The economic reasons why Afghan soldiers surrendered so easily to the Taliban

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In common parlance, an elitist state is one where the benefits of economic growth are disproportionately appropriated by a small fringe of the population at the expense of the majority and manifested in income, regional and gender inequalities. In contrast, the shared growth model raises the tide by lifting all the boats and the benefits are widely distributed.

The make-up of the elite varies over time but generally includes groups that exercise or have access to the levers of power in a state, namely political leaders, bureaucrats, military officers, large corporations, large farmers and high level professionals. The empirical validation of this model was presented in my book Pakistan: the economy of an elitist state in 1999 (revised in 2019).

Elitist state

The ongoing popular discourse on the collapse of the Afghan state apparatus – the national unity government, provincial governors, the Afghan national army and the Afghan police – has rightly focused on the chaotic departure US forces and the peaceful takeover by the Taliban.

It is legitimate to ask why, despite spending $ 2 trillion and building an army and a police force at the cost of $ 89 billion, the United States was forced to withdraw without sparingly. How come a superpower with its military might and economic prowess couldn’t defeat a disorganized group of non-state actors?

Various explanations ranging from Afghanistan being the “graveyard of the superpowers” to the ideological attachment of the Taliban to the bad strategic choices of the American presidents occupied the space of the debates. While all of this may be partially true, this article offers an alternative hypothesis, that is, it is a problem regarding the collapse of an elitist state artificially nourished and inflated by external stimuli. . Once these stimuli were removed, the artificial superstructure was dismantled.

In the case of Afghanistan, a new elite class was created by an artificial respiratory system and injected with huge doses of donor money. The country lacked the capacity to absorb around $ 100 billion a year, or five times its 2020 GDP (2001 GDP was only $ 4 billion).

A new class of entrepreneurs, suppliers, transporters, importers, experts, bankers and military commanders joined the traditional elites such as warlords, government officials, religious leaders and drug traffickers. The Taliban, along with US companies and intermediaries, also secured a share of the US contract money to ensure safe passage.

This expanded elite class has been the primary beneficiary of the continued occupation of Afghanistan by outside forces – income, rent-seeking opportunities, businesses, jobs and corruption have inflated the wealth of the country. elite. Having transferred this wealth abroad, they were the first to take flights from Kabul aided by American forces.

A soldier does not risk his life if he has not received his salary for months. Photo credit: Hoshang Hashimi / AFP

The report of the Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Afghanistan, the Afghanistan Papers and the Carnegie Fund reports have amply documented the leaks, embezzlement and flight of capital. “For almost two decades now, billions of dollars in the proceeds of corruption have been channeled from Afghanistan, a country devastated by four decades of conflict, to Dubai. These exits played a role in the delay of the economic and political development of Afghanistan, facilitating the resurgence of the Taliban and exacerbating regional instability, ”he said.

Compare this scenario with the plight of ordinary citizens of Afghanistan. Ninety percent of the population lives below the poverty line without decent work, without stable livelihoods or without access to basic public services. Donor money funded most schools and clinics, but the Special Inspector General for Reconstruction of Afghanistan found evidence of embezzlement and embezzlement of donor funds.

The Taliban debacle

The question arises: why did the Taliban take such a walk without any resistance from the residents? Despite many weaknesses and transgressions committed by the Taliban in their previous regime, the ordinary Afghan had no faith in successive Afghan governments. They greeted the Taliban not only because they were fed up with the continuing violence and insecurity over the past four decades, but also because they believed that the Taliban would not indulge in the massive corruption that is rampant. since 2001. Confidence is the glue that keeps the population attached to the government of the day.

Successive governments were generally seen as having been imposed by outsiders, taking their orders, turning to them to resolve power conflicts, and relying on them for economic sustenance. The army and the police were recruited, trained, equipped and paid by the same foreigners not to protect the citizens or the territorial integrity of Afghanistan, but as a counterinsurgency force.

Almost all of the state’s institutions had become dysfunctional, and the erosion of their capacities diverted popular attention and support to the Taliban who could fill the void.

The Economist reported in November 2020 that security had in fact improved in areas controlled by the Taliban. Local Taliban leaders resolved most of the differences, and the decisions were taken immediately and implemented. Taliban leaders insisted that teachers actually show up for work.

“At least boys can still receive an education and the sick can receive health care in areas occupied by the Taliban. It is this expectation of good governance without corruption, rapid and inexpensive justice and access to basic services that led residents to pave the way for the Taliban.

Women activists have rightly mobilized against the serious risk that girls will not go to school or that women will not get employment opportunities under the Taliban. While these concerns are real, it must be admitted that with the exception of educated and enrolled women and girls in urban areas, the plight of the majority of Afghan women has not improved in all these years. The life expectancy was 45 years and the incidence of death during pregnancy and childbirth was quite high.

Why did the soldiers and police surrender so easily to the Taliban? A soldier does not risk his life if he has not received his salary for months, his family is on the verge of starvation and he knows that his commanders have amassed enormous wealth by embezzling his contributions and that they do not don’t care about his well-being.

A sense of uncertainty and demotivation prevailed because they knew their payers (the United States) would no longer fund them. It was the survival instinct that overwhelmed them and led to their surrender.

The lesson to be learned from the history of Afghanistan is that poor governance and corruption of the elites to the detriment of the well-being of the majority will cause popular disaffection and allow non-state actors to take the reins of the state. .

This article first appeared in Dawn.


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