Thursday, November 5, 2015

U.S. Project in Afghanistan: Going, Going, Soon to be Gone

The jaw-dropping absurdity that is the Western project in Afghanistan is on display in two stories published yesterday and today in The New York Times. 

Yesterday, Alissa Rubin, in "Life Pulls Back in Afghan Capital, as Danger Rises and Troops Recede," tours a greatly changed Kabul from "the surge" days of yesteryear. Gone are most of the Westerners, as well as the restaurants and nightspots that served them. Helicopters shuttle U.S. embassy staff to and from the airport; driving is considered too dangerous. Afghans stand in line at the Interior Ministry office to get papers stamped in order to exit the the country:
KABUL, Afghanistan — If there had been grumbling before about the deafening intrusion of low-flying American helicopters in the Afghan capital, the discontent has surely multiplied along with the number of flights: packs of them now, coming two, four, six at a time, starting around 7 a.m., then again at midday and at dusk. 
Why so many? 
“The American Embassy’s not allowed to move by road anymore,” a senior Western official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the news media. 
“If you’re at the airport and you have work at the embassy or at R.S.,” he said, referring to the international coalition’s mission, known as Resolute Support, “they fly you over in the morning and back at night.” 
After 14 years of war, of training the Afghan Army and the police, it has become too dangerous to drive the mile and a half from the airport to the embassy.
If that doesn't conjure up the Saigon of 1975, read on. It is fascinating story, the kind of "reporter's notebook" I wish the Gray Lady would indulge in more often:
One favored spot over the years was the Design Cafe, a place with what might be called Kabul chic: sconces on the walls and low Afghan-style seats with cushions indoors and rattan furniture in its leafy courtyard. The cafe made an amazing mint lemonade in the summers, with icy, barely sweet, shredded mint whipped in until the drink turned a frothy green. 
Now, on a hot day in August, the corrugated metal door was locked, and no amount of banging on it brought an answer. Through the small square grate, all that was visible was a dusty courtyard, a couple of plastic bags blowing across it in the late afternoon wind. 
The cafe had a second outpost in a more secure neighborhood, and that one appeared to be open — at least someone answered the door. 
But walking inside was like entering an attic. The upholstered chairs were covered in dust, and a couple of them no longer had cushions, as if this were the last lot for sale at an auction, when all that was left was the furniture nobody bid on. 
Was it possible to get a coffee? The two guards conferred. Then one said, “Yes.” 
He would go look for the cook, he said doubtfully, then appeared relieved when he was told not to worry about it. 
It was not just the expatriates leaving; the Afghans were going, too, and in droves.
But the story that takes the cake is today's. In "Afghan Businessman Convicted in Kabul Bank Fraud Is Still Free to Make Money," Mujib Mashal describes how Khalilullah Frozi, the guy convicted of bilking the Kabul Bank of close to $1 billion, is actually partnering with Ashraf Ghani's government to develop real estate. Ghani endeared himself to his Western backers last year upon assuming the presidency by promising that he would go hard after the people responsible for defrauding Kabul Bank. Brokering deals with the convicted fraudster and allowing him to serve out his 15-year sentence at night by sleeping in a posh cell stuffed with floor cushions and Persian rugs doesn't really conjure up the sobriquet "The Ralph Nader of Afghanistan."
KABUL, Afghanistan — In a big day for development here, a notable Afghan businessman stood with top government officials on Wednesday as he signed the contract for a new township: 8,800 homes across 33 acres of prime real estate in the heart of the capital, with an initial investment of at least $95 million.

There was just one problem: The businessman, Khalilullah Frozi, is supposed to be serving a 15-year prison sentence for his role in defrauding Kabul Bank of nearly $1 billion of depositors’ money. The scheme broughtAfghanistan’s biggest bank, where Mr. Frozi was listed as chief executive, near collapse in 2010, and it deeply shook trust in the Western-backed financial system here. 
But Mr. Frozi, it seems, will be spending his days making money while he serves his sentence at night.

Five years after the banking scandal, the apparent unwillingness of the Afghan authorities to deal firmly with the perpetrators is perhaps one of the most glaring examples of Western impotence in the fight to clean up a system that the United States, chiefly, built and paid for.
But wait. It gets worse:
Mr. Ghani’s coalition government depends on many of the same players [that Mr. Frozi bought when he headed Kabul Bank], and could do little more now than to reach a compromise with Mr. Frozi, the analysts say. 
Mr. Frozi’s enduring influence ensured him luxury even in jail, from where he was reportedly released regularly to watch his soccer team, Ferozi F.C. 
On a daily basis, Mr. Frozi posted photographs and poems on his Facebook page from his cell, which was specially furnished with cushions and maroon Persian rugs, its walls painted a pale yellow. 
Among the images is one of him with his children lounging on the cushions during family visit day. There is even a photograph of Mr. Frozi in the prison yard, hanging out with Taliban prisoners. 
“In Pul-i-Charkhi prison, with the political opponents of the National Unity Government,” the caption reads, in reference to Mr. Ghani’s coalition that he just signed a partnership with.
Obama's decision to extend the presence of U.S. troops through the end of 2016 needs to be seen for what it is: a delaying tactic that dumps the mess on the lap of whomever succeeds him. The Taliban have already won. That's why there is a mass migration underway. In all those stories about refugees flocking to Europe, Afghans are the next nationality mentioned after Syrians.

The U.S. project in Afghanistan is an abject failure. Kingpins like Khalilullah Frozi, who stored the money looted from Kabul Bank in the U.A.E., will be fine, I would imagine, when the Taliban take control of Kabul.

Doctors Without Borders is still waiting after one month for an answer from the Pentagon why its hospital in Kunduz was blown apart and its staff killed. Was the reason for the attack really to assassinate an ISI agent?

U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, tracking all the way back to the days of Jimmy Carter, is inherently part of the global guy-wires of neoliberalism and neoconservatism. Its onrushing collapse portends a great change coming our way.

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