this – this endless thing, it was because the Feminists of the West were willing to destroy the country to save the women. And you see how well it ended….

Pashtunwali – if you do not know it, the code of the Pashtun, why did these silly Western women have their silly Western Men try to make the Afghani in their image, although it destroyed them?

SO, eight things did all this:

1) USSR tampering Afghani with the gov in 1970s to get them Communist

2) USSR goes to war in Afghanistan to preserve their Puppet in 82

3) USA uses this as a place to bankrupt USSR by funding the Afghani –

4) KSA uses this all as a place to create a true Islamic Caliphate, and creates the Taliban in the Madrasses of the Western Frontier

5) Saudi person Osama hides there as the Talib cannot expell him by the hospitality codes of Pashtunwali

6) USA invades to get Osama

7) The Western MSM flocks in – it is the most beautiful land in the world, and the post photogenic natives in the world – and the Feminists stream in with NGOs and Media and make everything about freeing the Women from the Beastly Men – although the relations between the sexes go back in time Thousands of years, to before Islam, and are the key point of Pashtunwali –

8) So they force the Afghani to try to be secular Feminists Liberals – which means 20 years of civil war and over a $Trillion, and misery and destruction – Go Woke, Go Broke…… so they broke Afghanistan…..

Hearing her talk is no different than listening to the old Political Appointee Generals who messed it all up talk….

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

I had to stop reading. So the entire Afghan conflict of decades is about feminists and the liberation of women? What nonsense.

John McKee
John McKee
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

An honest bracing view of the situation. For the past 20 years, the plight Afghan women has been used to justify our waste of lives and resources there. If their own fathers, brothers, uncles, etc. won’t defend them, why should we?

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
2 years ago

Pakistan provided tacit support for the Taliban and the UK taxpayer has been giving more than ÂŁ300 million in foreign aid to Pakistan (ÂŁ374 million in 2019). So if the UK does decide to bail out the Taliban, then every penny we give them should be deducted from what we give to Pakistan.

John Smethurst
John Smethurst
2 years ago

I get the impression that “their money” is in fact “our tax payers money”? They happily blew us up for years and now they have made their Islamic bed and as far as I am concerned they can now lie in it…..a bit like Fatima appears to have been doing.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago

For Afghanistan to prosper, we need to stop telling them what to do and how to do it
I agree with this. Now, if only the Taliban, ISIS etc would let the West live as it wants to without sending their ambassadors (i.e. terrorists) to show us the path that we should be taking all would be well.

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
2 years ago

Afghanistan is mineral rich (copper, uranium, etc.) and the Chinese are keen to cut a deal that gives them mineral extraction rights. I don’t suppose that the Chinese will ask the Taliban too many questions about about human rights and feminism. But given the extent to which China will profit from exploiting their minerals, I feel that its Peking who should be dipping into its pocket to bail out the Taliban.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
2 years ago

Sorry. I gave at the office, at tax time.

The Taliban supported itself with opium sales and Pakistani contributions for years. What’s different now? Well, for one thing the Taliban is selfish. They won’t share food with civillians, especially worthless women and girls without husbands.

Politicians, generals and admirals pursued a guaranteed losing strategy in Afghanistan for 20 years. Almost all air and artillery strikes had to be cleared by lawyers. The Taliban were guaranteed winter sanctuary in Pakistan. The Taliban’s main source of funding, opium sales, wasn’t materially interfered with. This was a guaranteed loser.

In top of that, radical feminism and LGBT was forced on a primitive tribal society. The author of this piece, and her friends, insisted on this. Further, nobody made sure Afghan soldiers got paid.

However, now, when we’ve lost any chance of actually saving the children, the author says we need to subsidize the Taliban, a terrorist organization with absolutely no history of caring for women and children, unless they’re sex slaves. How does this recommendation make any sense?

The author should have thought about what losing would mean to the women and children of Afghanistan BEFORE we lost. She should have insisted on bombing Taliban havens in Pakistan, unlimited artillery and air strikes against any position shooting at our soldiers, and destroying Taliban controlled opium fields. Screaming about collateral damage instead brought about this defeat.

It’s too late to help the women and children of Afghanistan without subsidizing the terrorist Taliban, and killing more of us. Deal with your mistakes, and our military mistakes. Next time insist on a winning strategy. Next time don’t scream about collateral damage. Just insist we win at all reasonable costs.

Jerry Jay Carroll
Jerry Jay Carroll
2 years ago

Call it compassion fatigue or some other label, but it is time Afghanistan stood on its own feet, even if it means questioning the tenets of a 7th Century religion.

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 years ago

It strikes me that there may be some real barriers to doing business in Afghanistan under the new regime. How do you trade with the Taliban without falling foul of anti-terrorism finance laws (UNSC 1373, etc)? It’s not my area of expertise, but I am curious to look into this question.

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
2 years ago
Reply to  JP Martin

I am sure that heroin drug pedlars will continue their lucrative trade with the Afghanistan, despite the Taliban not having any women cabinet ministers.

Francisco Menezes
Francisco Menezes
2 years ago

Was there no hunger while proudly flying the rainbow flag during Pride Month in Kabul? Why don’t the Afghans sell some helicopters to China? They can be paid in US T-Bills which can be used to purchase food. I fully agree with the last paragraph. Woke bigotry does not put bread on the plates of the ordinary Afghani.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago

It is possible to time travel. Parts of the world inhabit around 1300 AD. Letting such people into a 2021 secular world is a cruel thing to do.

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
2 years ago

If the “government” of Afghanistan isn’t recognized as legitimate, then clearly it doesn’t have the right to access funds held on behalf of the legitimate government.

Geoffrey Wilson
Geoffrey Wilson
2 years ago

Strange article, from someone oddly claiming to be some sort of advocate for Afghan women (I wonder how many of them voted for her or in any other way have asked her to represent them). Does she expect the US government to be “nice” to the Taliban who waged war on them? What about the parties negotiating a peace treaty, which might cover the state assets point apparently the main concern of the author as well as a host of other issues (returning the military and other assets looted by the new government)?

Niels Georg Bach Christensen
Niels Georg Bach Christensen
2 years ago

The population of Afghanistan has grown more than 100% the last 20 years. The sole reason is the international support for the population and health care. Afghanistan on it self can’t support that many children. Of course with the growth of fugitives the  remittance will grow.
Many muslim countries can only exist on the basis on remittance. Fugitives and forced marriages are necessary for those countries. We shouldn’t accept this.
Even Sweden ar thinking about changing the rules. At the moment the children allowance are growing with the number of children. The Social democratic government will stop this: Don’t get more children than you yourself can take care of.

Last edited 2 years ago by Niels Georg Bach Christensen
David Bell
David Bell
2 years ago

Nice article on a difficult choice, but please stop the standard ‘COVID is running rampant’ bit. We don’t have to write that, especially if just making it up. It’s recorded at 0.3 deaths/million daily at present, about zero. because the population is very young and not fat.
Off target but important, as we will start to re-address the pressing issues of humanity when we can clear the psychosis, separate fact from politically-inspired fiction, and return to the big issues of health and human rights. Afghanistan is a great example of the need for this.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago

President Biden seems to wish to keep an eye on British goings-on in Ireland. To be informed of any mischief committed by the Brits. Perhaps his interest is in part due to his forbears’ awareness of the British neglect of, and dim-witted response to, Ireland during the potato famine of the 1840s, in which up to one million people perished. The ‘protector’ nation had failed its poor relation, its neighbour. And President Biden would certainly not wish to see, in relation to Irish affairs, another major faux pas by the British, that would threaten the Good Friday Agreement.
Will Afghans this year and next see President Biden neglect or sloppily care for them? In the manner of an absentee English landlord aggrieved by the plundering of his distant estate?

Dean G
Dean G
2 years ago

Bonkers ,

Matt Spencer
Matt Spencer
2 years ago

WTF has this to do with the article?

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Spencer

World Trade Forum? Um, I don’t think so.

Matt B
Matt B
2 years ago

Random indeed (speaking as an English Catholic with emigrant forebears after the famine). This is the kind of romantic joining up of random dots that led bored US bar-Guevaras to fund violence in NI/UK in 70/80s before the, errr, War on Terror. The article, however, is good.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt B
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago

The United States had no remit in Ireland in the 1840s, and has no remit in Afghanistan today. That is the only remote analogy I can see. The quite obvious answer to the question in your last paragraph is “no, they will not”.