OBAMA IN AFGHANISTAN
President Obama’s flying nocturnal visit to Afghanistan took everyone by surprise. Not so surprising was his focus on Afghan corruption and the need for Pakistan’s help in reaching the desired objective of disengaging from active hostilities with the Taleban. This new objective is a pragmatic scaling down of previous far more ambitious objectives. It also gives new meaning to the earlier stated plan of starting the beginning of a US withdrawal in July 2011.
The focus on corruption in Afghanistan is long overdue. The corrupt environment ensures that US aid also reaches the enemy the US is fighting—the Taleban. This is how it works. The US is totally dependent on logistics flows into Afghanistan via Central Asia and Pakistan. Within Afghanistan there are huge contracts involving at least 3 billion US dollars for the safe transportation and distribution of logistics. Afghans—mostly US educated---have returned to Afghanistan and have used their links to secure contracts. These Afghans are all connected to high ranking Afghan government officials. The biggest such contractor is the son of the Afghan Defense minister. This is the first tier and the starting point of the corruption chain in Afghanistan.
These ‘contractors’ need transport and secure routes. This brings in the sub-contractors who are lower in the chain but again have connections and make pay offs to get the contracts. Millions of US dollars are involved in all facets of the operation---procuring vehicles, spare parts, maintenance and drivers and then there is the all important aspect of security. Without fool proof security not a single vehicle can reach its destination. Security has to be bought and in most areas the guarantors are the Taleban or people fronting for the Taleban. This where the US dollars start flowing to the enemy and no enemy would want to kill the goose that is laying the golden eggs---in this case it means keeping US and NATO indefinitely engaged. Everybody in the chain wants this.
In this context President Obama has sounded just the right note. He has told Karzai to do more to curb corruption. But what can Karzai do? The whole logistic chain is a closed loop. Any other arrangement like employing US or other country security forces will raise the cost a hundred times and jeopardize security at every step. So not much is likely to change—US taxpayers will continue to fund the enemy that its forces are fighting.
Another chain is the narcotics mafia—it too starts from the top pervades the entire government machinery and depends on the Taleban for the vital ground level operations of poppy growing, harvesting, converting and secure movement out of the country. Food and reconstruction are the other chains that snake from top to bottom in Afghanistan.