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      Plundering of Afghanistan with War & Occupation:
      How Imperialists & Their Corporations Are Benefiting From the Misery of Other Nations

      By Nita Palmer

      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 alms.

      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’ annual income.

      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 are Canadian.”

      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 come.

      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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