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SHANSAB: Don’t abandon Afghanistan yet

- - Thursday, August 14, 2014

The killing of Maj. Gen. Harold J. Green by an Afghan soldier is a tragic reminder that all is not well in Afghanistan.

Since the fall of the Taliban in November 2001, Afghanistan never had a chance to become a functioning state. The power of the warlords was never challenged. Institutions remained weak and ineffective. Elections were phony. The government was infested with corruption and nepotism.

The agriculture—the country's most important economic sector, where 80% of Afghans ekes out a subsistence living—has been neglected. It is bizarre for a country with an agricultural economy to have to import milk, cheese, eggs, and poultry. The country has no legal economy to speak off. The government can barely raise enough funds to pay 10% of its expenditures. The rest is paid by the U.S. and its allies.

If foreign cash stops coming, Kabul and Kandahar, Afghanistan's two largest cities, would plunge into darkness. Kandahar gets its electricity from a USAID-financed, diesel-operated power plant. USAID also pays for running it. Most of Kabul's electricity is purchased from Tajikistan with the cost being covered by the U.S. and its allies. When subsidies end, the Afghan government will be unable to pay these expenses, The Kandahar plant would have to be shut down and Tajikistan would stop exporting electricity to Kabul.

At this moment, Afghanistan is a nightmare in the making. The talk of turning that country into a state with established institutions and a functioning economy has long been abandoned. Today, the discussion is, albeit behind closed doors, about how well the U.S. can retreat and what it can do to delay a potential breakdown. Yet, the public is still assured that after 2014, when most foreign combat troops will have left, Afghanistan would be well on its way to attain stability. And should fighting continue, the Afghan security forces would be ready to defend their country.

Afghanistan is still the failed state when U.S. forces invaded it in 2001. Without strong institutions and a functioning economy, it is mired in insecurity and wretched poverty.

Afghanistan's descent into civil war seems inevitable if the U.S. and its allies abandon the country. Leaving Afghanistan in its present condition is inviting disaster. Hopelessness and the black hole of misery will again become fertile grounds for criminals and international terrorists to establish themselves in and operate from that country. America's enormous cost in blood and treasure would be wasted if the U.S. left Afghanistan on its own.

President Karzai's lawless conduct opened government institutions to corruption, causing partly the present dire situation. Despite the problems that the two presidential candidates have with one another, it is hoped that the emerging new leadership will prove itself to be more effectual and less prone to corruption. That would give the U.S. a better basis to complete its assignment less wastefully and more efficiently.

The responsible thing would be to acknowledge that Afghanistan is neither economically nor militarily ready to fend for itself. Before the U.S. can safely leave Afghanistan, it must help that country to build its own indigenous economic and military abilities. All that will cost money. But if it's done right, the cost will be a trickle of what was spent in the past 12 years.

Nasir Shansab was once Afghanistan's leading industrialist before he was forced to leave the country in 1975. He has periodically returned to that country in the years since the U.S. invasion seeking better opportunities for the Afghan people, and is the author of Silent Trees.