Israel threatens China; Iran barred from the SCO; Israeli document calls Gaza blockade ‘economic warfare’; US to display captured war documents
Israeli officials have said they threatened war against Iran in order to try and convince China to vote in support of economic sanctions at the UN Security Council.
The New York Times broke this story: “In February, a high-level Israeli delegation traveled to Beijing to present alleged evidence of Iran’s atomic ambitions. Then they unveiled the ostensible purpose of their visit: to explain in sobering detail the economic impact to China from an Israeli strike on Iran.”
One Israeli official they interviewed said that “the Chinese didn’t seem too surprised by the evidence we showed them, but they really sat up in their chairs when we described what a pre-emptive attack would do to the region and on oil supplies they have come to depend on.”
Essentially Israeli officials boast that they tried to threaten China by showing how they could undermine its energy security and damage its economy.
Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad will be traveling to China this week, this very day in fact, officially to take part in the Expo 2010 in Shanghai. It is expected that he will meet with Chinese officials to discuss the newly minted sanctions against it.
Meanwhile, no surprises for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting , it is will not be giving Iran permanent membership just yet.
The SCO, which has become one of Asia’s most prestigious multilateral organizations, has Russia, China, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan as members. Iran, Pakistan, India, and Mongolia are observers, and it will have Afghanistan as an honoured guest this time around.
Iran, Pakistan, and India have been interested in becoming full members. There is jostling for whether Pakistan or India, or both could become full members. But Iran is essentially barred for now. The SCO is to adopt a new document outlining admission rules. The secretary general of the SCO, Muratbek Imanaliyev, has said that “the document contains a very important thesis that states under UN sanctions cannot become SCO members yet.” So, there, Iran can only watch for now.
Apparently Tajikistan lobbied in Iran’s favour, asking that the restriction based on UN sanctions not be included. Interestingly, president Ahmadinejad was just in Tajikistan, this very Wednesday. He was there for a UN-sponsored water security conference but was supposed to have met with the Tajik president to discuss regional security, and I suppose also push for support on SCO membership.
Meanwhile, back in Israel, there’s more fallout from the commando attack on the Gaza flotilla that saw 9 people die. An Israeli human rights organization, Gisha, has legally forced the government to explain its motives for a blockade of Gaza. Apparently the blockade is not for security reasons after all, though that is what is publicly stated to garner international support. The Israeli government document attained by Gisha says that the blockade is in fact economic warfare.
“A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using ‘economic warfare’.” says the government document.
And in the US, some of the spoils of war from Iraq and Afghanistan will be on display. The Conflict Research Center will allow researchers to view archived digital copies of documents captured from Saddam Hussein’s government as well as some that were captured from al Qaeda and its affiliates. The facility boasts that it has a database of “1.5 million captured records.”
These records “consist of a wide range of files, including everything from al Qaeda “pocket litter” to financial records, theological and ideological documents, strategic plans, operational guidebooks, and histories of individual operations from the Afghan war in the 1980s through the early 2000s.”
The original Iraqi documents are supposed to be returned to Iraq after digital copies are made.
Afghanistan’s latest consultations peace jirga concluded recently in Kabul. The jirga was seen as flawed by some individuals and groups who refused to attend, including the main electoral opposition to Karzai’s government, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Some who attended and those who didn’t complained that, overall, the jirga’s participants were hand-picked by supporters of Karzai and did not fairly represent the people of Afghanistan, nor its elite. Despite this, strong voices of opposition to the existing government policies did emerge, suggesting a change of course in strengthening the Afghan state and people. The Afghanistan Analysts Network blog covers this, also explaining how the government run jirgas tend to vary from traditional ones in which attendance is more open and discussion also open-ended.
Afghan analyst, Abdulhadi Hairan has translated the jirga’s 15 point declaration and published it on his site. Some highlights include political reconciliation, government reform and accountability, the release of prisoners unjustly accused, a request for long-term international support to the government, and condemnation of the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla to Gaza:
2) To initiate a peace process, in accordance with the decisions from this jirga, the government should establish a holistic program and announce that program as the permanent national strategy for peace.
[...]5) We urge all the conflicting parties to give up their preconditions that hinder the peace talks.
[...]7) [...]We urge the Afghan government and the international forces in Afghanistan to take a serious and immediate step towards releasing those prisoners arrested on false reports or not charged as goodwill gesture. With developing an understanding with the international community, the government should act fast in removing the insurgents’ names from the blacklists. The government and the international forces should provide guarantee for the protection and security of those who are joining the peace process and help them to safely reintegrate in the society. The Afghan and international forces are seriously asked to stop unnecessary arrests, arbitrary and uncoordinated house searches, and the air strikes that cause civilian casualties. The government should seriously take steps for leading the military operations and coordinate with the international forces. The armed insurgents should give up violence and stop all the activities that lead to the killing of our dear countrymen and the damaging of its infrastructure, and cut their ties with Al Qaeda and the regional terrorist networks.
[...]We would like long term international commitments to protect Afghanistan from becoming a playground of regional conflicts, so the foreign infiltrations are blocked and the regional cooperation is coordinated.
[...]The government with the cooperation from the people should act for improving governance and professionalism, fight against corruption, and act against people who have seized lands in the capital as well as in the provinces.
[...]11) [...] The council should form a special committee to have access to the prisoners, release them, and reintegrate them into the society.
[...]16) At the end, the National Consultative Peace Jirga as a representative of the Afghan people strongly condemns the inhumane attack by Israeli army carried out on the convoy of aid groups that was on its way to Gaza Bank where poor Palestinians are besieged.
The US intends to spend US$14 billion dollars on foreign assistance in the broader Middle East and North Africa. This FY2011 budget request is a 27% over the previous year’s aid budget.
The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) has a report that provides analysis on the proposed FY2011 budget.
There is a planned rise in aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan, countries where the US is fighting a war. From the POMED report: “After increasing aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan a year ago from $1.87 billion to $4.36 billion, President Obama has now requested an even larger increase, up to a total of $6.95 billion. This increase extends to funding for democracy and governance programs in the two countries, for which $1.58 billion is requested, up from a FY10 request of $991 million.”
Financial support to projects in Yemen is to increase. The US is an active ally of Yemen’s government in the political and armed conflict within that country. From the POMED report: “In last year’s FY10 budget, President Obama requested a 38% increase in foreign aid to Yemen, including a more than threefold increase in funding for democracy and governance programming. Now for FY11, he has requested an additional 58% increase in assistance to Yemen, while also restructuring USAID’s approach to the country.”
POMED highlights some changes in the structure of aid to Egypt, an important US ally in the region. Egypt’s government has been facing long-term pressure from national political and civic groups who wish for deep transformation of the political process as well as to improve very serious economic troubles. From the POMED report: “Funding for democracy in Egypt remains at levels sharply reduced in March 2009, which included disproportionate cuts in funding for civil society. The decision to provide USAID funding only to organizations registered and approved as NGOs by the Egyptian government remains in place. Finally, the administration is now exploring the establishment of an “endowment” proposed by the Egyptian government, which ultimately could remove a significant portion of U.S. economic assistance to Egypt from normal channels of congressional oversight.”
You can read a summary or the full report at the POMED site.
Political authority remains tenuous since the 7 April ouster of Kyrgyztan’s former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev. The former president fled to the nearby country of Kazakhstan, before recently receiving asylum in Belarus, along with some members of his family.
Bakiyev had taken power during the 2005 Tulip Revolution, then supported by popular anger against a family-run government that maintained gross inequality in the face of general poverty. This most recent rebellion follows a failure of Bakiyev to ameliorate social and economic conditions. The Bakiyev family ran the government as a clan operation, refusing to deliver on promises of fair government.
More recently, economic conditions in Kyrgyztan deteriorated, and the very many poor faced mounting costs to basic necessities. Under these circumstances, the Bakiyev government seems to have made a gross error in judgment by arresting many opposition leaders. Without a political leadership that could have acted as a constraint on people’s unrestrained actions, the situation exploded.
It seems that the initial stages of popular rebellion was decentralized, undirected by the political elite of the opposition. Madeleine Reeves covers the conditions leading and following the recent rebellion. She indicates the key role of poverty and poor governance in sparking violent unrest. Reeves writes that:
The anger that brought people to the streets was borne of inequality. The gulf that has emerged between the small group of politically-connected “haves” in Bishkek and the masses of “have nots”, many of whom are recent arrivals to the city’s sprawling migrant districts (novostroiki) has reached colossal proportions in recent years, and it greets the urban dweller at every turn. But it is poverty, in an absolute sense, as much as inequality that brought people out to demonstrate. In the last few months, inflation in the cost of basic goods and services; a steep rise in the price of telecommunications, and an overnight doubling in the rate of electricity earlier this year (the latter widely rumoured as facilitating the quick-and-fast privatization of the electricity sector which followed suspiciously soon after) has pushed many families who were struggling to stay above the poverty line back down below it. For many households the choice this winter has been a simple and stark one of cutting down on heating or cutting down on food. At the same time, the single primary source of income for many rural and peri-urban families – the remittances sent by family members working in the Russian construction sector – has declined dramatically this year. Many of those who travelled to Russia in search of work in 2008 or 2009 are “working on empty”.
Russia was quick to recognize the interim government of Roza Otunbayeva and various international news outlets have generally reported overall Russian support for the emerging new government. The latest news reports coming out of Russia have been more cautious, however, indicating some skepticism from Moscow.
A number of Russian news reports indicate suspicion that the Kyrgyz interim administration may have ties to drug cartels and also allege possible ties to covert US activity. The US was one of the last major countries to recognize the interim government, and was notable in its early calls for calm from both the ousted political family and the current interim government.
Kyrgyz media has covered news of sporadic mob attacks against Russian nationals and people of Turkic descent. 700,000 Russians are estimated to live in the country. Attacks have included beatings and attempts at land seizure. This event may well have contributed to Russia’s cautious attitude. There have been accusations that law enforcement has not given any protections during these assaults, however, this may well be explained by the collapse of law, with the police force essentially disintegrating.
Meanwhile, some Western news reports and think tanks claim that there was a Russian hand in the rebellion that overthrew the previous Kyrgyz government.
Poppy cultivation in Kyrgyztan has increased over the years and has begun to rival Afghanistan’s productive capacity. According to MK Bhadrakumar, some Russian and Chinese news have reported ties between the US military air base in Manas, Kyrgyztan, with drug barons. Bhadrakumar also notes that “Iranian intelligence captured the Jundallah terrorist leader, Abdulmalik Rigi, when he was traveling in a Kyrgyz aircraft en route to an alleged rendezvous in Manas.”
The capture of Rigi was a coup for Iranian intelligence. The intelligence operation that led to the capture of the Jundallah leader appears to have been a flawless multi-month operation that has weakened one of the more serious insurgency threats to Iran.
Kyrgyztan is important to the US occupation of Afghanistan since the Manas air base serves as a key supply route. The base is north east of Afghanistan and a little west of China. Russia also has a military base in Kyrgyztan. Both countries are likely using the bases to extend their influence in the region beyond tactical requirements such as NATO supplies through Manas. Such bases can, for example, be used as listening posts to electronically survey the region.
Kyrgyztan borders China’s Xinjiang province, where reside the Uighur. Uighur resistance to current Han rule is a very sensitive subject for China, which has accelerated its efforts to integrate the culturally and religiously distinct province into the nation. Xinjiang is important as a transit route to any natural gas pipelines that bring energy from central and west Asia into China, so its stability is seen as vital to Chinese energy security.
China has taken the lead in developing Pakistan’s Gwadar port city as an emerging energy hub with oil refining capacity, tanker capacity, and transit point for the recently announced Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline. It is expected that China seeks to take full advantage of the Gwadar facilities by establishing a network of pipelines to Xinjiang in order to reduce its dependence on the long and insecure sea route that it must currently rely upon for some 80% of its energy imports.
The interim Kyrgyz administration is itself facing at least sporadic violent resistance and is faced with the very real struggle to establish its legitimate rule. At least from outside observation, the extent of lawlessness seems unclear and the strength or tenuous hold of the interim government is uncertain. The uncertainty is echoed in a statement on Tuesday made by Russia’s president, Medvedev:
Essentially, we need to revive the state, the state does not exist at this time, it has been deposed. We are hoping that the interim administration will make all the necessary measures to achieve that, as anarchy will have a negative effect on the interests of the Kyrgyz people and also their neighbors. Legitimization of the authorities is extremely important, which means there need to be elections, not a de facto fulfillment of powers. Only in this case can [Russia's] economic cooperation be developed.
This statement, made in Uzbekistan, presents a shared regard between Russia and Kyrgyztan’s largest Central Asian neighbour, suggesting that the interim government tread with care and not consider its hold on power as receiving unmitigated support from two of its most important regional neighbours.
The deputy chair of the interim government, Omurbek Tekebaev, has outlined three core tasks for their administration during a meeting with the special representative of the UN Secretary General. Tekebaev identifies these as “establishment of legal order and legitimacy in the territory of Kyrgyzstan, solution of socio-economic problems exacerbated as a result of the latest events, as well as legitimization of state power.”
Order, the enforcement of laws, and the legitimacy of the government are here key, since the situation remains tenuous and political power still fluid.
Part of the drive to legitimate the government has been in drafting a new constitution. The interim government has established a constitutional committee for this purpose . The Kyrgyz news outlet, 24.kg, claims to have a list of the members of this committee on its site.
Tekebaev, the deputy chair of the interim government, on 19 April, outlined the desired amendments to the constitution. The amendments focus on the nature of presidential, parliamentary, and government power.
Tekebaev claims that the new constitution will make it impossible to concentrate power into any one office, such as that of the president. The president will no longer have legal immunity. The news outlet, Ferghana.ru has the following on this:
The President will not influence the personnel policy: he will sign the decrees about the appointment of judges, government members and the leaders of state administrative bodies, but he will not be able not to sign these decrees. The candidates for the above-mentioned positions will be selected by other authorities, but not the president. “The Ministers’ Council will be formed by Jogorku Kenesh (the parliament). The judges will be elected by National Council for judicial affairs. The heads of local authorities will be elected by the local deputies’ council”, Tekebaev shared.
The president will sign the law; upon strong arguments, he may send it back to the parliament for additional expertise. “The President should not personally participate in the operational management”, Omurbek Tekebaev noted.
The draft constitution also places a limit on the power of any single political party. No party can hold more than 50 seats in the 90 seat parliament, no matter what share of the vote it may receive during elections.
The US is very concerned over the future of its air base in Manas. This base not only provides support to NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, but it is also practically and symbolically important to the US strategy to maintain and deepen its influence in the region. The outcome of Manas will have impact also on the future of NATO, as it plans yet another meeting during which the alliance is expected to review the nature of its contemporary existence. NATO has been undergoing a conceptual transformation following the end of the Cold War, and there has been a real push to expand its membership and mandate eastward, beyond Europe, and into the Asian heartland where once the Soviet Union held sway.
Ferghana.ru has recently published a document from the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, that it says is signed by John Kerry. The statement highlights the importance of Manas and confirms that the US is ready to work with the interim government:
[...]There has been a growing worry within Kyrgyzstan that the United States cares more about its security needs than those of the Kyrgyz people. We must prove this perception false, with actions rather than with rhetoric –and we have an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment under the new government.
Much of the concern stems from the drawn-out and intensely public debate surrounding our access rights at Manas. It is true that the transit center operated by the United States at Manas International Airport is critical to U.S. interests. The center provides vital logistical support to coalition forces in Afghanistan and is an important contribution by the Kyrgyz Republic to security, stability, and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and the region. After complaints that American payments did not adequately reflect Kyrgyz contributions, the two governments renegotiated the terms of the deal last summer. The new agreement provides a valuable source of support for the Kyrgyz economy.
At the same time, the United States increased cooperative activities with Kyrgyzstan in a number of areas. For instance, the United States increased counternarcotics and counterterrorism assistance and provided significant additional assistance to upgrade air traffic safety and other civilian facilities at Manas Airport. All of these steps contribute to Kyrgyzstan’s long-term economic development.
[...]While the transit center at Manas is important for security across the region, so are the democratic aspirations of the Kyrgyz people. We see no conflict between these priorities because both are served by a Kyrgyzstan that is prosperous and free.
[...]The new leaders of Kyrgyzstan have a responsibility and opportunity to bring stability and prosperity to their country. They will need to take concrete action to help liberalize their political and economic systems. Already, provisional government leaders have taken a bold step by restoring Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty programming, which was taken off national airwaves nearly two years ago for political reasons. We hope to see many more such steps in the coming weeks and months. And we will be there as partners along the way.
Minna Jarvenpaa, former head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) Analysis and Policy Unit, and currently a founding member of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, has written an article reviewing the role of UNAMA within the current context.
Here is an excerpt from the original:
What UNAMA has always done best is political outreach and analysis. Its strength has been its field presence. Even now, UNAMA still boasts the most extensive and well-informed network of field officers of all the international actors in Afghanistan. Many of its Afghan and international political officers have spent years in the provinces and established strong relationships with provincial and district officials, tribal elders, communities and civil society representatives. This gives UNAMA an edge – if it is ready to use it.
[...]UNAMA is a political mission. A key role for it is to voice the concerns of Afghans, both about their government and about the behaviour of the international community. In the past, it has advocated an approach by ISAF to reduce civilian casualties, and more recently it has sought to engage the international military forces on the issue of detentions. The people of Afghanistan have also looked to UNAMA – in vain as it turned out – to speak out about the election fraud in both the 2004/2005 cycle and in 2009. To play this role of championing the Afghan people, UNAMA needs to position itself both close enough to President Karzai and the US to have access and influence, and far enough to be able to speak out.
Read the article in full here.
A USAID funded, foreign constructed power plant in Afghanistan has become a money sink and may never be used by the local government due to its extravagant maintenance costs.
The diesel-powered plant is nearly complete, yet its future is uncertain, and events so far have been stitched with controversy. Pratap Chatterjee, in an IPS article, writes that, “three independent investigations into U.S.-financed reconstruction of the Afghan electricity sector, as well as IPS interviews with Afghan government officials and contractors, suggest that the power plant – which will cost taxpayers almost three times as much as comparable projects – may never be used.”
First the U.S. planners chose to ignore other ongoing reconstruction projects that were cheaper and more likely to succeed, or to pay attention to alternative recommendations from Afghan government officials.
Second, the planners picked expensive technologies that the city of Kabul could not afford to maintain or utilise.
The project was launched in 2007, as a joint venture between two US contractors, Louis Berger and Black & Veatch. In an earlier post, I had mentioned a previously bungled construction contract by Louis Berger. They had received a contract to build 1,000 schools, each costing US$274,000. The schools were built according to designs suitable for the US, not Afghanistan. They did not consider local climate, nor local cost considerations. The Afghan government not only has to worry about maintaining these expensive schools, they might not even be usable. In January 2009, Ann Jones, who for years worked in Afghanistan as an aid worker, said that Louis Berger, “already way behind schedule in 2005, had finished only a small fraction of them when roofs began to collapse under the snows of winter.”
The 105 megawatt power plant under construction is estimated to cost over US$300 million, the latest price tag being given after several cost hikes in the project’s life span.
Chatterjee writes that “the power plant is expected to be completed this spring. But the electricity is no longer urgent. One year ago, a 300-megawatt power line to Kabul from Uzbekistan was completed, with funding from the World Bank, German and Indian governments. The construction cost was just 35 million dollars and the operation costs are expected to be just over six cents a kilowatt hour compared to the 22 cents a kilowatt hour that it will cost to run the diesel plant.”
The contract was awarded by USAID under a cost-plus deal. Cost-plus contracts guarantee a set profit above the cost of projects. This has become a preferred form of contract for Western firms taking on US government contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The argument in favour of them is that, given the poor security conditions of these countries, and the uncertain costs of construction in a war zone, private firms want a guarantee of profits before they begin work. The problem here is that, in this schema, there is no incentive for contractors to limit costs, and they could very well gain by pushing them up and generating more work for themselves knowing full well that they will get their share of profits no matter what.
Chatterjee’s report revealed the following:
“This situation illustrates the twin policy evils of the cost-plus contracts,” says R. Scott Greathead, a New York lawyer who advised Symbion on the project. “First, they impose no cost or penalty on the cost-plus contractor for its incompetence, inefficiency or failure to perform, and second, they punish two victims, the fixed-price subcontractor, who incurs costs that may never be fully reimbursed, and the U.S. government, which pays in the end for everything.”
Construction of the power plant has been slowed by disagreements.
On May 19, 2009, Symbion [a subcontractor] stopped work – because Black & Veatch had failed to pay them for four months. A USAID Inspector General audit published in November 2009 found that Black & Veatch “had charged USAID for subcontractor costs that the contractor had not paid the subcontractor.”
The power plant, near Kabul, is said to cost nearly three times more than similar projects.
Afghanistan’s 2008 annual government revenue was estimated to be about US$685 million according to the minister of finance, Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, during an interview with foreign press.
The Norwegian Institute of International Affairs has available a report on Afghanistan examining attempts at state building. The report focuses on the role of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in coordinating foreign and domestic efforts.
UNAMA coordinates international efforts in Afghanistan and supported the recent elections. “These efforts include supporting the Government to improve governance and the rule of law and fight corruption, as well as facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”
The Norwegian report, UNAMA in Afghanistan, is intended to answer some key questions.
The conclusions drawn from Afghanistan will also form the basis for how future operations in ‘weak states’ are organized, which makes it important to get right the lessons to be learned. If the United Nations had taken a ‘heavy footprint’ approach, what would that have entailed in terms of resources and activities? Should the United Nations have served as a caretaker government for a certain period, for example? Should thousands of peacekeepers have been deployed? Should billions have been spent upfront on basic services? If that had been the case, would Afghanistan have been peaceful by now? And can we draw any generalizations from the Afghanistan experience to future endeavours? These are big questions, and this report will attempt to shed some light on them.
Anand Gopal has written a horror filled investigative report on US secret prisons, house raids, and torture in Afghanistan. It is published in TomDispatch, and the Nation. Gopal’s research was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism. The article is gruesome but a highly recommended read.
An interview with Anand Gopal is available at TomDispatch, here.
Excerpts from Obama’s Secret Prisons:
Night raids are only the first step in the American detention process in Afghanistan. Suspects are usually sent to one among a series of prisons on U.S. military bases around the country. There are officially nine such jails, called Field Detention Sites in military parlance. They are small holding areas, often just a clutch of cells divided by plywood, and are mainly used for prisoner interrogation.
In the early years of the war, these were but way stations for those en route to Bagram prison, a facility with a notorious reputation for abusive behavior. As a spotlight of international attention fell on Bagram in recent years, wardens there cleaned up their act and the mistreatment of prisoners began to shift to the little-noticed Field Detention Sites.
…It was the 19th of November 2009, at 3:15 am. A loud blast awoke the villagers of a leafy neighborhood outside Ghazni city, a town of ancient provenance in the country’s south. A team of U.S. soldiers burst through the front gate of the home of Majidullah Qarar, the spokesman for the Minister of Agriculture. Qarar was in Kabul at the time, but his relatives were home, four of whom were sleeping in the family’s one-room guesthouse. One of them, Hamidullah, who sold carrots at the local bazaar, ran towards the door of the guesthouse. He was immediately shot, but managed to crawl back inside, leaving a trail of blood behind him. Then Azim, a baker, darted towards his injured cousin. He, too, was shot and crumpled to the floor. The fallen men cried out to the two relatives remaining in the room, but they — both children — refused to move, glued to their beds in silent horror.
…Finally, they found the man they were looking for: Habib-ur-Rahman, a computer programmer and government employee.
…“We’ve called his phone, but it doesn’t answer,” says his cousin Qarar, the spokesman for the agriculture minister.
…“I used to go on TV and argue that people should support this government and the foreigners,” he adds. “But I was wrong. Why should anyone do so? I don’t care if I get fired for saying it, but that’s the truth.”
The Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit has written the following on the Afghan economy:
Consistent with the current consensus on development held by the donor community and international financial institutions (IFIs), the privatisation process has gained increased momentum in Afghanistan. The government has committed to the privatisation agenda in its Interim Afghanistan National Development Strategy (IANDS) and in the Afghanistan Compact agreed upon with the international community in January 2006. This followed the November 2005 approval by the Cabinet to amend the State-Owned Enterprise Law, allowing for the divestment of state enterprises by various means. Fifty four fully state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have been slated for privatisation as going concerns or through liquidation by the end of 2009.
The report states that the total value of these sales is estimated to be US$614, which is small by international standards.
However, the total government budget of Afghanistan in 2008 was around US$685 million, so the sale of public assets amounts to a large share for a country whose assets and resources are very small. The government revenue estimate was provided by Afghanistan’s Minister of Finance, Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, during an interview with foreign press.
With a national budget that is so small, many foreign infrastructure projects have only added to the problem because of their large price tags, which are more suitable to high priced markets in the developed world. Although, at the time of construction, the projects may be fully funded by foreign donors, the maintenance cost of the same infrastructure may be prohibitive, impracticle, or even impossible for the Afghan government to afford without taking loans.
Consider the Louis Berger Group’s contract to build 1,000 schools, each costing US$274,000. In this case, the Afghan government not only has to worry about maintaining the schools, they might not even be usable. In January 2009, Ann Jones, who for years worked in Afghanistan as an aid worker, says that Louis Berger, “already way behind schedule in 2005, had finished only a small fraction of them when roofs began to collapse under the snows of winter.”
Sustaining an Afghan government financially on foreign life support requires multiyear planning from all donors involved. This requires that Afghanistan’s needs be incorporated into the budgets of NATO countries, and that many of the political decisions on funding be made by foreign governments accountable to their own people. There is not much room for self-reliance in this scenario.
Barnett R. Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan, is interviewed on the subject, providing some background on US-led military presence as well as the general context in the country. This video is from 2008, but still pertinent. Rubin is also the author of a very well researched book, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan: State Formation and Collapse in the International System.