The next president of Afghanistan, to be chosen in a run-off election on June 14, will inherit not just a country about to regain its sovereignty but a shrinking economy and an escalating insurgency.
The outgoing administration of President Hamid Karzai relied for more than a decade on a military economy which directly supported almost half the population. Much of it has already evaporated with the closure of bases, from a peak of 850 in 2012 to less than 100.
A shift in the nature of insurgent violence, to include magnetic bombs and assassins with silencers, sends a warning to the new leadership of worse to come as foreign combat troops withdraw.
President Obama said in late May that he plans to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016, leaving behind an embassy presence and a small security assistance force — contingent on a bilateral security agreement with the Afghan government.
David Sedney, Washington’s former deputy assistant defence secretary for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, said recently that a US-NATO force of 15,000 troops was needed to train, mentor and equip Afghan forces, and should be part of a 20-year commitment.
The international military drawdown has had an immediate impact on Afghanistan’s economic growth, with gross domestic product growth of more than 14 per cent in 2012 cut to a World Bank estimate of 3.6 percent last year. The International Security Assistance Force, NATO’s coalition with the United States and other non-member allies, has estimated that 11.5 million people live within a five-km radius of at least one military base or facility that has provided economic support to the local population.
Afghanistan’s military economy has depended on local services to the troops including: construction; food, fuel and other supplies; logistics; security; transport; and trucking. If a jeep broke down, local mechanics fixed it. If a base needed a latrine or laundry block, local workers built it; and locals usually cleaned it, too. One analyst said that providing security for military supply convoys alone cost around $2 billion a year.
A report for NATO and the UN, as yet unpublished, says almost 90 percent of Kabul’s 4.25 million people have directly benefited from 75 ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces facilities. Shops, restaurants and other small businesses in the capital are closing and the construction industry is grinding to a halt, as some of the wealthy prepare to leave the country.