The latest report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) presents a grim picture of Afghanistan. SIGAR serves as the watchdog of funding for Afghanistan’s development. Its report overviews the progress in four areas of the country’s reconstruction process: Security, governance, economic and social development and counter-narcotics.
The report suggests that the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) have suffered two major setbacks; firstly, the number of soldiers has been declining due to increasing casualties in war. A 22% surge in armed clashes during 2016 represents the highest level since 2007. More importantly, the insurgents control or influence more area than ever before. The Afghan government controls only 57.2% of the country’s 407 districts while 41 districts are controlled by the insurgents and 133 districts are contested, the report states. All this has happened despite the fact that the U.S. has spent nearly $70.6 billion – or 60% of all reconstruction funding for the country – on developing and propping up the ANDSF.
Governance is the second important domain wherein the results, according to the report, are far from satisfactory. Factional politics, poor performance of institutions, little progress on electoral reforms, insecurity, rampant corruption, unemployment, and poor state of economy are some of the top governance issues that SIGAR report says has led to sharp decline in people’s confidence in state institution and made them skeptical about the government’s performance. Government’s public approval seems to have shrunken to the lowest since 2004.
Economic and social development indicators, too, aren’t encouraging either and point to the bitter realities on ground in Afghanistan. Even if the domestically-raised revenue showed an improvement of 32%, it could cover less than half of the government’s expenditures. Labor market does little to help to employ the 400,000 people that enter the work force every year. If the drawdown of Coalition Forces in 2014 has resulted in large-scale job losses, countering the insurgency has drained the major chunk of government’s spending.
The year 2016 also saw around 10% increase in the poppy cultivation in the country thus further straining the counter-narcotics efforts of the international community. The US has pumped $8.5 billion in to counter-narcotics efforts but Afghanistan remains the top poppy producer in the world, delivering nearly 80% of the global output.
It becomes all the more important —as the SIGAR report has recommended — for the new U.S. government to focalize its resources and efforts to sustain at lest the modicum of stability in the war-torn Afghanistan.
It should be a sign of concern for the policy makers in Kabul and Washington that the SIGAR report explicitly claims that ANDSF is unable to provide security for the country. Also, the continued corrosion of reconstruction initiatives are also making things worse for President Ghani and his government.
A further point of concern is the fact that the Taliban are able to buy weapons, fuel and ammunition directly from the Afghan soldiers because it’s easy and less expensive. Finally, the SIGAR report also highlights how both the US and Afghan governments have failed to develop any strategy to curb drug trade and opium production in the country.
The last SIGAR report paints a bleak picture of Afghanistan. With a limited presence of foreign troops in the country, and insurgents holding significant area of territory, it is important for all regional and global stakeholders, including neighbors such as Pakistan, to assist Afghanistan in overcoming its defense and security challenges.
The author Abdur Rehman Shah is a Research Associate at the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad. His area of specialization is Pakistan-China relations. He works on China Watch and follows China-Pakistan affairs at CRSS. He holds Master and MPhil in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.