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Militarism and Afghanistan: Corruption and Social Destruction

Decades of war, conflict, and occupation in Afghanistan has resulted in the extreme militarisation of the country. We are analysing its consequences and in this blog, we take a look at the various forms of violence that have resulted from the past twenty years of war in Afghanistan.

Military Helicopter with Soldiers boarding
Credit: Joel Rivera-Camacho
Written by Ray Acheson
2 December 2021

Our blogs “Militarism and Afghanistan: Death, Destruction and Other Deliverables” and “Militarism and Afghanistan: Costs and Profits” explored the various forms of violence that have resulted from the past 20 years of war in Afghanistan, and the profits accruing from this violence. This third and final in the series looks at the social destruction that the war and profiteering have created.

Corruption

In connection with and in addition to the corruption relating to contractors noted in “Militarism and Afghanistan: Costs and Profits” the past 20 years have seen rampant corruption of the Afghan government, military, and police.

The occupation turned Afghanistan into a client state. The US government provided $145 billion over 20 years to rebuild a country that had a gross domestic product of just $19 billion in 2019. As recently as 2018, nearly 80 per cent of Afghan government spending came from Western donors.

The combined effects of the massive flows of aid dollars, funding for combat operations, and the river of narco – dollars created a surreal economic bubble in Afghanistan. A new, Western-style urban professional class sprang up in Kabul. But the money also triggered an epidemic of corruption and insider dealing that thoroughly discredited both the Afghan central government and the United States.

Much of the American money enriched US contractors without ever entering the Afghan economy (see Militarism and Afghanistan: Costs and Profits). Much of it also disappeared into secret bank accounts in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, held by Afghan government officials, warlords, and their families — a phenomenon described in a 2020 report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as “the cross-pollination of criminality between Afghanistan and Dubai.” While the Taliban and their sympathisers were excluded from positions of power, the US and NATO occupiers gave support to other warlords who profited politically and economically.

Social destruction

Meanwhile, about 55 per cent of the population of Afghanistan lives below the poverty line and food insecurity is on the rise. In the first half of 2021, insecurity forced the closure of over 920 schools, according to the Afghanistan Education in Emergencies Working Group. Conflict, along with a range of other socioeconomic factors, kept nearly 3.7 million children out of school, 60 per cent of them girls, before the COVID-19 pandemic further impacted enrolments of around 10 million children.

Prior to the rise of the Taliban, half of Afghan university students were women, as were 40 per cent of the country’s doctors, 70 per cent of its teachers, and 30 per cent of its civil servants. While gains have been made, for all the talk of the advancement in women’s rights and education in the country as a result of the US/NATO occupation, today, in half of Afghanistan’s provinces, fewer than 20 per cent of teachers are female (and in many, that number is less than 10 per cent). Only 37 per cent of girls can even read (as opposed to 66 per cent of boys), according to Human Rights Watch.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found that the United States “struggled to develop and implement a coherent strategy” in Afghanistan and the overall picture there is “bleak”. It has noted that any gains “in life expectancy, the mortality of children under five, gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, and literacy rates” during the years-long US mission were not “commensurate with the U.S. investment or sustainable after a U.S. drawdown.”

Changing Course: Demilitarisation, Disarmament, Decolonisation

Addressing the violence and militarism within Afghanistan and within the states that occupied it will require concrete actions. States, international organisations, and others must take responsibility, heal and repair the damage that has been done, and prevent future catastrophes. Disarmament, demilitarisation, and decolonisation are vital aspects of this work.

The following recommendations are not comprehensive but are critical:

  • As military budgets, arms production and acquisition, and militaries are reduced, as encouraged in the previous blogs, funds must be redirected toward building an economic system of degrowth. Extractivist, growth-oriented capitalism must be replaced by environmentally sound structures of social and economic equality and inclusion.
  • Money must be invested in social infrastructure, well-being and environmental protection. Funds should be redirected from militarism and police toward health, education, livelihoods, housing, food security, environmental preservation and regeneration, etc. This money must not go to foreign contractors; it should be directed to local communities, including women’s groups.
  • Given the levels of corruption in the military and police forces, these institutions should be abolished. Community-based organisations should instead be funded and supported to address the urgent needs of civilians.
  • All foreign aid donors must ensure that funds are directed to meet the needs of Afghan people, by amplifying systems that have proven functional (not reinventing existing mechanisms and processes), and creating new systems where necessary. This would need to include cooperation and communication between humanitarian actors; not allowing for-profit humanitarian work; making sure that foreign aid does not contribute to the destruction of existing local economic activity; and planning foreign aid based on proper needs assessments.

There is an abundance of evidence that large-scale businesses and conglomerates are responsible for severe abuses of human rights in their supply chain and business operations. Their behaviour during the pandemic is a clear illustration of that.

These are not all of the measures that should be undertaken, but they are all necessary to disrupt the cycle of war, weaponisation, and violence — within Afghanistan, within the US and other occupying forces, and globally. Peace, justice, and equality cannot be achieved through the barrel of a gun or the dropping of bombs. It can only come from demilitarised and decolonised (i.e. not imposed by foreign military might) approaches to economic justice, social equality, and environmental welfare.

Want to know more about the consequences of the militarisation of Afghanistan? Then continue to our blogs “Militarism and Afghanistan: Costs and Profits” and “Militarism and Afghanistan: Death, Destruction, and Other Deliverables”.

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In our series of blogs about Afghanistan, we are bringing new perspectives and voices to the mainstream narrative told by the media. Read the blog series or visit our webpage dedicated our work on Afghanistan.

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About the author

Ray Acheson is the Director of WILPF’s Disarmament Programme, which provides analysis, research, and advocacy across a range of disarmament issues from an antimilitarist feminist perspective. Acheson represents WILPF on the steering committees of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, and the International Network on Explosive Weapons.

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Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

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Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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