Afghan Nemesis: United States a Winner or Loser!

Ever since Taliban took over the country on 15 August 2021 from the US backed Afghan leadership which was not willing to stand with people during crisis and fled from Afghanistan as also the military which lacked motivation to fight with fellow Talibanis despite being well equipped with superior training, arms and ammunition, very disturbing news are coming out almost daily regarding the human rights violations, summary killings without any trial, retrograde Talibani edicts about the women and suppression of even peaceful protests with disproportionate violence. Women have been asked to stay indoors with strict observance of burka and hijab, banned from all sports activities and national women cricket team disbanded because the Taliban leaders feel that the women are meant only for producing children and stay indoors for household chorus under strict Sharia rules. The other residual minorities including few Hindus, Sikhs and Christians are living in constant mortal fear with uncertainties about their lives and belongings. While justifying his decision about the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US President Biden has stated that the American troops cannot and should not fight a war that the Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves. In the mean time, the Taliban leaders have also announced a caretaker cabinet to run the country that inter alia includes many UN listed and the most wanted men by the US FBI for the alleged terrorist links/activities even carrying huge reward on information leading to their arrest. The international media is abuzz with sensational news daily emanating from the war-torn country with journalists and free lance intellectuals hotly debating the pros and cons of Taliban rule, trail of US money, and the winners and losers of the Afghanistan war.

The US Money Trail in Afghanistan

Recently, the Wion International News presented an interesting analysis about the trail of money spent by the US on Afghan war, its beneficiaries, and the ultimate winner and loser. The author has observed that somewhat similar views have been expressed by some freelance intellectuals and thinkers too ever since the US quietly withdrawn from Afghanistan leaving its masses in disarray and disenchantment. Rather than reproducing the verbatim text, the essence of these views and discussions is briefly delineated here. Arguably, if anybody desires to find the real culprit of any political scandal, stock market swindle, or any war, he should follow the trail of the money flow in that case. In the context of Afghanistan war, the US has supposedly spent about $2.26 trillion which works out to nearly $300 million expenditure per day. The incumbent US President has publicly said that the US tax payers’ money was spent in Afghanistan but did not specifically elaborate where all this money has gone. The money spent has not improved the living condition of the Afghan people in any way. So where is the US money spent in Afghanistan? The fact is most of this money has gone back to the US, to different companies and contractors, whom the US Government had outsourced various war and development efforts. Most of the work was actually done by the American private companies which supplied them vehicles, aircrafts, weapons and ammunition, and so on. These companies actually trained the Afghan soldiers and, quite obviously, not in charity but on payment of huge amounts of money for it.

So it was like a revolving dole: The US government made payments but the money never left the American shore; instead, it was simply transferred to US companies in most cases and this can be statistically proved. Let’s take just five American corporate giants, the Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. These US war equipment manufacturer companies received a funding of about $2.03 trillion between 2001to 2021 in various supplies for the US futile war efforts in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Private companies and contracters have supplied vehicles, aircrafts, helicopters, ships, drones, weapons, ammunition, fuel and all necessary support services including IT and logistics. It can be surmised that the American soldiers actually lost these wars but the American businessmen scored splendid victory in all cases. Let’s elaborate this through another illustration. After the 11 September 2001 al Qaeda terrorist attack on US, suppose a person invested in shares worth ten thousand dollars in these companies in about a week after the attack, these stocks are worth about hundred thousand dollars in 2021 now, a jump of almost ten times in two decades. One can well imagine the profits earned by these companies. In other words, a forever war means the forever profit too. While the Pentagon (US Defence Ministry) indulges in boastful narrative of building the Afghan Army, the fact is Afghanistan was flooded with aircrafts, vehicles, guns and war gadgets supplied by US companies in lieu of the money paid.

The existing nexus of the governments in power and arms dealers in countries have often been exposed, including links of the Defense equipment supplier companies, politicians and White House in the Afghanistan’s case. Recently, The Black Swan author Nassim Nicholas Taleb described the situation in Afghanistan as "largely a wealth transfer from U.S. taxpayers to military contractors." Similarly, the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange had stated way back in 2011 that the goal in Afghanistan "is to have an endless war not a successful war," in order to "wash money out of the tax bases of the United States...into the hands of the transnational security elite." The whole international community observed the mad rush of Afghans trying to flee their own country through the road or air, some even fell from the aircraft to death following its take off in a hurry, after the country fell under the control of the Taliban amid a much-criticized US withdrawal. The world also watched over towards the August end how the US had struggled to quickly evacuate embassy personnel and some Afghans who helped Americans during the war spanning two decades.

In the context of the Afghanistan war, the US had established a special federal agency to monitor Afghan reconstruction programme, which is known as the Special Inspector General for the Afghanistan Reconstruction. According to a report submitted by the agency in 2018, almost 15 billion dollar disappeared during this period through the wastage, profiteering, corruption, fraud including 'ghost spending'. It’s obvious, that all this money too have ended up in unscrupulous US pockets and this was not military expenditure but the amount which was to be spent on the nation building, such as the roads, bridges, government buildings, schools, and so on. So in the name of reconstruction and development, the American companies have not only made money, but royally messed up the situation too. A classic example could be the money spent on the uniform of the Afghan National Army. It is a forest camouflage, which is suitable for the tropical countries but Afghanistan hardly had about 2% forest cover, hence such uniform makes no sense there. This only suggests there was neither proper scrutiny nor due oversight, just billions of dollar spent over twenty years without rationale in many cases. The American taxpayers’ money did not rebuild Afghanistan, instead, supplemented and rebuilt their own economy. This has been America’s strategy everywhere and in Afghanistan as well, the American army lost but the America Inc. won decisively.

Formation of the Taliban Cabinet

As the aforesaid narrative has emerged in the context of the recent developments in Afghanistan where the US forces have completely withdrawn after the military intervention and occupation for about two decades since 2001, fall of the Ashraf Ghani government following the struggle with Pakistan backed joint command of Taliban and Haqqani Networks, forced takeover of the country by Taliban barring some small pockets of resistance such as Panjshir province as also the announcement of the Taliban cabinet which includes several militant leaders and designated terrorists on the UN and US sanctions list. The Afghan capital of Kabul take over was a like a bloodless coup perhaps without firing a bullet wherein the top Afghan leaders including the president himself fled the country, fearing execution at the hands of Taliban. The Afghan army comprising of over three lakh trained and well-equipped soldiers apparently did not pose any resistance to the advancing Taliban fighters and simply melted away in the thin air. It may be interesting to briefly see who all are included in the stated cabinet.

Of the 33-member list of the Taliban cabinet designated as the caretaker government, nearly half of them are under the UN and/or US sanctions/banned list and, in fact, the world community recognizes a majority of them as indoctrinated militants or terrorists. For instance, the list includes one of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s most wanted man and “specially designated global terrorist” Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has now been designated as Interior (Home) Minister of Afghanistan. There is no woman in the cabinet which is understandable in view of the well known Taliban opinion on their working and other outdoor activities.  Also there is no point in digging out their past or narrating the credentials and qualifications of each member of the Taliban cabinet but a brief description of a few key ministers and their assignments may be of some interest and relevance.

Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund has been named to lead as the Prime Minister and Head of the State of the 'Government of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan'. The term Mullah denotes a Muslim learned in Islamic theology and sacred law and, according to the public admission of another member of the cabinet, any formal education including a Ph.D. is not necessary or relevant for the governance; instead, it is the power that really matters. Currently, Mullah Akhund is on a UN sanctions list for his role in sheltering and endorsing terrorism, he is also accredited with destroying the ancient and iconic statues of Bamyan Buddha in March 2001 in Afghanistan declaring it as his religious duty. He has also been the longtime head of the Taliban’s powerful decision-making body Rehbari Shura (leadership Council). In the previous Taliban regime (1996 – 2001) too, he was the foreign minister and deputy prime minister. Akhund will have two deputy prime ministers; one is Mullah Baradar and the other Abdul Salam Hanafi.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar aka Mullah Baradar was a close associate and founding member of Taliban along with one-eyed Mullah Omar in 1990s, who worked as insurgent and pronounced terrorist for long. He was arrested in Pakistan in 2010 and was languishing in custody till US pressurized the latter to release him in 2018 and relocate in Qatar. He now enjoys the number two position as deputy prime minister in the new Taliban cabinet. Hanafi is on the UN sanction list and is also believed to have been associated with drug trafficking for long. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of the founder of the Haqqani network, has been named as the interior minister, functionally perhaps the second most important portfolio in the cabinet. He is on the FBI’s most wanted men list due to his alleged links in suicide attacks and al Qaeda ties, carrying a reward of 10 million dollar about his location leading to his arrest. Amir Khan Mutaqqi has now emerged as the surprise pick for foreign ministerial berth, he had reportedly moved to Peshawar, Pakistan in 2001, and was in hiding ever since and his whereabouts are still unknown. Mullah Muhammad Yaqoob, son of Mullah Omar, is Defence Minister now. He is among few Taliban leaders who are not currently facing UN sanctions but has reported links with Pakistan-based dreaded terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.

These are few significant names and their shortest possible brief for the illustration sake, the remaining members of the cabinet and their credentials are not much different. In the changed scenario, the political approach and leanings of the world community towards Taliban ruled Afghanistan will take time to crystallize; however, the position of China and Pakistan is clear who are visualizing vast political and economic opportunities in Taliban regime. Among other important regional players, Russia, Iran and Turkey, though seemingly inclined to support Taliban, have currently adopted wait-and-watch policy while India appears to be ultimate loser of its traditional friendly ties and vast investment made in that country. During the next few weeks, this will be interesting to watch how the US government and Biden administration deals with the Taliban, particularly in a scenario when some of the men on its wanted list such as Sirajuddin Haqqani are now holding key ministries in the new Afghan regime.

Who Should Be Blamed for Afghan Nemesis?

The aspects of money trail covered in the earlier section as also the inference drawn regarding the loser and winner may be partly true but the most fundamental question is why should such a contingency arise in the first place? If we have a close look at the disturbed regions or any such particular country across the world, we find that either all concerned players or at least one of them is an Islamic or a Maoist communist country. The radical Islamists recognize no other religion or belief system anywhere, pursue strict implementation of Sharia laws and have no qualms about the use violence to achieve their objective. Similarly, Maoism is a doctrine to capture State power through a combination of armed insurgency, mass mobilization and strategic alliances with no hesitation about using mass propaganda and disinformation to achieve their goal. The former represents radical religiosity while the latter is based on extreme sociopolitical philosophy. Both are intolerant to any other existing belief or political system in the respective arena and have no qualms about using violent means.

An interesting contrast of the two ideologies is that they do not allow each other to grow and expand in their own area of influence but voluntarily join hands everywhere to achieve their intended objectives. For example, if we take Arab countries, Indonesia or Pakistan, either they ab initio do not allow communism/socialism to grow in the country or such political parties exist there only for the names sake. Similarly, Maoist China is in constant news of suppressing basic fundamental religious rights of Uyghur Muslims at home in the Muslim majority Xinjiang province but no other Islamic country ever raises any voice against the Chinese excesses. In Afghanistan, after the centuries of struggle and ethnic cleansing, radical Islamists have achieved over 99.7% Muslim population but they are still fighting amongst themselves for supremacy and even more strict enforcement of Islam and Sharia rule in the country. According to a report of PEW Research Centre in 2013, 99% of Muslims in Afghanistan (mostly males) favoured strict enforcement of Sharia laws. So it seems, most of them have no conflict on Islam and Sharia; instead, it appears to be more of an ethnic clash among the warlords for supremacy, or even equality.

It is this constant infighting among the Islamic groups and civil war in Afghanistan that provided opportunities for the external intervention during the last many decades. The story goes back to April 1978 when the communist People’s Democratic Party seized power in a bloody coup d'état against the then-President Mohammad Daoud Khan. This started a phase of instability, unrest and civil war that prompted the Soviets to invade Afghanistan in December 1979. This was the cold war era, so the US continued support to rebels with money and weapons with Pakistan serving as conduit to uproot and expel Soviets from Afghanistan. The war lasted for nearly a decade with estimated war casualties between 0.5 to 2.0 million Afghans and displacement of about 6 million people. After the Soviet withdrawal and collapse of Mohammad Najibullah government, Afghanistan entered into yet another phase of turmoil with the advent of Taliban, Haqqani Network and other militant groups in 1990s. The US and Pakistan initially supported, armed and trained Taliban, who captured power in 1996 and ruled till 2001, when the US invaded Afghanistan to take revenge on al Qaeda 11 September 2001 attack. During the last two decades, the US military basically assumed the same role what the Soviets had carried out to serve own selfish interests in the war-torn Afghanistan in the earlier decades.

What we have witnessed during the last 4-5 decades or witnessing even now in Afghanistan is actually a new form of colonialism or imperialism by the super powers but here again we cannot entirely blame them for the current Afghan nemesis. The seeds for the intervention of the US military was sown by the Taliban themselves by pursuing an extreme form of the religious oligarchy suppressing basic human rights, continued oppression of women and other religious minorities, and more significantly by aligning with and sheltering the dreaded terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, Haqqani network, and so on. It’s true that the billions of dollar spent by the US government have largely gone back to US companies engaged in training and supplying arms and ammunition to the Afghanistan army as also in reconstruction programme in the civil sector. But the money spent by US, its allies and India has also created sustainable assets in terms of modernizing the Afghan army to withstand ongoing challenges from the rebel Taliban and other militant groups besides adding to the infrastructure, education and other basic amenities in Afghanistan.

Here a moot point is how long should any foreign country be expected to take control and continue in another country for taking care of latter’s survival challenges draining own manpower, money and other resources, and, if so what for and at what cost? Should 20 years be not good enough for maintaining peace, law and order, reconstruction and development, and so on for any country in enabling it to stand on own feet for self-sustenance? Numerically much superior, trained and well equipped Afghanistan army supported with a reasonably strong air force could not stand and resist even for a few weeks, against the indoctrinated yet numerically inferior, disorganized and ill-equipped Taliban fighters. The Afghan top leadership proved to be very weak, fragile and gutless in running away in midth of crisis when the army and Afghan people were in dire need of direction, guidance and support. The fact is the necessary will and strength for the nation building doesn’t come from the borrowed resources of alien countries; the latter can play the role of a catalyst but the countrymen themselves have to resolve and rise to face challanges and do it their own at whatever needed cost and efforts. This is true to any country in the world and this is true to Afghanistan, failing which they cannot be absolved of the responsibility and blame.

Losers and Winners of Afghanistan War

Now the issue remains for reckoning as to who is the winner or loser of the current Afghanistan nemesis following the last two eventful decades! Well, if we consider the trail of money alone, it indeed appears that the Afghan venture is a major loss of the US military but a significant gain for the America Inc. But here the moot point is if the money alone is what that matters when the fundamental rights to live and express in a nation or civilization are at stake! The obvious answer is a firm “No”. Way back, this author had read the story of an elephant in the village of all visually handicapped people. Once a big elephant passed through the village and the curious villagers tried to feel it through their sense of touch (hands). Consequently, someone touched its trunk, and others touched its legs, tail, ears, belly, and so on. Later on, when asked they tried to describe the elephant the way they had sensed it through their touch perception in the absence of a holistic view.

If you look at it you will find the flow of money follows a particular dynamics and pathway, which is true and applicable not only in case of the defense deals for the purchases and supplies of arms and equipment but also in many other sectors such as infrastructure, real estate, pharmaceutical, and so on. Whenever there is a purchase and sale through the money transaction, it essentially involves three components, and in technical jargon we call them as Input, Output and Outcome. Here Input denotes the money spent on the supplies and services sought in lieu, Output is the credible assets thus created and Outcome would be if the intended objective(s) was indeed met through use of these assets. For instance, if America catered for one hundred thousand M16A2 Assault Rifles for the modernization of the Afghan army at some cost, here the money spent on purchase of the Assault Rifles represents Input, Rifles thus supplied is Output and the Outcome would be if the Afghan army could effectively use it to protect Afghan people and public property against the enemy rebels/terrorist groups.

Thus evaluating it only in the context of money spent is a lopsided approach that represents nothing but ignorance or coloured vision or at times (hidden!) agenda of the individual or agency concerned. So US money spent and gone back to some American/multinational companies is alright but more important is what has happened with the defense and civil assets thus created and whether the Afghanistan government and military have been able use these assets effectively for the protection and welfare of the people of Afghanistan. Under a negotiated settlement “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan" in February 2020, the Taliban had promised not to allow al Qaeda or any other extremist group to operate in the areas they controlled in Afghanistan and the US and NATO forces were to ensure their withdrawal by 1st May 2021. However, the then President Trump had also kept open the scope of renewed intervention if the Taliban violated the terms of the agreement. In fact, in his characteristic style, Trump had made it clear, “if terms were broken, US will go back with a force like no-one's ever seen." It is well known now that the Taliban had started violation of agreed terms many months back which is also evident from their ties with the Haqqani Network but President Biden favoured to go ahead with the scheduled withdrawal.

After the fall of Mullah Omar led Taliban regime in 2001, the United States and NATO had undertaken the lead role in overall reconstruction of Afghanistan by pumping billions of dollar aid to Hamid Karzai government with a view to upgrade the Afghan National Security Forces, building national roads, government buildings and educational institutions, and so on. A strategic partnership agreement was signed between the US and Afghanistan in 2005, opening new vistas and committing a long-term relationship. Under the long-term cooperation efforts, the US had even upgraded its embassy and opened more Consulate offices in Afghanistan over the years. Yet another strategic partnership agreement was signed in 2011 where-under the US designated Afghanistan as a major non-NATO ally thereby suo moto passing on several long-term benefits to this war-torn country. While spending billions on the training, upgrading and equipping the Afghan armed forces over the years, the US had also persuaded its NATO allies and India to make similar investment in the reconstruction and development efforts of Afghanistan.

On the contrary, the recent policy speech and remarks of President Biden on Afghanistan on 16 August 2021 portray an entire different picture or a U-turn, so to say. According to the incumbent President now, the nation building of Afghanistan had never been a mission of the US and they never thought of creating a unified, centralized democracy in this country. What he had in mind was to be narrowly focused on counter-terrorism, and not counterinsurgency or nation building. The American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves. According to President Biden, the US spent over a trillion dollars to train and equip an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong - incredibly well equipped - a force larger in size than the military of many NATO allies. Also that the US gave them every tool they could need, paid their salaries, provided for the maintenance of their air force - something the Taliban didn’t have. But what’s happened? Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country and the Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. Keeping all this in view, ending the US military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision - summed up the President.

Perusal of the preceding two paragraphs suggests that America had indeed committed for a long time presence and influence in the region, and they did everything to pursue their intended objectives by spending billions dollar in defense and civil sectors. Another important mission and implied objective that every successive US President had pursued but avoided to publicly acknowledge was to keep the communists i.e. Chinese and Russian influence at bay in the region. Although the President now talks of a limited US objective of “counter terrorism” that too only to avoid any attack on homeland (i.e. American soil) but their long time presence and investment in Afghanistan narrates an altogether different story. In either case, if their two-decades active presence in Afghanistan is evaluated in terms of the assets created (output) out of the money spent and intended objectives achieved (outcome), the entire venture seems to have ended in a great failure of the US government and President Biden administration. Let’s see in what ways they have miserably failed in Afghanistan.

  • By hasty retreat and withdrawal from Afghanistan with Taliban advancing in violation of the agreed terms, the US has surrendered everything, material and moral, that they gained during the last 20 years. A huge stock of the US sophisticated weapons and equipment meant for the Afghan army has gone into the custody of Taliban which would only strengthen the hands of insurgents and terrorists in the region. The majority of other durable assets, both military and civil, worth multi-billion dollar shall now be used or destroyed by Taliban at will.
  • The US has globally lost its face as a coward, humiliated and defeated nation which is a major blow to its international reputation and superpower status.
  • As per the agreed plan, the US was expected to ensure its withdrawal from Afghanistan by 31 August 2021(midnight) but after a terrorist attack at the Airport, it hurriedly preponed it to 30 August (midnight) leaving behind many US nationals yet to be evacuated and disabling and abandoning  a huge stock of war equipment, vehicles and aircrafts worth billions dollar.
  • By discarding all initiatives and gains, the sacrifice made by about 2,448 American soldiers in the war against the insurgents and terrorists as also some 3,846 men of US contractors killed during the last two decades have also gone in vain. This does not include hundreds of thousand Afghan soldiers and civilians casualties during the same period.
  • If, for the arguments sake, we accept President Biden’s stated limited objective of fighting “counter-terrorism” in Afghanistan, even this objective has completely failed. The fact is Taliban and Haqqani Network were never so strong as now and FBI’s most sought after man Sirajuddin Haqqani carrying a reward of $10 million is now Interior (Home) Minister in the Taliban cabinet. The world will now watch in next few weeks how President Biden and his administration deals with him and other alleged terrorists in the Taliban cabinet.
  • There is yet another glitch: According to Prof. Linda J Bilmes, former US Assistant Secretary of Commerce and currently working at the Harvard University, the wars in Afghanistan/Iraq were paid for entirely with borrowed money rather than raising taxes and the US still owes $2 trillion "in future veterans' benefits". This financial hangover is likely to be further compounded by the need to replace what has been destroyed or left behind in the war-torn country as also to pay for the weapons and equipment purchased during the last 20 years of go-go defense spending.

Well, with reference to the trail of money America Inc. may have been ultimate beneficiary but this is not unique about the Afghan war only. We so often talk about the worldwide nexus of the defense equipment manufacturers and suppliers with the respective government and politicians involved even in many shady deals. While in case of Afghanistan, the public money has been recycled but the US Inc. is actually making much more money as the largest arms exporters worldwide with almost 37% of total global supplies. As a matter of fact, on ideological considerations, the real winners in Afghanistan are the radical Islam and terrorism that will have grave implications in terms of ushering in medieval mindset with retrograde socio-religious practices and impinging upon the peace and stability in the region. With Taliban capturing power in Afghanistan, several thousand indoctrinated Taliban fighters and other terrorists have been rendered jobless and on the wait to engage in next jehadi mission. Needless to mention, they treat India and Israel as sworn enemies with their eyes already set on Kashmir. In addition, their next destination could also be the disturbed countries in Arabian peninsula, Syria, Somalia, Iraq, and so on. In the context of the states, the winners are the People’s Republic of China and Islamic Pakistan, who have already endorsed and embraced Taliban for the political and economic considerations, respectively.

End Note

Although the US occupation of Afghanistan for nearly 20 years and its investment in military build up and reconstruction programme of that country presents a far more complex and quirky picture but President Biden has made it rather very simple and straight in his recent policy speech on 16 August 2021. According to him, the US engagement with Afghanistan was only to avenge al Qaeda, to make sure that the latter could not use the country as its base for the attack on America and that they indeed succeeded in their mission. While operating in Afghanistan, the US neither had a mission of nation building nor ever aspired for creating a unified and centralized democracy there. As Vice President also, he had constantly envisioned a narrow focus on counter-terrorism, not even counter-insurgency and that too keeping only the interests of the United States in mind. Such statement now coming right from the horse's mouth is significant because all these years the US has acted (or pretended!) like a flagbearer of the noble concepts of democracy, secularism, human rights, and so on. This only indicates the selfish mission, narrow vision and exploitative tendencies of Biden’s America, and if they think they are right in their pursuit, they are sadly mistaken and patently wrong. The American President might justify his mission and continue to boast of its accomplishment but the whole world knows in unambiguous terms how the US has miserably failed in its mission in Afghanistan and its global image has taken a beating by abdicating its advantage and initiative in this region to the radical Islamists and communist competitors.


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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