It has been fourteen years since the US invaded Afghanistan. Along with ensuring that Afghanistan would no longer be a 'safe haven for terrorists', the foreign military presence was supposed to help Afghans improve their infrastructure, democratic system, and economy.
However, a walk through the streets of Kabul today reveals the stark contrast between rhetoric and reality in Afghanistan.
Grand new buildings such as the Kabul Hotel
Serena accommodate foreign investors and
aid workers, while steps away war widows
and their children sit in the street, begging for
This is the reality of Afghanistan today: billions
have been spent on new infrastructure, but the
constant stream of aid and investment money
flowing in to the country has done very little
to help the average Afghan. At $350 USD, a
single night’s stay in the cheapest room at the
Hotel Serena costs more than most Afghans’
Much of the country today remains in a state
of poverty and violence. Millions of people
have been displaced by the fighting between
the Taliban and NATO forces; they huddle in
refugee camps on the outskirts of major cities.
About a third of the population lives on less
than a dollar a day. The US alone has spent
over $100 billion in aid to Afghanistan; yet
90% of the country remains without access to
basic sanitation facilities.
While Afghans have seen little benefit from
the hundreds of billions spent on the war
and subsequent reconstruction efforts in
their country, foreign corporations have been
raking in the profits from defense, security,
and reconstruction projects.
Mercenaries and Hired Guns
The US and other NATO countries may
be officially withdrawing their troops from
Afghanistan, but that doesn’t mean the
war is over. Over 100,000 private security
contractors remain in Afghanistan. A
document obtained by Salon from SAIC
(now Leidos), one of the largest US military
and intelligence contractors, explains the
company’s role in Afghanistan: “One of the
PowerPoint slides defines the four “mission
areas” of the company’s five-year, $400
million contract with the U.S. Army Research
Laboratory, which provides contracted
services to other combat commands, special
forces and other parts of the U.S. military.
They are “Expeditionary Warfare; Irregular
Warfare; Special Operations; Stabilization
and Reconstruction Operations.” Clearly,
these contractors are not just hired to provide
support for military operations, but to act as
hired guns in place of soldiers.
This so-called ‘private security’ is big business
in Afghanistan. A 2013 report by the
Congressional Research Service found that
‘over the last six fiscal years, DOD [Department
of Defense] obligations for contracts
performed in the Iraq and Afghanistan areas
of operation were approximately $160 billion
and exceeded total contract obligations of any
other U.S. federal agency.”
It is not only the US which is providing
mercenaries in place of soldiers, however.
Under the Canadian Forces Contractor
Augmentation Program, SNC Lavalin-
PAE Government Services - a joint venture
between Quebec-based SNC Lavalin andinternational profile... rather than thinking about the interests of the people of Kandahar”.
However, there is one group which has indeed benefited from the reconstruction of Afghanistan, failures and all. A number of major corporations have gained lucrative contracts out of the mess. One of the biggest benefactors of Afghanistan’s ‘reconstruction’ is DynCorp, a major US contractor hired primarily to train and equip the Afghan army and police force. DynCorp received $2.7B in contracts, or 69% of the State Department’s reconstruction budget for Afghanistan from 2002-2013. Despite scandals involving shoddy construction of an Afghan army base, trafficking of labourers, and even some emails revealed by WikiLeaks that pointed to the company hiring child prostitutes, the company continues to be one of the State Department’s preferred contractors.
Another major USAID contractor was suspended in January 2015. The non-profit International Relief and Development Inc., was found to be funneling millions into salaries and bonuses for the executives of their family-run organization. Between 2007 and 2013, IRD reported revenue of just over $3 billion - 76% of it coming from USAID funds. According to a 2012 report by the Wall Street Journal, one of IRD’s major road construction projects saw less than half of the $269 million allocated spent on actual construction of roads, with the rest spent on administration, security, and other costs. The gravel roads which IRD was contracted to build were estimated to cost $290,000 per mile - but instead cost over $2.8 million per mile.
Report after report has found almost zero accountability for contractors hired by the governments of the US and other NATO countries. Some companies operate on no-bid contracts, meaning that they have no competition - and no incentive to carry out projects in a cost-effective manner. While the majority of Afghans remain without even such basics as sanitation facilities, clean drinking water, and electricity, these corporations are being given free rein to line their pockets as the expense of Afghan citizens and taxpayers in aid-contributing countries.
Plundering Afghanistan’s Riches by the US and Canada
Shortly after the occupation began, Afghanistan was declared open for business by the new US-backed Afghan government. The Afghan Tax Code gives significant tax breaks to corporations, which pay a low 20% tax to begin with. The Tax Code also allows foreign corporations to take 100% of after-tax profits out of the country, with no requirement for them to reinvest those profits in Afghanistan.
The country’s low taxes, lack of corporate regulation, and huge mineral reserves have encouraged a number of major mining companies to set up shop in Afghanistan, despite security problems. Afghanistan has major deposits of iron ore, copper, gold, lithium, and rare earth elements that are valued at over $1 trillion. Afghanistan is estimated to hold 1.4 million metric tons of rare earth elements alone - a precious commodity in a world which needs these metals in everything from our cars to our phones.
Canadian companies have been at the forefront of breaking ground over Afghanistan’s mineral reserves. The Globe and Mail reported in 2012 that, “Canadian companies are taking on leading roles advising Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines on the process: Vancouver-based Canaccord Financial Inc. on financing, SRK Consulting of Vancouver for geological matters and Toronto’s Heenan Blaikie LLP for legal issues. Afghanistan is also emulating Canadian standards for reporting mineral reserves.”
In 2011, Canadian company Kilo Goldmines was awarded a 25% stake, along with a consortium of other companies, to develop the Hajigak iron deposit in Bamiyan province. The deposit is estimated to be the largest in Asia and possibly the world.
These vast mineral reserves could turn Afghanistan into a thriving, prosperous country - if it weren’t for laws which allow mining companies to take the profits out of Afghanistan for pennies on the dollar. The vast majority of Afghan families will not see a single benefit from this plundering of their resources. Given the global track record of Canadian mining companies, they will likely
see themselves thrown into more poverty and
turmoil. A study by the Canadian Centre for
the Study of Resource Conflict found that
“Canadian companies are more likely to be
engaged in community conflict, environmental
and unethical behaviour, and are less likely to
be involved in incidents related to occupational
concerns” as compared with American, British
and Australian companies. The study also
found that “Of the 171 companies identified
in incidents involving mining and exploration
companies over the past 10 years, 34 per cent
Corporations Declare Victory
The only real winners of the war in Afghanistan
been the corporations which have circled
the country like vultures, plundering the
spoils of war. Afghans have suffered through
fourteen years of bombings, home raids, and
fighting, but the promised rebuilding of their
country and gains in human rights have not
materialized. Instead, they are left with empty
schools and half-finished hospitals. These
buildings make an excellent backdrop for
photo-ops with politicians, but do nothing to
contribute to Afghan health care or education.
The careless way in which these projects
are undertaken - without proper practices,
materials, or local consultation - reflect the
work of corporations and governments who
care more about their bottom line than about
improving Afghan lives.
As the US and NATO pull their troops out of
Afghanistan, any honest person can see that
they have failed in all of their stated objectives.
Poverty grips the majority of the nation.
Afghans remain without basic necessities of
life. Opium production has reached record
levels - as has drug addiction. The country
still ranks among the lowest on the United
Nations’ Human Development Index. The
Taliban are gaining strength throughout the
country. One could declare the war a complete
failure. But it has succeeded in one way -
perhaps one of the most important ways of
all to the capitalist-imperialist governments
which supported the mission: it has lined
the pockets of corporations and opened the
country up to exploitation for decades to
Corporations may be the winners in
Afghanistan for now, but Afghans are not
going down without a fight. Resistance to the
occupation is growing, and no foreign force
has ever succeeded in occupying Afghanistan
for any length of time. We as peace loving
people in Canada, the US and around the
world must join them in their struggle against
occupation, both by official militaries and
foreign forces. Together we can end this cruel
occupation - after all, Afghanistan is the
‘graveyard of empires’
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