US rotten legacy in Afghanistan exposes ugly truth behind its foreign aid

BEIJING (Xinhua): Farid, a local Afghan bus driver, just arrived in Kabul from the country’s southern Kandahar province.
“The road is completely broken,” the 35-year-old grumbled after bumping along the Kabul-Kandahar highway. “If the road were in a good condition, I would have arrived in four hours, but now it takes 12 hours.”
Nineteen years after its completion, the Kabul-Kandahar highway is in dilapidated condition from poor construction, years of landmine explosions, heavily loaded trucks and a lack of maintenance.
Once the showpiece of America’s reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, the 483-km highway, at a cost of at least 300 million US dollars, has now become a glaring symbol of America’s failures.
“US once spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan but everything has been wasted and stolen,” Farid moaned.
Since 2001, Washington has sent more aid in Afghanistan than in any country ever, allocating 145 billion dollars for reconstruction, aid programs and the Afghan security forces.
However, US aid to developing countries has never been aimed at promoting the economic development and social progress of recipient countries, but as a means of exporting American values and instigating internal changes in other countries, analysts say.
In October 2001, the United States launched the war in Afghanistan to defeat al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts. In the following 20 years, Washington has poured massive resources in the landlocked country, backing its government, training its army. But as yet the upshot of it all has been far from what was intended.
The foreign aid-built infrastructure in Afghanistan, including roads, schools and health facilities, is not a self-sustaining private sector, critics point out.
The money often went into projects that were “not sustainable with existing Afghan revenues or other ways they could support it going forward without the US,” according to Brown University’s Professor Catherine Lutz.
Much of the aid flowed through US contractors to allay the US prime concerns, such as counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, in contrast with meagre scraps reaching Afghans and Afghan-owned businesses.
In his 2010 memoir, “Decision Points,” former US President George W. Bush wrote that Washington had a moral obligation to leave behind something better. “We also had a strategic interest in helping the Afghan people build a free society,” he wrote.
But two decades later, Afghanistan is more volatile, divided and impoverished than it was in 2001, with terrorist groups still rampant, transnational crimes including drug trafficking posing a huge threat to national security and more than half of the Afghan population in need of humanitarian assistance.
America during its presence in Afghanistan frequently described its mission as fighting terrorism, building governing system, ensuring security and building infrastructure, but “we Afghans can’t see it in our life,” said Najibullah Jami, a professor of politics and international relations at Kabul University.
“Instead of improving our living conditions, America had dropped bombs on, killed and arrested Afghans, created enmity between Afghanistan and its neighboring countries, and backed extremist groups in central Asia,” he said.
“America’s 20-year presence in Afghanistan had no results. All of them were here for their own interests,” said Khair Mohammad, a local Afghan in his sixties. Mohammad makes a living by helping others lift heavy items but can only earn 2,000 afghani (22 dollars) per month at most.
Adding to the Afghan people’s sufferings was Washington’s confiscation of 9.5 billion dollars in Afghanistan’s currency reserves last year, which is equivalent to about 40 percent of its economy. This, coupled with the US sanctions on the Taliban, is paralyzing Afghan banks and plunging the country deeper into an economic and humanitarian crisis.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, over 24 million people — more than half of the Afghan population — are in need of humanitarian assistance in 2022, an increase of 30 percent from last year.
“Twenty years ago when Americans came to Afghanistan, we didn’t have electricity and we don’t have it now. Twenty years ago, poor people didn’t have houses and they don’t have houses now either,” said Nasir Ahmad Amiri, a teacher at a disability rehabilitation center in Kabul.
“US gave the aid because of the expansion of its hegemony, presence and survival in Afghanistan. When US left Afghanistan, it took everything away,” said the 50-year-old man.
“The US presence in Afghanistan under the name of democracy was a deception,” said political analyst Abdul Nasir Rishtia.
Besides Afghanistan, the United States has tried to woo developing countries in other regions into its camp by presenting aid programs, but few of them prove to be trustworthy.
In June, US President Joe Biden announced the G7’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) initiative, pledging to mobilize by 2027 600 billion dollars in public and private funding for developing countries in four areas: health and health security, digital connectivity, gender equality and equity, and climate and energy security.
However, the PGII, according to analysts, is nothing new but a rebranding of the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative, put forward at the 2021 G7 summit to “help narrow the 40+ trillion dollars infrastructure need in the developing world.”
Since its launch, the B3W has “languished” with announced projects worth “a paltry 6 million dollars,” a far cry from the billions Biden has promised, said Foreign Affairs in an article published in June.
“There is a generalized agreement that B3W has not delivered what it promised,” said Jorge Heine, former Chilean ambassador to China.
As a result of internal challenges and Washington’s underlying aim of exerting influence on other countries, the PGII is facing a grim prospect, analysts say.
Domestically, due to the strong opposition of Republicans and months of Democrat infighting, a roughly 2 trillion-dollar domestic infrastructure plan unveiled in 2021 was finally reduced to 1 trillion dollars, and the United States itself faces 2.59 trillion dollars shortfall in infrastructure needs from 2020 to 2029.
The question is, if the US Congress won’t put up hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild its own country, how might Biden convince lawmakers to offer comparable amounts to build infrastructure in other countries?” said a South China Morning Post columnist.
Given possible risks, US private companies have little appetite for investing overseas. The approach of the PGII is actually “a gamble,” said Conor Savoy, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonprofit policy research organization headquartered in Washington.
“To date, this notion remains more promise than reality,” he wrote in an article in June.
Observers say the fundamental purpose of Washington’s global infrastructure projects, including the B3W and the PGII, is to exert influence on other countries.
The country has “often worked to overthrow democratically elected governments that didn’t follow a course that business interests in the US wanted,” said Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research based in Washington.
The United States completely ignores African reality and puts its interests above those of Africans, Bissau-Guinean international politics commentator Seco Cassama told Xinhua.
“It only wants hegemony in Africa,” he said.
Apart from development aid, Washington has long boasted about its efforts to provide humanitarian aid to other countries, such as COVID-19 vaccines. Actually, the United States has become “one of the world’s leading practitioners of vaccine nationalism,” the Harvard Political Review reported.
By February 2021, Washington has hoarded 1.11 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, far more than 656.4 million for two doses for every American, and its surplus doses were estimated to reach 1.27 billion by the end of 2022, reports said.
Though Washington has pledged since June 2021 to donate at least 1.1 billion doses of vaccines, only 616.6 million doses have been delivered to date, data from the US State Department showed.
The United States also exported vaccines very close to expiration to Africa, leading some African countries to destroy them and even refuse its further donations.
For instance, early donations of AstraZeneca shots to Africa often arrived with little time left before they expired. It is reported that a batch of 191,000 AstraZeneca vaccines rejected by South Africa and reallocated to South Sudan last year arrived there just two weeks before their expiry date. Some 59,000 vaccines were destroyed as a result.
The African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and COVAX issued a joint statement last November, calling for “predictable and reliable” donations, while the United States discarded 82.1 million vaccine doses from December 2020 through mid-May in 2022, just over 11 percent of the doses the federal government distributed, NBC News reported.