As news recently broke of the Taliban retaking Kabul, amid a relentless march towards the Afghan capital that has seen them regain power village-by-village and city-by-city, the calamitous failures and missteps made by the United States and its allies are being brought back into view. After spending US$2.25 trillion, sacrificing 2,500 American lives, in addition to hundreds of thousands of Afghan people dead as a direct result of the 20-year war, Americans are now left to wonder how Afghanistan is back in the hands of the militants the US military removed from power in 2001.
No doubt fingers are ready to be pointed in the direction they have been throughout this tragic military venture, as there’s little we don’t already know about two decades of policy failures in a war spanning four US Presidents, much of which was spelled out in leaked government memos and emails in the 2019 “Pentagon Papers.”
Put simply, the Taliban is succeeding where the Afghan government is failing because the Afghan people are fed up with Kabul’s corrupt political elites, who succeeded in only establishing a Mafia-like system of patronage to enrich government insiders, along with a pipeline to funnel stolen cash out of the country.
As much as 80 percent of all foreign development assistance in Afghanistan has been siphoned off by government cronies.
A UK-government analysis revealed that as much as 80 percent of all foreign development assistance in Afghanistan—money that was earmarked for infrastructure, healthcare, education, and security— has been siphoned off by government cronies.
“There is no motivation for the army to fight for the corrupt government and corrupt politicians here,” said former Afghan Ambassador to the UK Ahmad Wali Massoud in a recent interview. “They are not fighting for [President] Ghani. They are better off with the Taliban, which is why they are switching sides.”
In other words, “it’s the corruption, stupid!”
But the heist of billions of dollars out of Afghanistan couldn’t have happened without the complicity of foreign partners, because — as every transnational criminal organization knows all too well — pesky governments and foreign intelligence agencies are always at the ready to freeze bank accounts and assets acquired by nefarious means.
Thus, Kabul’s political elites needed a foreign ally willing to turn a blind eye to the pillaging and plundering of Afghanistan’s resources, and they found one in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Billions of dollars in corruption proceeds were funneled from the Kabul Bank in Afghanistan to Dubai with the knowledge of the UAE government.
An independent report in 2010 blew the cover off the “Kabul Bank Scandal,” revealing how billions of dollars in corruption proceeds were funneled from the Kabul Bank in Afghanistan to Dubai with the knowledge of the UAE government.
“These outflows have played a part in stunting Afghanistan’s economic and political development, facilitating the resurgence of the Taliban, and exacerbating regional instability,” observes the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
A decade later, the Kabul Bank Scandal continues to hang a dark cloud over the Afghan government because it has come to “symbolize the pervasive corruption and impunity that has threatened” its legitimacy, notes the United States Institute of Peace, particularly because it involved the brother of former President Hamid Karzai and brother of the former Vice-President.
In 2019, leaked documents published by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) revealed senior Afghan government officials and their family members purchased luxury properties in Dubai. This included relatives of two former Presidents and a presidential candidate, whose brother reportedly flew into the UAE with US$50 million in cash.
The BIJ found evidence of opulent real estate that has been purchased by: Ahmad Wali Massoud, who ran in Afghanistan’s 2019 presidential election; Adib Ahmad Fahim, a senior intelligence official and son of former Vice-President, General Mohammed Qasim Fahim; Ghulam Farooq Wardak, the State Minister for Parliamentary Affairs; father and son parliamentarians Saleh Mohammad Lala Gul and Feda Mohammad Ulfat; and close relatives of former President Hamid Karzai, including Fatima Rabbani and Burhanuddin Rabbani, along with Karzai’s brother, Mahmood Karzai.
Properties were purchased in Dubai’s luxury offshore developments and Jumeriah Park area, which features mansion-sized villas, swimming pools, and manmade lakes.
“It’s too easy for officials to buy property in Dubai with anonymity.”
“It’s too easy for officials to buy property in Dubai with anonymity,” Maira Matini, a spokesperson for Transparency International, told BIJ. “There’s no information available that would help detect wrongdoing. There needs to be more transparency.”
This Kabul to Dubai corruption pipeline was made possible by Dubai-based Afghan national Sherkhan Farnood. Farnood obtained a money-changer’s license from the UAE’s central bank in 1998. Later, he joined with another Afghan businessman based in Dubai to obtain a commercial banking license in Afghanistan in 2004. Farnood thus established himself as one of the “preeminent financial conduits between Dubai and Afghanistan,” according to Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Corruption has not only dented the legitimacy of the now-defunct Afghan government and broadened the appeal of the Taliban, but also exacerbated poverty in the country and destabilized the region, according to the Borgen Report. Hence where we are today – with the Taliban back in power in Kabul – and all thanks to the way in which the UAE helped corrupt officials fleece the Afghan people while the US and its allies looked the other way.