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'Forever War' Benefiting Afghans? Follow the Money
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A money changer shows Afghan afghani bills along a street in Kabul on June 30, 2021. Photo: AFP/Adel Berry
A money changer shows Afghan afghani bills along a street in Kabul on June 30, 2021. Photo: AFP/Adel Berry

After 20 years and a staggering US\$2.23 trillion spent in a “forever war” persistently spun as promoting democracy and benefiting the “Afghan people,” it’s legitimate to ask what the Empire of Chaos has to show for it.

The numbers are dire. Afghanistan remains the world’s 7th poorest nation: 47% of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the Asian Development Bank. No less than 75% of the – dissolved – Kabul government’s budget was coming from international aid. According to the World Bank, that aid was responsible for the turnover of 43% of the economy – one that was mired in massive government corruption.

According to the terms of the Washington-Taliban agreement signed in Doha in February 2020, the US should continue to fund Afghanistan during and after its withdrawal.

Now, with the Fall of Kabul and the imminent return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, it’s becoming clear that applying financial soft power tactics may be even more deadly than a mere NATO occupation.

Washington has frozen \$9.5 billion in Afghan Central Bank reserves and the International Monetary Fund has canceled its lending to Afghanistan, including \$460 million that’s part of a Covid-19 relief program.

These dollars pay for government salaries and imports. Their absence will lead to the “Afghan people” hurting even more, a direct consequence of inevitable currency depreciation, rising food prices and inflation.

A corollary to this economic tragedy is a classic “take the money and run” caper: Former president Ashraf Ghani fled the country after allegedly packing four cars with \$169 million in cash, and leaving \$5 million on the tarmac of Kabul airport.

That’s according to two witnesses: one of his own bodyguards and the Afghan ambassador in Tajikistan; Ghani has denied the looting allegations.

Ghani’s plane was denied landing in Tajikistan and also Uzbekistan, proceeding to Oman until Ghani was welcomed in the UAE – very close to Dubai, a global Mecca of smuggling, money laundering and racketeering.

The Taliban have already stated that a new government and a new political and economic framework will be announced only after NATO troops are definitively out of the country next month.

The complex negotiations to form an “inclusive” government, as repeatedly promised by Taliban spokesmen, are de facto led on the non-Taliban side by two members of a council of three: former President Hamid Karzai and Ghani’s eternal rival, the leader of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah. The third member, acting in the shadows, is warlord-turned-politician and two-time prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Abdullah Abdullah (right), chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), and former president Hamid Karzai (2nd from right) meet with Abdul Rahman Mansour (second from left), the acting Taliban governor of Kabul, in Kabul on August 21, 2021. Photo: AFP /Taliban handout via EyePress News
Abdullah Abdullah (right), chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation (HCNR), and former president Hamid Karzai (2nd from right) meet with Abdul Rahman Mansour (second from left), the acting Taliban governor of Kabul, in Kabul on August 21, 2021. Photo: AFP /Taliban handout via EyePress News

Karzai and Abdullah, both vastly experienced, are regarded by the Americans as “acceptable,” so that may go a long way in terms of facilitating future, official Western recognition of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and restored multilateral institution funding.

Yet there are myriad problems including the very active role of Khalil Haqqani, who leads the Taliban Peace Council Commission while on a “terror watch list” and under UN sanctions. Not only is Haqqani in charge of Kabul’s security; he’s also side by side with Karzai and Abdullah in the discussions to form an inclusive government.

What makes the Taliban run

The Taliban have been operating outside of the Western banking system for two decades now. The bulk of their income comes from transit tax on trade routes (for instance, from Iran) and fuel levies. Profits from opium and heroin exports (domestic consumption not permitted) reportedly account for less than 10% of their income.

In countless villages across the deep Afghan countryside, the economy revolves around petty cash transactions and barter.

I received a copy of a high-level Pakistani academia-intelligence paper examining the challenges facing the new Afghan government.

The paper notes that “the standard route of development to be followed will be very pro-people. Taliban’s Islam is socialist. It has an aversion towards wealth being accumulated in fewer hands” – and, crucially, also an aversion to usury.

On the initial steps towards development projects, the paper expects them to come from Russian, Chinese, Turkish, Iranian and Pakistani companies – as well as a few government sectors. The Islamic Emirate “expects infrastructure development packages” at costs that are “affordable by the country’s existing GDP.”

Afghanistan’s nominal GDP in 2020 was \$19.8 billion, according to World Bank figures.

New aid and investment packages are expected to come from Shanghai Cooperation Organization member nations (Russia, China, Pakistan) or SCO observers (Turkey and currently Iran – scheduled to become a full member at the SCO summit next month in Tajikistan). Inbuilt is the notion that Western recognition will be a Sisyphean task.

The paper admits that the Taliban have not had time to evaluate how the economy will be the key vector deciding Afghanistan’s future independence.

But this passage of the paper may hold the key: “In their consultations with the Chinese, they were advised to go slow and not rock the boat of the Western world system by talking too soon about state control of capitalism, interest-free economy, and de-linking from the IMF-based financial system. However, since the West has pulled back all the money from the Afghan exchequer, Afghanistan is likely to apply for short-term aid packages against their resource base.”

An Afghan currency exchanger counts money as dealers have been hit hard following the fall in value of the Afghani currency, leading to a rise in food prices in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 16, 2021. Photo: AFP via Anadolu Agency / Haroon Sabawoon
An Afghan currency exchanger counts money as dealers have been hit hard following the fall in value of the Afghani currency, leading to a rise in food prices in Kabul, Afghanistan, on July 16, 2021. Photo: AFP via Anadolu Agency / Haroon Sabawoon

IMF-NATO as brothers in arms

I asked Michael Hudson, an economics professor at the University of Missouri Kansas City and Peking University, how he would recommend the new government to act. He answered, “For one thing, embarrass the hell out of the IMF for acting as an arm of NATO.”

Hudson referred to a Wall Street Journal article written by a former IMF advisor now with the Atlantic Council as saying that “now, since recognition is frozen, banks all over the world will hesitate to do business with Kabul. This move provides the US with leverage to negotiate with the Taliban.”


So this may be going the Venezuela way – with the IMF not “recognizing” a new government for months and even years. And on the seizure of Afghan gold by the New York Fed – actually a collection of private banks – we see echoes of the looting of Libya’s and seizure of Venezuela’s gold.

Hudson sees all of the above as “an abuse of the international monetary system – which is supposed to be a public utility – as an arm of NATO run by the US. IMF behavior, especially regarding the new drawing rights, should be presented as a litmus test” for the viability of a Taliban-led Afghanistan.

Hudson is now working on a book about the collapse of antiquity. His research led him to find Cicero, in In Favor of the Manilian Law (Pro Lege Manilia), writing about Pompeus’s military campaign in Asia and its effects on the provinces in a passage that perfectly applies to the “forever war” in Afghanistan:

“Words cannot express, gentlemen, how bitterly hated we are among foreign nations because of the wanton and outrageous conduct of the men whom in recent years we have sent to govern them. For, in those countries, what temple do you suppose had been held sacred by our officers, what state inviolable, what home sufficiently guarded by its closed doors? Why, they look about for rich and flourishing cities that they may find an occasion for a war against them to satisfy their lust for plunder.”

Switching from the classics to a more pedestrian level, WikiLeaks has been replaying a sort of Afghanistan Greatest Hits , reminding public opinion, for instance, that as far back as 2008 there was already “no pre-defined end date” for the “forever war.”

Yet the most concise assessment may have come from Julian Assange himself:

“The goal is to use Afghanistan to wash money out of the tax bases of the US and Europe through Afghanistan and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. The goal is an endless war, not a successful war.”

The “forever war” may have been a disaster for the bombed, invaded and impoverished “Afghan people,” but it was an unmitigated success for what Ray McGovern so memorably defines as the MICIMATT (Military-Industrial-Counter-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think Tank) complex. Anyone who bought stocks of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and the rest of that crowd made – literally – a killing.

Facts are indeed dire. Barack Obama – who presided over a hefty Afghan “kill list” throws a birthday party and invites the woke nouveaux riches. Julian Assange suffers psychological torture imprisoned in Belmarsh. And Ashraf Ghani mulls how to spend \$169 million in the Dubai rackets, funds some say were duly stolen from the “Afghan people.”

(Republished from Asia Times by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, American Military, Taliban 
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  1. Kleptocrat Coward Ghani having an “accident” would be a worthwhile reason to laud the CIA.

    • Replies: @Notsofast
  2. Anon62 says:

    After 20 years and a staggering US\$2.23 trillion spent in a “forever war” persistently spun as promoting democracy and benefiting the “Afghan people,” it’s legitimate to ask what the Empire of Chaos has to show for it.

    If you purchased \$10,000 of stock evenly divided among America’s top five defense contractors on September 18, 2001 — the day President George W. Bush signed the Authorization for Use of Military Force in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks — and faithfully reinvested all dividends, it would now be worth \$97,295.

    Lockheed Martin alone delivered a total return of 1,235.60 percent over this period


  3. 600 million per day for 20 years—there must be some leakage here. Who is the Auditor–Arthur Andersen?

  4. El Dato says:

    Blasts from the past: Get Your War On, 2001-Oct-30

    Also, Assange: Emmett Tilled by “Muh Rape” CIA Honeypot. That was an easy gig. Oldest trick in the history of humanity.

    • Thanks: Greta Handel
  5. de-linking from the IMF-based financial system

    The sooner the better. The “IMF-based financial system” exists for the exclusive purpose of transferring every country’s resources into the hands of the New York bankers, full stop.

    • Replies: @showmethereal
  6. The Afghan War was tragic for Afghans in many ways. But less so than many wars. For one thing, there wasn’t much to destroy in Afghanistan. It wasn’t like Germany or Japan smashed in World War II. Also, whatever had been standing had already been reduced to rubble in the long wars in the 1980s(when Soviets were there) and in the ensuing ‘civil wars’ among the tribes and factions. Also, Taliban were hardly great builders. They kept the country at the medieval level. Taliban folks were content to be backward, which they conflated with faith and piety.

    Even though the US invasion was initially brutal with devastating air strikes, it wasn’t long-lasting because there really wasn’t much to bomb and the Taliban soon scattered to the four winds. With so many mountains and caves, most Taliban just fled and hid. Soon after the invasion, most of the war consisted of drone strikes and limited skirmishes. Though the drone attacks killed some innocents, the entire casualty was in the thousands. Many more Vietnamese died in a single US bombing strike under Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon. So, this was hardly a genocidal kind of war, which could be said of certain chapters of the Vietnam War.

    Also, due to demographic dispersion and geographic barriers, the US occupation didn’t unleash the bloodbath that the Iraq invasion did. In Iraq, US presence in the flat sand led to religious factions tearing each other part. There were no mountains to separate the Sunnis from the Shias. Also, whereas Afghanistan before and after US invasion had continuity in Pashtun representation, the Iraq invasion led to a sudden power shift from Sunni to Shia domination. This led to Sunni rebellion and Shia reprisals, a horrifying cycle of violence. Also, as certain Neo-Con or Zio-Con elements feared warm ties between Shia-ruled Iraq and Iran, they inflamed Sunni violence to make Arabs kill Arabs. Afghanistan, for the most part, avoided such internecine bloodbath under US occupation, at least on the scale of what took place in Iraq.

    If there had been no 9/11 and no US invasion, the Taliban might have remained as they were. Rigid, backward, insular, and isolated. There would have been hardly any opportunity for growth and development. This is where imperialism can do some good. Not because imperialists are good-hearted and well-meaning but because they shake things up. Would Japan or China have made progress into modernity if they weren’t forced at gunpoint? Without Western Imperialist aggression, the ruling dynasties there would have suppressed any reform or change that could conceivably threaten their total grip on power. Indeed, they regarded stasis as synonymous with harmony with nature, history, spirituality, and the cosmic order of things. Only an outside force could act as catalyst for revolutionary and fundamental change, for good and ill. Though all societies evolve over time, the fact is East Asia didn’t have sufficient internal spark/fuel to bring about fundamental change from within. This was also true of the Ottoman Empire that, upon falling behind the West in science and technology, simply couldn’t muster sufficient energy for change. It took the traumatic defeat in World War I that forced a true transition to modernity.


    Now, it’d be foolish to hope that the Taliban will ever be like the Kemalists of Turkey, or even like Gaddafi of Libya, Nasser of Egypt, or Hussein of Iraq, all of whom embarked on modern and mostly secular development, albeit in alignment with Muslim values. And we can’t expect the new Taliban regime to resemble Islamic Iran that, for all its religiosity, fully adopted modern science and technology(and even most modern facets of living, minus the overt decadence).
    Though the worst case scenario is that the New Taliban, high on the hubristic fumes of ‘victory’ over the US, will revert to the old ways, it’s more likely that it will be more pragmatic, worldly, shrewd, realistic, and a bit wiser. It is the dialectics of history. Old Taliban had the power but got nowhere. US invasion forced change and built much infrastructure but its influence, at once overbearing and underwhelming, didn’t catch. But, some commentators are hoping that the dialectics of Taliban resistance and US reconstruction could lead to the synthesis of a New Taliban that is more savvy in politics and business.
    Of course, such changes are possible without foreign invasion. Mikhail Gorbachev embarked on profound changes in the Soviet Union. Maoist China made the transition to Deng-ist China, and communist Vietnam adopted market economics. But the Taliban were so anti-modern that it’s unlikely they would have done much to develop the country on their own without foreign intervention on a massive scale.

    Though the US failed to turn Afghanistan into a compliant outpost, it did construct lots of roads, buildings, airports, and infrastructure. Yes, much of the money disappeared into the hands of corrupt politicians and ‘contractors’ whose only talent was for swindling Uncle Sam(and the US Military-Industrial-Complex itself is a massive racket defrauding the US tax payer). Still, in the ensuing twenty years, Afghanistan did end up with cities with many more buildings and amenities. And a new professional class did learn certain skills in governance and management(and these people are likely to keep at those jobs even under the Taliban — surely, the US can’t bring all of them as refugees, and the New Taliban might actually value their skills).

    Prior to the US invasion, Taliban-ruled Afghanistan was on friendly terms with only one major country: Pakistan. It had alienated Russia, China, Iran, and other surrounding -Stan nations. It was seen as a festering sore in the middle of Central Asia. Afghanistan didn’t want anything to do with most other nations and vice versa; the feelings were mutual. And as long as it was ruled by the backward Taliban, it was hardly a threat to other countries that were far more developed and powerful. It could be ignored.
    Things changed with the US invasion. All of a sudden, it went from a backwoods(or back-mountain) country of ignorant nobodies to the base of US globo-imperial operations. Russia, China, and Iran feared that the US planned to use Afghanistan as part of an encircling campaign. Pakistan regarded US presence as Uncle Sam breathing down its neck. This made Afghanistan relevant and important to the neighboring countries, one deserving to be courted with special favors.

    They now had an interest in getting the US out and forging good relations with the New Taliban(if it were to come to power upon US departure). Also, the New Taliban was more likely to cut deals with Russia, China, Iran, and other nations precisely because it had gotten burned in the US invasion. Even though the New Taliban might feel a rush of hubris in the moment, the major lesson of the long occupation has been the value of humility. Though Afghanistan has been called the graveyard of empires, the fact is empires survived their misguided Afghan ventures. Alexandrian Empire collapsed due to other reasons. British Empire had setbacks in Afghanistan, but it was really brought down by World War I and II. Soviet Empire’s collapse had little to do with Afghanistan and more with long bread lines. US empire survived setbacks in Vietnam and Iraq. So, the notion of Afghanistan as the graveyard of empires is a myth. But the fact is the invasions have turned the country into the graveyard for many Afghans. Though Afghan human losses weren’t devastating under US occupation, the Taliban was pushed into subsistence in the periphery, and surely their patience was running thin(judging by the eagerness with which they acted to take control of the country upon sensing US withdrawal).

    Prior to the US invasion, many in the Taliban were foolish enough to think Allah would save them. Now, they know better. They don’t want to do anything to justify another US invasion(or massive aerial attack). And this means isolation isn’t an option. They need constructive and mutually beneficial relations with Russia, China, and Iran as insurance against return of US imperialism. It’s like the Khmer Rouge wised upon ONLY AFTER the Vietnamese invasion that forced the ultra-xenophobic and ultra-radical group to eat humble pie and adopt the pragmatic path of working with other nations to oust the Vietnamese from Cambodia. In this sense, one could argue that the US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, though ill-advised and wasteful, may have inadvertently done much good for the country, that is IF the New Taliban learned the proper lessons from the dialectics of history and arrived at a more workable synthesis of diplomacy, commerce, and compromise.

  7. Notsofast says:
    @Sick of Orcs

    don’t think the cia’s going to whack one of their assets, they’ll just put him on the shelf until they need him again and then dust him off. look at the picture of karzai (p.n.a.c. stooge and unocal frontman) about to join the new government.

  8. @traducteur

    Actually NY and London go back and forth as to who controls more of the global economy. There was a great documentary done detailing the subversive power of the London banks:

    But either way – you are correct…. That is why much of the developing world is seeking other banking sources… All you have to do is look at the countries the G7 try to pressure.

  9. “leaving \$5 million on the tarmac of Kabul airport.”

    Now THAT’s then you know you’ve got real money.

  10. Jiminy says:

    Damn ungrateful Afghanis. For twenty years the western powers have been trying to lead them to become a shangri-la of peace and harmony there amongst the Himalayas. Spending trillions and trillions of dollars and all for nought. Gladly it now appears that the westerners have finally seen the error of their ways, hopefully now moving on to help guide other lost, backward nations on their path to 21st century democracy. America is fast becoming an expert in this nation building cause. I can’t wait to see who’s next.

    • Agree: GomezAdddams
  11. The goal of all of this murder was to attack, obliterate and destroy the Enemies of Israel.
    Iraq, Afghanistan, Lybia, Mali, Syria….we stopped short of Iran (Why Trump had to be replaced).

    I would say “Mission Accomplished”.

    The key to it all is 9/11. If Americans would wake up and spend a few days researching this False Flag. The overwhelming evidence of Israeli planning, execution, and cover-up is laid bare for all to see.

    Imagine what a glorious day it will be when America realizes her mortal enemy is not Islam but Israel. That Israel and all her Zionist Jews embedded in America (like tics on a crippled dog) have been bleeding her dry for 70 years.

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