According to a report conducted over two years by Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the incredibly expensive nation-building effort in Afghanistan is not sustainable, and the country is in danger of an economic collapse when the United States leaves in 2014. As President Obama prepares to draw down the troop levels in Afghanistan this summer, the report implores him to consider the way that aid programs are implemented, and to restructure current stabilization programs. Otherwise, when there is no United States presence, the country could be devastated.
“Afghanistan could suffer a severe economic depression when foreign troops leave in 2014 unless the proper planning begins now,” the report said, according to NPR.
One cause for concern is the slew of foreign money that is being used to stabilize areas that no longer contain Taliban fighters. This money is too much for local authorities, according to the report, and, understandably, they don’t know how to make the most of such large sums.
But there is little oversight, and the inevitable result is corruption. And the Afghan economy relies on international assistance to a shocking degree – according to World Bank figures quoted in the Washington Post, “foreign military and development spending…now provides 97 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.” What will happen, the report asks, when much of this assistance dries up?
The report encourages the Obama administration, first of all, to stop paying Afghans “inflated salaries” – often ten times as much as they would earn otherwise – to work as contractors for foreign governments. This, the report says, makes qualified citizens reluctant to enter civil service and creates a “culture of dependency.” Another extremely logical suggestion is to stop funding programs that haven’t been vetted to make sure that they are efficient and have a probable rate of success. The military, unsurprisingly, tends to fund projects that development experts have said “lack achievable goals and need to be scaled back.”
All of this is happening in the midst of intense debates about the best way to draw down troop levels over the summer. But some people in Congress, like Sen. John Kerry, who is the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, are ready to take action to correct the missteps identified in the report.
“We’ve created a . . . wartime economy,” Kerry is quoted as saying in the WP. “It’s very dangerous, and we have to get a handle on it rapidly.”
Closer oversight on current aid programs is clearly needed. “Transition planning should find the right balance between avoiding a sudden drop-off in aid, which could trigger a major economic recession, and a long-term phase-out from current levels of donor spending,” the report said.
One thing is clear: if we don’t start to pay more attention to “nation-building” in Afghanistan over the next three years, when we leave, rebuilding the country may be the next effort the international community needs to spearhead.
Photo from the U.S. Army's Flickr photostream.