You’re a customs agent working at an international airport. You see a suitcase, full of cash – say $1 million – heading for Dubai. The individual who owns the bag has told you clearly that this is a sack o’ cash, and you and your fellow customs agents – at the same airport – have watched over $1 billion leave the country the same way over the past year. Add another variable: the region in which you work is notorious as the largest grower of opium on earth. Throw in that the U.S. government has expended hundreds of billions of dollars in an attempt to stabilize that region, with the lives of Americans lost by the score, and even more civilians killed or maimed in the process. What’s wrong with this picture? Figure out where this might be?
You just might be working at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, where exporting limitless cash, as long as it is declared, is perfectly legal. Note, I didn’t even point out how wildly corrupt the regime in power is… ooops, I guess I just did… and how many folks get their opportunities through this bribe-driven chain of command.
Anything about this scene remotely troublesome to you? Feel remotely bad that we’re supporting this nation, and its corrupt government, with very little to show for it? The February 25th Washington Post: “‘All this money magically appears from nowhere,’ said a U.S. official who monitors Afghanistan's growing role as a hub for cash transfers to Dubai, which has six flights a day to and from Kabul… Meanwhile, the United States is stepping up efforts to stop money flow in the other direction -- into Afghanistan and Pakistan in support of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Senior Treasury Department officials visited Kabul this month to discuss the cash flows and other issues relating to this country's infant, often chaotic financial sector.”
Hmmm…. “often chaotic financial sector.” Yeah, well, we’re sending American soldiers in there, putting their lives on the line, to support that financial sector and the rest of this “out of control” region in central Asia. Our troops have taken most of Marja, in that Taliban-hot province of Helmand, but now what? The Afghan locals we have to leave in charge are going to hold and stabilize that city? Wanna buy a bridge? Ever actually meet the Easter Bunny face-to-face?
So we should easily be able to trace where those sacks o’ cash came from, right? Not exactly. Here’s how it works (from the Post): “Tracking Afghan exchanges has long been made difficult by the widespread use of traditional money-moving outfits, known as ‘hawalas,’ which keep few records. The Afghan central bank, supported by U.S. Treasury advisers, is trying to get a grip on them by licensing their operations… In the meantime, the money continues to flow. Cash declaration forms filed at Kabul International Airport and reviewed by The Washington Post show that Afghan passengers took more than $180 million to Dubai during a two-month period starting in July. If that rate held for the entire year, the amount of cash that left Afghanistan in 2009 would have far exceeded the country's annual tax and other domestic revenue of about $8 75 million… The declaration forms highlight the prominent and often opaque role played by hawalas. Asked to identify the ‘source of funds’ in forms issued by the Afghan central bank, cash couriers frequently put down the name of the same Kabul hawala, an outfit called New Ansari Exchange… Early last month, Afghan police and intelligence officers raided New Ansari's office in Kabul's bazaar district, carting away documents and computers, said Afghan bankers familiar with the operation. U.S. officials declined to comment on what prompted the raid. New Ansari Exchange, which is affiliated with a licensed Afghan bank, closed for a day or so but was soon up and running again.”
What’s not to love about spending American money and lives to support this great Afghan nation? Why should we remotely be concerned about border havens in the Tribal Districts in Pakistan where Taliban soldiers routinely flee? After all we know that the Pakistanis have been cooperating with us in sharing intelligence and tracking senior Taliban operatives… OK, warily and within some pretty narrow limits. Do you really believe that all our money, human sacrifice and efforts are going to neutralize anti-American militants in the region and bring stability to Afghanistan? Really? What exactly do you think Afghanistan will look like five years after we leave? We are leaving, aren’t we? Aren’t we?!
I’m Peter Dekom, and I’m thinking about a whole lot of better uses for the money we are currently spending on Afghanistan.