It’s the economy, stupid, even in Afghanistan

March 1, 2009

With violence at its highest level in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, you would think security must be the number one concern of the people there. Wrong: like much of the rest of the world, Afghans are worried more about the economic situation and  unemployment than fretting over the outcome of the war between the U.S.-led coalition and the Taliban/al Qaeda. 

A Gallup poll released a few days ago said 41 percent of Afghan adults named the economy as the number one important issue they and their families faced, followed by 16 percent mentioning the related issue of unemployment. The poll conducted in December found 12 percent named security as the most important concern.

And this is in spite of the fact that Afghanistan’s isolation from world trade and global finance is shielding it from the meltdown that threatens other countries, as my colleague Sayed Salahuddin wrote.  The Afghan economy has been kept afloat by the inflow of billions of dollars of aid, the spending and jobs provided by 69,500 foreign troops deployed in Afghanistan, as well as an illegal drugs trade worth an estimated $3 billion a year.  So if foreign donors cut back on aid as unemployment rises in their countries, the recession would reach Afghanistan too.

So if the Afghan people are more concerned about their economic well being than anything else, should the world be addressing those concerns as much as tackling a resurgent Taliban? In any case, don’t both feed into each other? An economic collapse and mass unemployment can only multiply the  considerable security challenge that foreign forces face.

The governor of the southern Afghan province of Kandahar was reported as saying the other day that joblessness was driving the youth into the arms of the Taliban

Conversely, if security deteriorates further, it can only hurt Afghanistan’s economic prospects

President Barack Obama while deploying an additional 17,000 troops to the war-torn nation  also said “you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely through military means.” The inference being that. for the country to stabilise you would have to address other issues such as its economy and a poltical system that isn’t seen to have delivered on its promise.

Is the administration ready to put its money where its mouth is then?

If you looked at a recent debate on “The Arena”, U.S. website Politico’s daily online discussion forum, there are misgivings already about whether the administration has thought through its Afghan strategy or if it is “merely treading water in the region, losing American lives here and there and making no real progress” as one commentator put it.

Robert Dreyfuss writing in The Nation said what was troubling about the administration’s signals on the Afghanistan-Pakistan front was that they they were all “tilted toward war and counterinsurgency”, with little being said about diplomacy, negotiations or deal making.

(File picture of Afghan woman begging police not to destroy her poppy farm,  moneychangers in Kabul and women at an aid distribution centre)


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The war in Afghanistan is not being lost on the battlefield. It’s being lost through the abject failure of the international community and the Afghan leadership to deliver on years-old promises of development, aid, jobs and improvements in living standards through such essentials as health, education, water and power.The US and NATO have been saying for years there can be no military solution, and the importance of development and the economy are stressed in their own counter-insurgency (COIN) handbooks.Yet they still don’t get it. And no-one is reining in the out-of-control aid groups and contractors on cost-plus deals with USAID that guarantee a profit on everything they do, no matter how wasteful and incompetent, and indeed encourage waste.The waste in Afghan and foreign lives, through violence, disease and hunger, is disgraceful. It does not help that one of Karzai’s closest relatives is one of the country’s biggest drug lords and the president, his political allies and the international community have chosen to turn a blind eye to something every Afghan knows full well and is disgusted by.

Posted by Boot | Report as abusive

George Bush should have put all his efforts into settling Afghan issue after 2001, instead of shifting focus to Iraq suddenly. Had the effort gone into Afghanistan 100%, by now the Taliban and terror machinery would have been dismantled. The reason why economic growth does not occur in this country is because of fear coming from uncertain future. The Taliban is still at large and regaining strength. Al Qaeda is still looming. Infrastructure has been difficult to build. And Pakistan is in turmoil. The Afghan psyche has been deeply affected by the events for the past 30 years that has decimated almost all the confidence in its people. Without removing fear, no progress can be made there.

Posted by Mauryan | Report as abusive

As an Indian I can proudly state that India is in the very least making sound contributions to rebuilding Afghanistan. Soon most roads in Afghanistan will be made by the Indians. We did not send soldiers because if we did then Pakistan would get on its high horse and state that this a strategic attack and send the Taliban back into Afghanistan.India sent engineers to rebuild Afghanistan.USA and NATO sent forces of soldiers.Pakistan nurtured Taliban and other so-called non-state actors (pathetic names) to hamper effeorts in Afghanistan.

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive

Ofcourse its the economy…The ppl there r dying coz ov lack of food! The Americans r pumping in da money, but they r not creating new jobs. For how many years will the American ppl pay for the afghani ppl?? So the Americans should spend money educating the Afghanis and at the same time they should take steps to curb the drug trade.And as for those who call Pakistan the reason for bad afghan economy, i would like to tell them that Pakistan has supported more then 5 million afghanis for more than 30 years and they r the reason for instability in Pakistan. Pakistan has played its role well, while the rest of the world has not!

Posted by Muhammad Rizwan Malik | Report as abusive

India and Afghanistan share a long history dating back to Mahabharat days, Gandhari , wife of Dhritrashtra was known as princess of Gandhar ,what is today known as Kandahar . Even Sikh Guru Nanak ji spent a lot of time in Afghanistan . Presence of large number of Sikhs in Afghanistan is result of Indo – Afghanistan relationship. In contemporary history , large number Afghan traders used to visit India to sell afghan herbs without which no Indian food is complete .One of the most famous work of India’s literary giant and nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore was Kabuliwala , in which he describes how an Afghani trader becomes part of Indian family .Unfortunately for Afghanistan as well for the people of this sub continent , Afghanistan became victim of cold war rivalry between former USSR and US , and subsequently take over by Pakistan supported Taliban . Pakistan sponsored Taliban destroyed the socio-economic and cultural fabric of Afghanistan, and forced people to grow poppy and opium . The proceeds of illegal drug trade is used to spread terror network globally. Afghanistan is the example how a multi-cultural ,multi-ethnic society can be destroyed by presence of Pakistan sponsored terrorists in the name of religion.Though the presence of US troops has brought a sense of security and reprieve to Afghans , US should also most expeditiously pursue the work of developments. It must also support the work done by Indian companies as part of India’s commitment to international community.US should also put pressure on Pakistan and its most dreaded ISI to stop supporting insurgents and prevent it from destroying all the good work done there .

Posted by anju2008 | Report as abusive

Muhammad Rizwan Malik :Pakistan has not done any charity by supporting Afghan refugee, Pakistan was paid for supporting these poor Afghan refugees .

Posted by anju2008 | Report as abusive

No country can or should survive on donor aid for very long. There is help available to provide infrastructure (eg rail/road links to Iran, maybe schools, hositals, water projects, etc), help on the security front (for however long that lasts) and aid for relieving dire poverty or starvation. At some point, the leadership of the said country has to take concrete measure to find a way to live within its natural endowments and talents of its people. I may be wrong but Afganistan does not have too much going for it – eg. it is land-locked, lacks water and doesn’t have oil or mineral wealth. But it is certainly not without talent. Afgans are settled in a way of life for a very long. The unstablity is caused if it can do that anymore due to changes in climate, procurement of resources, trade or foreign occupation. Religion per se shouldn’t be an issue (eg. US/ West doesn’t have a problem with Saudi Islamic radicalism).US has an over-arching foreign policy wrt to Afganistan and Iran. Its plainly self-serving. Some reasonable concerns are: growth of narcotics, export of terror, high levels of poverty. If a strong Afgan leadership can deal with the negatives, then there are others willing to help Afganistan along.

Posted by A Agarwal | Report as abusive

anju2008:How much? +3 million ppl are still residing here..they’r still a huge burden on our economy…how much does the world pay us for dat?? if uve got figures, den id really love to c dem..

Posted by Muhammad Rizwan Malik | Report as abusive

@anju2008Getting paid a few million dollars per year is pittance when compared to the legal, economic and social costs of hosting millions of refugees. Its been a huge sacrifice the people of Pakistan have made in helping the Afghans, yet we have received only hatred from them.

Posted by Aamir Ali | Report as abusive

@anju2008Getting paid a few million dollars per year is pittance when compared to the legal, economic and social costs of hosting millions of refugees. Its been a huge sacrifice the people of Pakistan have made in helping the Afghans, yet we have received only hatred from them.- Posted by Aamir Ali–must be a reason, right.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive