Over the past twelve years, the United States has funneled a projected $1.6 trillion into its military campaign in Afghanistan. This money has dramatically upset the socioeconomic hierarchy of Afghanistan, giving rise to an elite group of billionaires and a new class of young nouveau riche. How did this wealth find its way into the hands of young Afghani citizens? In what ways has this upset influenced the nation’s politics? These are the questions that accomplished journalist Mujib Mashal set out to answer in his newest piece, to be released in the coming weeks. On Wednesday, he visited the Yale campus as a guest of the Yale Globalist to preview it.

Not much older than the students who took respite from the cold weather in the Branford common room to hear him speak, Mashal is already a successful journalist, reporting on some of the most conflict-ridden topics of our age. He has worked for The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera English, Newsweek – The Daily Beast, The Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting and other international outlets. “As a journalist we tell stories,” Mashal said. Throughout the hour-long Q & A style event, his anecdotes frequently included asides about meetings with former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other high-profile government officials.

Mashal also mentioned having met with several U.S. government officials. According to him, “In private, U.S. officials admit that they don’t know how much was spent on the war [in Afghanistan].” We do know that the amount totals to somewhere near 1.6 trillion dollars. “Even if a small chunk of this money trickled down, it made a huge change,” Mashal explained. “There were no frameworks of regulating who would get money and contracts, which created a monopoly over resources.” This gave rise to a new class of socioeconomic elite—Mashal likened this monopolization of money and resources to the rise of Russian Oligarchs after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Mashal was particularly alarmed by a truth revealed by one Afghan banker during an interview last year: “If the ten wealthiest men in Afghanistan joined hands together,” he said, “they could buy this bank, they could buy this system. They could buy this whole government.”

According to Mashal, corruption has become so normalized in the wake of post-war monopoly wealth that “It is hard to differentiate between good income and corrupt income.” Much of this income, regardless of whether or not it is acquired by corrupt means, is generated through trucking supplies to U.S. bases. Some young entrepreneurs have earned over 100 million dollars in twelve years simply through the trucking business. In the case of some, this means transitioning from selling sesame candies on the street for a living to lounging in a flower-gilded palace – all over the course of a decade.

This class of a nouveau riche has resulted in a huge cultural impact within the nation’s borders. Young entrepreneurs have founded business ventures in everything from trucking to the importation of German energy drinks. “Within ten years we went from a country that only drank tea, not even coffee, to a country that drinks Redbull with dinner,” Mashal remarked.

As the United States slowly phases out ground troops in Afghanistan, the effects of the war still remain. “In five years, you won’t see any signs that American soldiers were ever there,” Mashal said. “But the money, the impact of the money, the way that money shaped our politics […] has irreversibly transformed the society.” Mashal reminded us that the effects of war are rarely what we expect: “It wasn’t the American soldier that had the impact in Afghanistan so much as the American money.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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