KABUL, Afghanistan — The United States-led War on Terror, initiated on the heels of the devastating 9/11 attacks in New York City, has been both a point of pride and contention for Americans and global citizens. Following the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and has maintained a presence there since 2001.
The reason for the invasion was twofold- locate Osama bin Laden and remove Taliban forces from power.
With both goals now met, U.S. President Obama has announced that the U.S. plans on fully pulling out of the nation by the start of 2015. With rocky dialogue between Obama and Afghan President Harmid Karzai, how will the pullout affect the Afghan economy in the 2014 Afghan election year?
Complicating talks indicating a pullout is Karzai’s refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the U.S. that, according to the BBC, “offers legal protection for U.S. troops and defines a post-2014 NATO training and anti-insurgent mission.” Karzai is intent on smoothing tensions with the existing Taliban presence in Afghanistan before considering signing. Obama has a working contingency plan should the BSA fall through.
Karzai is determined to flex as much political muscle as possible, and now more than ever he may have reason to do so. Afghanistan’s economy has certainly grown since 2001, especially with contributions from foreign governments. For example, Germany has nearly $600 million going to Afghanistan annually until 2016. The Diplomat reports that “the U.S. has allocated an astonishing $100 billion of nonmilitary funds to Afghanistan since 2002, the largest amount the U.S. has ever spent on reconstructing a country.”
Pairing foreign aid with almost $1 trillion in precious natural resources, including oil, gems, copper, lithium and other rare earths considered “raw materials that are essential in the manufacture of many modern technologies,” according to Scientific American. China currently owns most all of Afghani rare earths.
On top of mineral and foreign aid money, Afghanistan also boasts a hungry and young workforce numbering around 23 million and plenty of arable land, with the potential to “produce food for up to 160 million people.”
Great land is also a troublesome Afghan economic advantage in the face of a U.S. troop drawdown.
A recent report from The Verge announced that the U.S. has spent almost $7 billion alone attempting to eradicate the opium trade. Drawing on massive international support, alternatives to poppy-farming have had mixed results. In 2013, the United Nations contended that opium production was up 36%, a record for Afghanistan. While this news has been called “sobering,” it may be rooted in the planned U.S. troop drawbacks.
Afghani farmers are intent on securing their futures and fear instability when troops leave, upsetting a status quo that is over 10 years old. The U.N. Minister of Counter Narcotics and U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s Yury Fedotov are urgently looking for solutions to avoid Afghanistan morphing into a narco-nation. In 2013, the Afghan army stopped protecting poppy-eradication teams, effectively condoning 143 murders at the hands of farmers and insurgents.
Currently, nearly 75% of all illegal opium in the world is cultivated there and the nation is also the one most addicted to it, according to The Voice of America and the U.N.
The Afghan economy, while fully capable of launching the nation far into the future as a Middle Eastern powerhouse, is hindered by a crop that’s responsible for it’s infamy. Karzai’s own brother was a suspect in an international heroine trafficking case recently. Citizens there are most worried about corruption and high unemployment, reports The International Business Times.
The opium trade, while lucrative to some, will not pump in positive dollars to a weak economy or bolster an uncertain public. The nation is set to vote in a 2014 presidential election amid it all, and the implications stemming from that will most certainly tie into it’s relationship with the U.S., its opium problem and its future economic outlook.
Sources: Global Issues, BBC, The Diplomat, Scientific American, The Verge, UN, Voice of America, The International Business Times