Dec 10 2013

Afghanistan: An end-game update


Reform Party of California Commentary

The Reform Party of California (RPCA) previously commented on the unhappy situation in Afghanistan and its uncertain prospects after the U.S. withdraws its military forces at the end of 2014. The RPCA’s comment included this from Afghanistan’s corrupt political leader Hamid Karzai: “The return of the Taliban will not undermine progress. . . . . there will be more Afghan women studying and getting higher education . . . . Even if the Taliban comes, that will not slow down.”

After 12 years of war, there have been almost 2,300 U.S. military casualties, unknown thousands of direct and indirect Afghan civilian deaths and about $680 billion in debt-financed U.S. tax dollars so far. In addition the costs include the presently unfunded cost of paying veteran benefits that will amount to an additional trillion dollars or more over the next 30-40 years in unfunded debt obligations. The war in Afghanistan has not been cheap in terms of human life or tax dollars. Nor will it be cheap going forward because human and economic costs will simply continue to mount whether we like it or not and whether we simply leave or not.

Set against that price, the end result could turn out to be no better than the result of the U.S. going into Afghanistan, overthrowing the Talibam and killing Osama bin Ladn if it had the chance to do so and then withdrawing to leave the Afghan people to their fate.

How are things going?

The end of 2014 is not far off so it is fair to check on the status of things. On December9, 2013, at page A4, the New York Times (NYT) reported this update, which is based on a December 2013 United Nations report. According to the NYT article, years of “intensive effort” by people inside and outside of Afghanistan to get protection in court for abused women either is failing or has failed. The Afghan parliament passed a law that “prohibited the use of relative’s testimony in criminal cases, greatly limiting the ability to prosecute domestic violence cases”. The abuses at issue tend to be domestic violence, forced self-immolation, forced marriages of girls and women and the practice of giving a woman or girl away to settle disputes.

According to the NYT’s reading of the UN report, the Afghan parliament almost collapsed over a proposed law to ban such practices, with religious conservatives calling such proposals “un-Islamic”. Also, the Afghan parliament passed legislation that reduced the quota of women in parliament from 25% to 20% and the quota in all other levels of government from 25% to 0%.

Obviously, things are not going particularly well when your central legislative body cannot even make domestic abuse of women and forced self-immolation into criminal acts. Once the U.S. leaves, entrenched Afghan traditions appear set to come back. Although not a certainty, a return of the Taliban still looks more likely than not. There is still no basis for trust in President Karzai, his corrupt government or anything they say.

It is still too early to decide

There is no way to know how the situation in Afghanistan will play out. Nonetheless, the evidence is beginning to solidly point to an Afghanistan that will be governed by the Taliban, conservative clerics and/or thieves, most of whom consider making domestic abuse a criminal offense to be un-Islamic. Regardless of who is in power, there is no reason to think that Afghanistan will be anything other than a cesspit of corruption just like it has been since the U.S. invaded in 2001.

When the chickens do finally come home to roost, it will be time to assess the success or lack thereof for U.S. policy. President Obama is trying to get the status of forces agreement signed by Karzai, who is resisting. Should the U.S. should stay after 2014 or just go? If we stay, the human and economic cost is guaranteed to increase and the progress the West has made, whatever it is, will still probably fade away. Afghanistan would slowly re-enter the dark ages. If we go, Afghanistan is pretty much guaranteed to re-enter the dark ages fairly soon.

At what point does it become clear that the situation is hopeless and it is time for the U.S. to halt spending debt-financed money on a hopeless endeavor? We are not there yet, but it is getting close.[1] If the conclusion becomes clear that the effort has been in vain, resource should be spend trying to save the lives of Afghan allies and civilians who tried to help us. Money the U.S. wants to spend would probably be better spent now trying to help resettle our allies who are probably going to face brutal retribution for their support of U.S. efforts. It would be a shame and disgrace if the U.S. leaves its allies to the mercies of its enemies, like we more or less did in Vietnam and Iraq.


1. There are other, more optimistic views of what will happen in 2014. An opinion from The Economist (The World in 2014, page 62) asserts that there will be violence and elections in Afghanistan that pass (barely) public opinion muster, but the Taliban will not regain power. The thinking is that (i) ordinary Afghans will resist the brutal Taliban and settle for a corrupt, ineffective government and (ii) the U.S. will leave 10,000 troops in the country, pay salaries for Afghan troops and police and therefore there will be no power vacuum that leads to chaos.  As The Economist puts it, “the country will totter toward stability” after the war ends. The RPCA hopes that assessment turns out to be true. Time will tell.