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OPINION

Taliban not equipped to fix Afghanistan

By WAHAB RAOFI | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: June 25, 2020

To be clear, I don’t want to sound like a pessimist. I welcome any step, no matter how small, taken toward bringing peace to my native Afghanistan. The signing of the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban fed hope that the deal would lead to another agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. But the Taliban have refused to engage, calling the Afghan government a “servant of foreigners.”

So any optimism at this point would appear to be misplaced. The Taliban continue to attack Afghan security forces. The New York Times reported that during the month of May, at least 285 pro-government forces were killed by such attacks, and 155 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan in the last three weeks. The Taliban have only intensified their attacks.

Despite the spike in violence, the Afghan government stands ready to hold talks with the Taliban, according to a government spokesperson.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that a peace deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban is reached, and the Taliban reestablish their Islamic emirate. The question remains: Can the Taliban fix Afghanistan?

Afghanistan is basically a failed state; most of its infrastructure and institutions have been shattered, roads are pitted with holes, and buildings have broken windows. Its government has proven unable to enforce the rule of law or control its borders. It’s also unable to collect sufficient revenue to pay its civil servants or provide essential services to its citizens.

According to a U.S. State Department report, Afghanistan has a poor, agrarian economy with a small manufacturing base, few value-added industries, and a partially dollarized economy. More than 55% of the population lives below the poverty line.

International financial and security support has been instrumental in growing the Afghan economy from a $2.4 billion Gross Domestic Product in 2001 to a $20.1 billion GDP in 2018. Various estimates place the value of the “informal economy” (mostly based on illicit activities) to be an additional $4.1 billion.

Although the national unity government has been able to increase tax revenue by implementing reforms and improved tax collection procedures, government expenses still far exceed revenues, resulting in continued dependency on international donors for the foreseeable future.

Is resuscitation possible?

Robert Rotberg, past president of the World Peace Foundation, writes that a failed state may be resuscitated by addressing three primary goals: jump-starting a battered economy, reintroducing the rule of law, and rejuvenating civil society. But this is a colossal task that would require willing participation from the Taliban, who are mostly from rural areas with little or no formal education.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, who commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan for three years, doesn’t believe it will ever happen.

“As I’ve said publicly, the Taliban are untrustworthy,” Allen wrote for the Brookings Institution. “Their doctrine is irreconcilable with modernity and the rights of women; and in practice, they’re incapable of summoning the necessary internal controls and organizational discipline needed to implement a far-flung agreement like this. The so-called ‘Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan’ will not only not be honored by the Taliban, it will also not bring peace.”

After serving many years in Afghanistan as a translator for NATO forces, I tend to concur. So far, the Taliban haven’t made a case for any economic or political plans, except to state their goal of reestablishing an Islamic emirate.

The only way they could truly help fix Afghanistan would be to become part of the political process and abandon the goal of imposing the strict rule of Islam.

But sadly, the chances of that happening appear to be zero.

Wahab Raofi, an Afghan-born American, is a graduate of Kabul Law School and has been an interpreter for NATO forces in Afghanistan.