by Tahir Mahmoud (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 50, No. 10, Rabi' al-Thani, 1443)
In October 2021, Crescent International explained that after the end of NATO’s military occupation, the next phase of struggle for Afghanistan will center around economics. This evaluation was recently confirmed by the groundbreaking series of reports from inside Afghanistan by Roshan Mohammed Salih, editor-in-chief of the British Muslim news website 5pillarsuk.
Salih’s reports were not only interesting because they concurred with Crescent’s earlier evaluation, but because they challenged and eliminated the informational monopoly of the Western corporate media. Salih’s reports also exposed the agenda driven coverage of the corporate media on post-occupation Afghanistan.
While the media war is a separate and important issue, the most crucial piece of information is the confirmation that Afghanistan is being subjected to full-scale economic war. This reality is also confirmed by other media outlets.
Thus, the question arises, what are Afghanistan’s tactical and strategic economic options?
Economic evaluation should not include over-arching analysis. Analogies and data in economic analysis are frequently idiosyncratic. When analysts try to apply data set for a particular economic situation, often the relevance of the data is reduced with time.
By the time data reaches policymakers and they institute economic policies, on-the-ground situation has changed and a lot of the compiled data becomes less relevant. This is a reality many advanced economies deal with as well including those with strong statistical departments and regular economic monitoring processes.
Nevertheless, possessing accurate and up-to-date information about economic transactions within the borders of a country reduces the risk of instituting outdated or irrelevant policies. It enables economic policies to be within calculated risk framework rather than a reactive mode.
Over the next several years, Western NGOs, Western-educated economists and foreign government experts will be giving Afghanistan a lot of advice. Many of these recommendations will be rooted in situations and conditions of other locales and most likely will not apply per se to Afghanistan’s situation.
Thus, Afghanistan’s economic rebuilding should be driven by local policymakers which have regular on the ground access to economic activities within the Afghan society. This is essential in order not to model Afghanistan’s economic policies on textbook economic narratives. Afghanistan’s situation is very different and unique in many respects.
In practical terms, the Taliban-led Afghan government, therefore, needs to establish a ministry which would provide the new governing system with accurate and locally relevant data. This would be a sort of ministry of statistics.
Such statistical data should be regularly monitored, coordinated with other government agencies, and acted upon in accordance with locally relevant economic activities. ‘Local’ is the key here. As a prominent statistician and economic expert Nassim Nicholas Taleb stated, statistics without context are meaningless.
The so-called international economic experts, who are essentially West-centric economic consultants have a track record of proposing policies with minimal to no local relevance. The most prominent example of this is the Structural Adjustment Policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank which failed dismally in Africa and South America.
While under NATO occupation for the last 20 years, Afghanistan’s economy was kept in a comma. It only functioned because of foreign aid. Any such aid that trickled to Afghanistan was looted by pro-NATO local warlords. The bulk of the money ($2.26 trillion) spent by the US on prosecuting the war was stolen by the mega-thieves in the Pentagon, the weapons contractors as well as private mercenary contractors to kill innocent Afghans.
This was a deliberate policy to keep the occupied dependent on the occupier.
Essentially, Afghanistan lacks basic characteristics of a modern economy. Thus, applying conventional economic policies will not lead to economic recovery or rebuilding the country’s shattered infrastructure, poor as it was to begin with.
What makes the Afghan experience more complicated and different is that there is a political and civilizational objective by NATO regimes to make Afghanistan fail. Thus, even sound economic policies by the new government in Kabul will face political sabotage in some form. Afghanistan’s success will always be seen as NATO’s humiliation.
Nevertheless, Afghanistan can learn much from a locally relevant regional experience, that of Islamic Iran.
Immediately after the victory of the Islamic Revolution, Iran faced a devastating invasion and a Western proxy war initiated via Saddam Husain, along with sanctions. However, the Islamic system has not only survived for 42 years, but Iran has become a regional power, a fact admitted even by its detractors.
While under severe restrictions, Iran has managed to outmaneuver the economic war imposed on it due to its non-textbook approach to policies and emphasis on developing internal manufacturing industries.
Afghanistan can learn much from Iran’s experience. It is going through a similar historic economic process as Iran did in the 1980s. In fact, Afghanistan has a slight advantage.
China, Russia, Iran, and Pakistan are all interested in seeing the new Afghan government succeed. This is unlike in 1979 when all regional and non-regional powers had a vested interest in bringing down the new Islamic system in Iran.
Strategically speaking, to solve its economic problems, Afghanistan needs to look inside the country more than outside. Outsiders will try to take advantage of its weak economic state and tie the country to external factors which will not be under Afghan government control. This was a mistake made by the AKP government in Turkey resulting in its being at the mercy of US- backed regimes of the Persian Gulf.
Economic recovery of and the economic war on Afghanistan will not be easy to deal with but it will not be as difficult as outsiders assume. The new Afghan government needs to think broadly and act locally.