Plutocracy of blood? Afghanistan post-election

How much blood has been spilled in Afghanistan? It is very difficult to say; official estimates speak of an improbable 12,000 to a more probable, but still conservative, 32,000 casualties. Of these deaths, the “insurgents” of various affiliations (so not only the Taliban) would have been responsible, according to very conservative statistics, for almost a sixth. Certainly, as repugnant as they may be, the suicide bombers and road-side bombs as well as the Taliban’s punitive and revenge killings cannot be compared to the 30000lb air-bombs dropped by NATO.  

Despite all the calculations to avoid “collateral damage” behind the decision to air-strike an Afghan village in order to kill a supposed Taliban leader, the result may be disastrous, with the cost being, even from an arid military perspective, counterproductive. The Nobel Laureate President Obama is pondering whether to give in or not to the request of some US Generals to increase the US military presence and increase the use of force to achieve the aim of a democratic, secure — or at least less deadly–Afghanistan which might in turn secure the US and international community from another 9/11.

Leave aside that a “safe” Afghanistan does not equate to a safe world, it appears that operation Enduring Freedom, which has come at a high price (also for American and British families), is surely enduring but sadly unsuccessful in providing any real freedom to the Afghan people.

Indeed, the Afghan population has not even enjoyed the minimal right that any democracy, as young as it may be, should guarantee: a fair election of its leaders. The Afghan elections have been a total farce in which western democracies have legitimated a massive undemocratic fraud.  No democratic state, and certainly not the ones which today affirm that the election result  in Afghanistan is fully legitimate, would accept for itself what currently exists in Afghanistan.  But is the Afghan “democracy’ really the prize at stake for the sea of blood and suffering that Enduring Freedom has become? Is it really for fear of the Taliban returning? And are the Taliban really interested today in controlling Kabul and entering back onto the international political stage?

Afghanistan has many resources (leaving aside the strategic value of the country) and surely the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s would not have spent so much money and blood to merely export their political beliefs. You do not need to search very far to discover (and the mass media have been quite silent about this) that entire pieces of the country, together with resource potential, are now ready for auction: from iron deposits to import investment.

How much of these resources will remain in the hands of the Afghan people? Local businesses and entrepreneurs will face an impossible level of competition from international companies and stock holders. Recently, even the telecommunications company, Afghan Telecom, has been privatized – and I tend to guess that the investors will not be Afghans. It is also clear that the main interest is aimed at building the economy first and the civil society later, so that a fake democracy is acceptable and the economic parameters for growing foreign investment are respected. Yet corruption is surely less acceptable.

Unsurprisingly, instead of clear calls for new and fair elections, the UN and the US have asked the questionable Karzai to stand firm against endemic corruption. Of course, here we are not speaking of the village system of gift exchange, so often studied by anthropologists, but rather the politicians’ interest in those above economic activities; in other words, traditional western-style political bribery. Indeed, the World Bank and the IMF are a very distant reality for the great majority of Afghans today.

Afghanistan is a rural country with a high level of unemployment. How many Afghan citizens have access and the possibility to partake in economic games orchestrated by international players? Likely, the answer is very few and quite probably those same individuals who control Afghan political life.

The few Afghans who are able to enjoy the wealth directed towards the devastated country are those whom either engage in bribery, thanks to their being of Karzai’s entourage, or have the right connections with western companies. The reality is a divided country with few rich and a mass of desperate people whom, expecting democracy, have seen only the decadence of corruption.

Not surprisingly, an increasing number of young people turned to the “Islamic Emirate” (the name the Taliban use for their regime in Afghanistan) not only to express their frustration but also for their livelihood. Fighting, often, is just a matter of choice between risking a bullet or slowly decaying in humiliating poverty.  Meanwhile, in stately homes, Kabul parasites from the failed operation Enduring Freedom are shielded, through electoral fraud and tribal kinship, from the real consequences of a democratic and proper juridical system.

Let us observe where the “Western money” is going in Afghanistan:

  1. $57 The foreign aid per capita to Afghanistan
  2. $250,000 Typical salary of foreign consultants in Afghanistan, including 35 percent hardship allowance and 35 percent danger money. Afghan civil servants typically receive less than $1,000 a year.
  3. $22bn The shortfall in donations compared to the international community’s estimate of Afghanistan’s need – around 48 per cent.
  4. 40 percent Share of international aid budget returned to aid countries in corporate profit and consultant salaries – more than $6bn since 2001.
  5. $7m Daily aid spend in Afghanistan. The daily military spend by the US government is around $100m.

You do not need to have a great sense of intuition to understand what the war in Afghanistan is all about. It is about plutocracy covered up as democracy. I am not surprised that the so-called Taliban have, despite some atrocities committed, the support of a considerable part of the countryside population, and consequently can resist and even keep in check the almighty NATO.

Corruption and nepotism were endemic in Afghanistan long before the Russians or the Americans entered the country in an attempt to impose their social political and economic systems. Yet those acts of corruption, nepotism and even oppression where performed within the framework of a cultural context that was acknowledged and known to the majority. Not that this made it less painful and frustrating, but it made it familiar. The degeneration of the western model of democracy today, as it was at the time of Athens, is a mix of unplanned imperialism, fear of the ‘other’, a search for the ‘enemy within’, and an increasing oligarchic plutocracy.

This model is something that the Afghan people have been, without real consultation, asked to test, accept and live with. Eight years of suffering have offered the great majority nothing tangibly better than the poverty they were used to, the violence, killing and rape they suffered before, as well as both a lack of security and real future.

Yet the model has added an element of irony to this depressing reality: after witnessing the movement of wealth on their land, the likes of which has been unknown in centuries, which only a choice few (and this time without the mediation of the tribe, the clan and the village structure) can grasp through the mysterious system of global “democratic” neoliberalism,  poverty and suffering in long beards, burqu’ and thobe may seem both more familiar and even illusorily just .

7 thoughts on “Plutocracy of blood? Afghanistan post-election

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  1. Good article although it does contain a few errors and is a bit heavy on the use of generalisations. It is an error to think of the Afghans as one homogenous mass. I know you probably don’t do this, but it’s worth breaking the security problems in Afghan down into their respective parts.

    1. Pashtun Nationalist/Islamist insurgency. This is the main security threat to the country and it is this which NATO is locked head to head with. This insurgency has Islamist elements (as the suicide bombings testify) but is also strongly nationalist. Neither is it anything new, the Pashtun groupings caused untold trouble for the British Empire and are also locked in combat with Pakistan. The ability of NATO (meaning the fighting predominantly Anglo-Saxon parts of NATO) to suppress this adequately is questionable. You are surely correct to criticise the reliance on air power. Even if the Geography of the country together with the still relatively small NATO presence makes reliance on air power an unfortunate necessity. NATO does not have 30000llb bombs by the way, but I respect your point. The main challenge is to get some of the Pashtun leaders on board that requires an astute diplomatic and intelligence led strategy. Clearly up till now however much of the NATO strategy has gone against this approach working as air strikes and other operations have alienated many Pashtun and other Afghan groups.

    2. Crime. As you correctly point out corruption goes all the way to the top. Hardly surprising then that the Afghan Police are unreliable. Indeed a colleague of mine who works in Kabul said as well as corrupt in many areas ‘the Afghan Police are the Taleban’.

    3. Terrorism. This is much further down the list of problems I would suggest. It is clearly the case though that some of the Taleban elements will adopt Al Qaeda tactics. By these we can see the use of suicide bombings against any foreign investor or diplomatic mission. This slightly blurs a common issue that is raised by British politicians. It is always being said ‘we are there because of 9/11’. However Al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan they are in Pakistan. Even if some of the Taleban elements do adopt Al Qaeda tactics and techniques.

    4. Opium, the main crop and we all know why there is a demand for it and why Afghans will grow it. My point here is a simplistic one; why not buy it direct from the farmers for medicinal purposes? After all I see no way that can be eradicated even if some Afghan’s will grow other crops like apples and pomegranates.

    5. Foreign military. A more complicated issue than many commentators realise. The radical left and the fantasist Islamists are wrong when they say all or most Afghan’s are united in Jihad against NATO. However many Pashtun still are and Taleban infiltration has spread to some other rural districts where Tajiks and others live. The military needs to wise up or get out. Training a new Afghan Army is one of the few good ideas. I mentioned Al Qaeda earlier. I would suggest that not a single Al Qaeda member has been killed in Afghanistan since 2003. The enormous expenditure and trouble NATO has gone to and the cost to Afghan, British and American lives has been against a cross border Pashtun insurgency. One that we perhaps do not need to fight. If Al Qaeda in 2001 were supported by the Taleban, we are now locked in fighting the Camel there were riding on instead of confronting them directly. One military option that has hurt Al Qaeda has been the use of predator drones in NWFP. However this tactic is relatively cheap and surgical compared to NATO operations in Afghanistan.

    I liked your article Gabriel, but I have to say what would be your solution? Personally I don’t think western democracy can succeed in Afghanistan. But what could be done to ensure a stable prosperous regime? I’m out of ideas myself. I apologise for concentrating on the military side of things a bit too much. A good source for just looking at the military side of the conflict is MichaelYononline.

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