An editorial in Friday’s New York Times advocates for Hamid Karzai to hand over responsibility for economic redevelopment of Afghanistan from the United Nations to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Such a move would do nothing more than complete the rape of Afghanistan by the west and institute policies that Naomi Klein documented in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
The editorial opens by noting recent tensions between Karzai and the US, suggesting that the upcoming visit by Karzai to Washington should be used to reduce tensions while encouraging Karzai to improve his efforts to eliminate corruption in his government. But then the Times launches into its horribly wrong and unsolicited advice:
While that’s going on, Mr. Obama also needs to open a second, less sensitive front in the anticorruption campaign. He should urge Mr. Karzai to ask the United Nations (which Mr. Karzai now implausibly blames for last year’s presidential election fraud) to hand responsibility for overseeing Afghanistan’s economic development to others more proficient in handling money.
The United Nations has enough to do to help strengthen Afghanistan’s political institutions, oversee elections (a new Parliament will be chosen in September) and ensure that humanitarian relief gets where it is needed.
The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank could all do a better job of monitoring, auditing and coordinating the billions of dollars of international aid flowing into Afghanistan.
Oh, yes. Bringing the IMF and World Bank into the equation is “less sensitive” only to those who haven’t read Naomi Klein. For those who have read The Shock Doctrine, this move by the Times amounts to a request to declare open season for the west to exploit the vast sums of relief money flowing into Afghanistan and to then follow up by exploiting the natural resources there.
Some of the basics of what IMF and World Bank policies in Afghanistan would produce can be cobbled together from this BuzzFlash interview reproduced on Klein’s website:
The transition is a negotiated transition, and this is a key thing. You brought up the pattern of pulling support from dictators when they start to become threats. I think there’s also a pattern of realizing when a dictator’s days are numbered, and making the judgment that it is more strategic to gain control over the transition process, and to prevent it from being a true revolution. Then the energy gets poured into supporting the opposition with funds and imposing conditions.
Then the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the different regional banks and lending institutions play their roles. In a way, it was a handover from the tyranny of dictatorships to what could be called the dictatorship of debt. You had this handover of very large debts accumulated under oppressive regimes. Then you have the Volcker shock — the Paul Volcker interest rate increase — which was like a taser gun fired from Washington to the global south. Suddenly these debts that were already very large tripled or quadrupled in size. Suddenly these countries are spiraling in hyper-inflation. This is called the debt shock, or the Volcker shock.
So this was another kind of shock that enforced these policies. When countries went to the World Bank and the IMF asking for aid, they were given loans with structural adjustment programs attached. The structural adjustment programs were Chicago school, free-market makeover plans.
And once the redevelopment funds have been looted, attention will turn to natural resources. From the editorial:
Multilateral institutions can also bring in additional donors and more fairly apportion the costs of Afghan development. They can provide Afghanistan with the technical expertise it needs to manage its own resources.
Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest countries, but it is not without prospects. It is believed to have huge mineral wealth, including copper, iron ore and rare earth minerals like lithium, used in making electric cars. Its agricultural areas can be more than self-sufficient if irrigation canals are rebuilt and access provided. Its carpets and textiles have a worldwide market.
With less corruption, better economic management and more focused international effort, it does not have to remain poor. It could begin financing its government and its further development from its own resources.
This proposal from the New York Times, while cloaked in the language of centrism and economic pragmatism, is nothing more than a declaration of open season for the megacorporations of the west to enrich themselves on development contracts in Afghanistan and to export the mineral wealth of the country, all the while keeping the population saddled with excessive debt that can be serviced only by keeping government services at a minimum.
After all that we have done to Afghanistan, this move would be the worst, as it would take away that country’s future.
The final chapter of Klein’s book lays open the alternative to the IMG and World Bank approach. Titled “Shock Wears Off: The Rise of People’s Reconstruction”, it outlines how, sometimes with the help of nonprofit nongovernment organizations (NGO’s), local people can rebuild their lives and their economies:
Such people’s reconstruction efforts represent the antithesis of the disaster capitalism complex’s ethos, with its perpetual quest for clean sheets, and blank slates on which to build model states. Like Latin America’s farm and factory co-ops, they are inherently improvisational, making do with whoever is left behind and whatever rusty tools have not been swept away, broken or stolen.