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Kabul yet to prosecute high-profile graft cases: SIGAR

Monitoring Desk

KABUL: The situation in Afghanistan is consistent with a largely lawless, weak and dysfunctional government, America’s federal watchdog says.

Many corruption cases are yet to be prosecuted due to the lack of political will, said the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR.

A citing a Department of Justice report, the watchdog referred to problems within the Anti-Corruption Justice Center (ACJC), set up in 2016 by President Ashraf Ghani.

In its latest report, SIGAR blamed the ACJC for going after low-level offenders instead of pursuing big graft cases, such as a case at the Herat passport office.

Calling the fight against the Taliban insurgents a stalemate, the watchdog said the Afghan government controlled or influenced about 56 percent of the country’s 407 districts as of May 15.

The government’s control remains unchanged from last quarter. On the other hand, the militants lost control or influence in three districts.

Afghan forces may have grown in size since last quarter to 314,242 personnel, but they have lost 8,500 personnel since April 2017 and 5,353 since April 2016, SIGAR said.

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US anti-narcotics campaign in Afghanistan a big disaster

Syed Zafar Mehdi

The protracted war in Afghanistan has many convoluted dimensions and needless to say the foreign invaders have failed in almost every way. Their engagement in the war-ravaged country has only wreaked havoc, brought misery to the people and emboldened insurgent groups to carry out deadly strikes across the country.

More than 17 years after invading the country, the US-led international coalition has reluctantly conceded defeat to insurgent groups, after miserably failing in counter-terrorism efforts. Today, security situation remains volatile, government is in tatters, terrorists strike at will, and people continue to live in fear. It pretty much sums up the horrible legacy of America in Afghanistan.

The much-hyped rebuilding and reconstruction projects of the US-led coalition have also turned into a farce. It has only contributed to destruction and devastation post-2001. One area where the international partners of the Afghan government have particularly been disastrous is counter-narcotics campaign. Notwithstanding the ‘strenuous efforts’ to dissuade Afghan farmers from opium plantation, the country continues to be the world’s top opium producer. Interestingly the area covered by opium fields in Afghanistan equals the total area of Mauritius.

The opium cultivation in Afghanistan hit a record high last year, according to a US government watchdog body SIGAR, which described the counter-narcotics campaign of the US-led coalition as a “failure”. Pertinently, the US government has splurged about $8.7 billion on its counter-narcotics campaign in the war-torn country since 2001. A new report by SIGAR made many interesting revelations, pointing to the farcical counter-narcotics campaign of the international community in Afghanistan. Despite billions of dollars, opium cultivation reached about 328,000 hectares (1,265 square miles) in 2017, marking an increase of 63 percent from the year before, and the highest amount recorded since 2002.

“To put it bluntly, these numbers spell failure, and the outlook is not encouraging,” John Sopko, the special inspector general, remarked in the report. “There’s more opium being grown now than when we started, there’s more heroin being produced than when we started, there’s more heroin being exported, there are more profits from the heroin going to the Taliban and to the other terrorist groups than when we started,” he later said in a TV show. What Sopko said quite unapologetically and unequivocally is what many war-mongering hawks in Washington admit in private but refuse to admit in public, because it leaves them embarrassed. They don’t want the American taxpayers to know how their money is being wasted in a ludicrous campaign that is producing no results or how their money is being used to fuel insurgency or bomb Afghans.

The question hovering on everyone’s mind is: Who benefits most from the opium cultivation and why have the counter-narcotics efforts of international community failed? It is important to note that opium is a major source of revenue for the Taliban movement. The money from the sales of opium helps fuel insurgency across the country. But the Taliban is not the only group benefiting from opium business in Afghanistan.

Many criminal gangs, warlords, policemen, tribal elites, government officials also profit from it. And most of them enjoy patronage of the US forces in Afghanistan. So, it is also a case of the conflict of interest. The opium reduction program was one of two initiatives of the US government apparently designed to resurrect the country’s agrarian economy.

But the way it has been executed has raised more questions than answers. It has not only led to increase in opium cultivation but has fueled insurgency.

The US forces have been carrying out airstrikes across the country to eliminate what they call ‘Taliban drug labs’. In February this year, the top US commander in Afghanistan John Nicholson announced that his forces were bombing these labs to weaken the economy of the insurgent group. “We are hitting the Taliban where it hurts, which is their finances,” he said.

But he didn’t explain how the American forces intended to carry out these strikes, which according to many experts put lives of farmers in danger. As Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) told in an interview recently, these labs are not what people in the West consider labs, and they are not manned by the Taliban fighters, meaning the casualties would more often be civilians.

That is how imaginative America’s counter-narcotics campaign in Afghanistan has been. No wonder why it has proved a big disaster. The best possible, and the only, solution to the illicit opium economy in Afghanistan is the withdrawal of US-led coalition forces, which is one of the main demands of insurgents to end the long-standing war. Unless the war doesn’t end, the opium production and smuggling is unlikely to go down. If the US forces could not eradicate poppy fields or what they call ‘Taliban drug labs’ in 17 years, chances are they won’t be able to do it now. Since they have admitted defeat in their longest war and failed in counter-narcotics campaign and other such farcical campaigns, it is time for the US-led coalition forces to call it quits, end the drama and go home.



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US red alert to IMF

US secretary of State Mike Pompeo has issued a red alert to the International Monetary Fund against fresh bail out Package to Pakistan which it badly needs to pay off its external liabilities on account of swollen current account deficit and ballooning foreign debt. He warned on Monday that IMF loans can not be used by the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf led upcoming government for retiring Chinese debt acquired by the pervious Washington favourite PML-N government.

In an interview with CNBC, Pompeo said that US looks forward to engagement with the new government of Pakistan that Imran Khan is expected to form but hastened to say that there is no “rationale” for bail out that pays off Chinese loans to Pakistan. “Make no mistake. We will be watching what IMF does.”Pompeo said. “There is no rationale for IMF tax dollars, and associated with that of American dollars which are part of IMF funding for those to go to bail out Chinese bonds holders or China itself,” Pompeo said. In other words, foreign capital inflow from this international lending agency could not be used to pay off short term Chinese loans.

The United States enjoys 70 percent voting rights and granting loan package to Pakistan will not be an easy task by the IMF. If at all the lending agency does approve the bail out that would be tied to very tough conditions. It will compel the next government to take a number of politically unpopular decisions. The PPP and PML-N governments agreed to certain conditions while seeking IMF loan programmes but backed out after availing the loan facility from imposing direct taxes on wealthy people and privatisation of public sector corporations both profitable and losses incurring.

The ministry of finance, the IMF, and independent economists has assessed Pakistan, gross external financing needs for the current fiscal year to fall in the range of $ 23 billion to $ 28 billion. As usual finance ministry estimates of roughly $ 23 billion financing needs are at the lowest end. The IMF has assessed them to be $ 27 billion and the independent economists’ calculations have raised their ceiling to $ 28 billion.

Pakistan can book a current account deficit of $ 18 billion in FY 19, while it would need $ 9.5 billion to $ 10 billion for external debt servicing, said Dr. Hafeez Pasha, adding that in this fiscal year it will repay $ 500 million to IMF and return $ 1 billion sovereign bonds. “There will still remain a gap of $ 10 to 14 billion after accounting for all possible inflows,” said Dr. Hafeez Pasha. The size of financing gap would affect borrowing cost.

Pakistan has a special drawing rights quota of $ 2 billion in IMF, which is roughly equal to $ 2.8 billion. The SDR quota is based on the size of the economy of member country and voting power. In 2013, the IMF approved a loan package Extended Fund Facility (EFF) of 6.2 billion which was 425 percent of the allocated quota. In 2008, it had approved bail out package of $ 11.3 billion for Pakistan equal 700 percent of the allocated quota. At present Pakistan owes $ 4.2 billion which means the country has exhausted about 150 percent of its quota. This could further reduce the size of IMF package.

Approval of IMF programme is inevitable because it paves the way for seeking financial assistance from other international donor agencies. If the country manages to get IMF programme, the Asian Development Bank and World Bank can also restore the suspended budgetary support to Pakistan. Why the IMF was more generous towards PPP and PML- N governments because the people believe that they were installed by the international establishment whereas the upcoming government has been solely elected by the people particularly the youth. This explains the red alert issued by the US Secretary of State to IMF.