Afghanistan's transition to wards peace, stability, growth and development is still an ongoing journey. More than the years since the fall of the Taliban and the dawn of the new era, challenges remain firm and numerous as plentiful have been the achievements. Looking ahead towards 2014 and beyond, many challenges are identifiable. First and foremost, retaining the gains made in the areas of security provision and keeping the Taliban war machine weakened and at bay are formidable tasks.
Retaining and consolidating these gains would take much in further blood and treasure. Over the past ten years, the gains have been possible by deployment of more than one million soldiers both Afghan and international.
The number of all foreign troops who have served in Afghanistan during one or more periods of mission is more than one million. Keeping a force of hundred thousand troops has been possible through having more than a million soldiers as reserve forces; this has commanded the utmost sacrifice from the involved countries such as the U.S. which remains true to its commitment to Afghanistan.
With the majority of foreign troops set to leave by 2014, the totality of this enormous task falls into the hands of Afghanistan government and its national security forces. As estimated, providing for and maintaining the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) would cost more than $5 billion on an annual basis. For Afghanistan, affording this figure is out of question – an outright impossibility unless significant foreign funding keeps being poured into the country's security sector.
A simple arithmetic calculation reveals the enormity of country's security expenses taking into consideration the country's small and fragile finances. Afghanistan's formal GDP stands at around $18 billion. The annual outlay in the military-security sector totaling $5 billion equals to more than 27% of the country's GDP.
It means that more than one-fourth of the country's wealth would have to go to the security sector if the donors and the country's allies do not step up to the plate to foot part of this massive bill. A figure of 27% of GDP for a relatively poor country such as Afghanistan is a back-breaking burden.
For other countries, military expenditures and spending on armed forces take up anything between 1% to 7% of the GDP. It is clear that any security sector outlay above 10% of the GDP would be outrageously expensive and disproportionate to any country's financial means.
For now, Afghanistan seems to be burdened with the huge cost of its security-military sector and to be realistic, this sector would continue to absorb a disproportionate share of Afghanistan's national income.
There can be no going back or rolling back the ambitious plans envisioned for the growth of Afghanistan's military-security sector. The size of the country's armed forces is only set to expand rather than shrink. Afghanistan, its people and government are left with no option but to pay for this huge bill with the assistance of foreign donors and its allies such as the United States.
As explained, the bill for Afghanistan's security sector, in spite of the generous assistance by the country's foreign allies, still would usurp a disproportionate share of the country's meager resources. The funds and money that otherwise should go towards the country's development and building of the much-needed infrastructure would go for propping up a vast army and keeping under control the Taliban and other militant groups' war machine.
De-militarizing the country
The ongoing heavy militarization of the country and allocation of the country's meager resources for defense needs on such a large scale cannot be an open-ended commitment. Attempts and efforts should be re-doubled to de-militarize the country and de-arm the militant groups, and decimate those that choose to persist on the path of war and violence. That would gradually pave the way for restoring a sense of normalcy and allowing for business and economic confidence to return to Afghanistan.
Confidence-building and bridging the trust deficit with our immediate neighbors is an absolute necessity that goes hand in hand with the task of internal stabilization of the country. External stabilization, still an elusive goal, is as important as the internal stabilization of the country.
War has always been a lucratively profitable business for vested interests who thrive and prosper on war. In the current conflict, where millions of dollars change hands on a weekly and monthly basis to keep the militant war machine alive, there have emerged countless people who have built careers out of the current, ten-year old war.
They, nonetheless, are bent on sustaining the war as it has enriched them materially. What is important for the political leadership in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is to keep under check the forces and vested interests who are pushing for a state of perpetual war and conflict.
The economic slide
Over the past two years, there has been a marked down-slide in the business and economic confidence across the country. People's purchasing power has taken a beating due to a steady rise in prices as inflation rates have soared.
The economy of the country has slowed down partly due to the negative impacts of the sinking economy in neighboring Pakistan to which Afghanistan is tied to an extent. As economics and politics go hand in hand, it is important to push the economy of the country into a self-sustaining trajectory.
This would mean that the pillars of the economy should move beyond the foreign sources of funding and aid – sources which have constituted a significant part of the country's domestic product. Diversifying the economy is a prerequisite for making it self-sustaining.
Industries and services sectors as well as the agriculture sector need a large boost in terms of infusion of fresh capital and new investments. In those areas and sectors and sub-sectors where the private people are unwilling to enter, the government and foreign donors must devise and launch initiatives aimed at encouraging private investment in terms of offering greater assistance, protection and insurance.
Public-private partnerships (PPP) is fast emerging across the developing countries as a favorite model through which governments and private consortiums devise, launch and operationalize huge and expensive development projects. The government in Afghanistan perhaps needs to think, plan and act innovatively learning from the experience of other similar countries.