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INTERNATIONAL VIEWS: 'Economy stupid' behind fall of Kabul’

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By Khawaza Main Uddin

Surprises expressed by pundits in the wake of the Taliban victory are rather inexplicable. How did they fail to read the Afghan situation on the ground? In fact, largely prejudiced ideologically, most Bangladeshi Afghanistan 'experts' couldn't yet comprehend why the Western-backed Ghani government collapsed apparently overnight in mid-August.

How the Taliban survived 20 years fighting against the world's mightiest forces was all along underestimated and of course its result is the latest version of Western evacuation, now deemed as a defeat. One key factor, among a few more, that made it possible is Afghanistan's socio-economic structure.

Life in poverty has perhaps given the Taliban and their supporters certain resilience. They got support from the communities to hide, eat and drink, regroup and continue guerrilla warfare. An economically advanced, consumerist society can't afford to provide such support.

The global drug lords have played their part in branding Afghanistan a 'Golden Crescent' country. In a civil war-torn situation, opium cultivation had presumably brought the Taliban their much-needed revenue to sustain an asymmetrical resistance war.

A landlocked country, Afghanistan has its geopolitical disadvantage, as academics always taught us, but its geostrategic location as a land bridge between South Asia and Central and West Asia has created newer opportunities as well. A regional gas pipeline project, apart from China's Belt and Road Initiative, has not just placed Afghanistan in an important position but also presented the Taliban a lifeline.

Afghanistan was reportedly sitting on mineral resources worth US$1.0 trillion that couldn't be extracted due to instability over the decades. In hindsight, one could argue, the Taliban made diplomatic investment for their recognition showing Afghanistan's economic potential and resources underground.

Four major powers in the neighborhood - China, Iran, Pakistan and Russia - have seen strong grounds to be interested in benefits that they may reap once the US-led NATO forces are gone.

So, there is no reason to believe that the Taliban staged a sudden comeback and captured the capital in a day and without some sort of patronage from beyond the border. The recent visits to Moscow and Beijing by Taliban delegations were a testament to diplomatic backing the group had secured before their complete recapture.

On its part, the United States had made interventions in 2001 and decided to pull out troops this year -- nothing without any economic considerations. Let's not forget either that Donald Rumsfeld, the notorious secretary of defense of the Bush administration, served America's war industry by waging the Afghan war and the subsequent invasion of Iraq in 2003. The US had had strategic miscalculations but changed its policy towards Afghanistan after paying some price economically.

US President Joe Biden swallowed a bitter pill of evoking the Saigon moment of 1975 through Afghanistan evacuation five decades later. The withdrawal was though initiated by Donald Trump, Mr. Biden strongly felt it's time to go home to focus on what Bill Clinton's campaign adviser called in 1992 'the economy stupid'.

However, the same question is being asked a thousand times: Where has that US$1.0 trillion American investment gone?

Jeffrey Sachs has given an answer to that. In an article 'Blood in the Sand', he pointed out that out of the aggregate amount of $946 billion spent in Afghanistan, the major portion - $816 billion - had gone to  the US military and $83 billion to Afghan forces, and $10 billion earmarked for anti-drug operations and $15 billion for US agencies. Less than 2.0 per cent was allocated for the Afghan people, and that too, mostly indirectly.

The size of gross domestic product (GDP) of less than $20 billion of a country which is geographically much bigger than Bangladesh and still has about 40 million population says how far the economy has grown during the past two decades of US-led modernisation scheme spending billions and involving multinational actors.

That has in a way given birth to a parasite economy and that's why the beneficiaries of the Western projects have been desperately trying to leave the country seeking a safer life elsewhere. By fleeing the motherland, President Ashraf Ghani showed them the path. A parasite class that has been created in Afghanistan over the decades fell apart when a determined force arising out of poor living conditions has come to the scene.

The author works at the Financial Express based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be contacted via khawaza@gmail.com. This piece was first published on August 24, 2021 in https://thefinancialexpress.com.bd/. International Views is a section of BukidnonNews.Net for select international opinion pieces.  

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