Aid Failings ‘Hit Afghan Progress’: Can War Be Won?

August 31st, 2007 - by admin

David Loyn / BBC News & John Simpson / BBC News – 2007-08-31 10:23:40

AFGHANISTAN (August 31, 2007) — More than five years after the defeat of the Taleban in Afghanistan, the failure of international aid to make a difference to Afghanistan is now having serious security consequences.

A recent Red Cross report showed that the worsening conflict in the south is now spreading to the north and west, alongside an upsurge of suicide bombing in Kabul.

The amount of money promised per head for Afghanistan was far lower than in other recent post-conflict countries, and too little of it has gone into increasing the capacity of the Afghan government to run things for itself.

In a report more than a year ago, the World Bank warned of the dangers of an ‘aid juggernaut’, a parallel world operating outside the government economy, with Afghans not even able to bid for major infrastructure contracts, such as roads.

The quality of much of what has been delivered remains very low. In schools where lots of money has been spent and the project signed off as functioning and open, girls are still being taught in tents in the mud.

There have been some successes. President Hamid Karzai often reminds audiences that 40,000 Afghan babies would not be alive today but for improvements in Afghan health care.

And some aid is successfully going through the state for basic services.

One in 10 Afghan teachers have their salaries paid by British taxpayers, but to the teachers their pay packets are not earmarked as ‘foreign aid’ – they come from the Afghan Education department.

Similarly, some small rural schemes – drainage, clinics, small power projects and schools are now being built through the National Solidarity Programme. That is a fund managed and distributed through the Afghan government, with almost all of the money coming from international donors.

Slow Process
There have recently been some indications that the Americans, the biggest spenders in Afghanistan, are beginning to see the sense in these kinds of programmes, and planning to put more of their aid money through the government.

Changing policy in this direction is a slow process, although the theory at least is now US doctrine.

Building up the institutions of the state is after all a central part of fighting insurgencies, according to the new counter-insurgency manual being used by US forces – the first written since the end of the Vietnam War.

The manual even emphasises that the new state does not have to do things especially well: “The host nation doing something tolerably is normally better than us (the United States) doing it well.”

But the doctrine has not yet worked through to changing the culture of how to spend aid money, either through USAid, or the Pentagon which runs its own aid programme.

Most international officials, aid workers and consultants in Afghanistan live a hermetically sealed life – advised not to step outside by armed security guards, and often working at very high salaries on very short-term contracts.

So too much of the money earmarked for aid to Afghanistan actually goes straight back to donor countries.

The Chief of Staff at the Afghan Counter-Narcotics Ministry, Abbie Aryan, condemned the culture of “champagne and caviar consultants” who come to Afghanistan and “deliver nothing”.

There is still no internationally agreed strategy on how to tackle the drugs problem.

Britain plays a lead role in trying to stop the cultivation of opium poppies, and Mr Aryan says that large amounts of British money have been wasted on things that the Afghans do not need.

‘Unwanted Luxuries’
He agreed to talk to the BBC on the record because of a growing concern in the Afghan government that the international community is only paying lip service to the idea that Afghanistan should determine aid priorities for itself.

Rather than responding to Afghan concerns, and helping to fund an eradication coordination unit, when the Counter Narcotics Ministry wanted to set one up, the British government is instead funding a project for aerial photography that will cost more than $10m.

The Director of Survey and Monitoring at the ministry, Engineer Mohammad Ibrahim Azhar, told the BBC that when the project was first proposed, the Minister Habibullah Qaderi asked the British why they could not use a local plane, or at least provide equipment that would still be there when the project finished.

Instead the contract is with a British firm, with two British engineers running it in Kabul.

Mr Aryan said: “Our minister is concerned about this. We are constantly telling the British that you are supposed to be providing us with tools to fight narcotics, rather than all this luxury stuff, which we didn’t ask for and didn’t need.”

The minister is reported to have asked the British why they could not have made the money available for Afghanistan to employ people to survey the poppy-growing areas on the ground.

British policy towards Afghanistan is now undergoing its most radical review since the fall of the Taleban in 2001

The Deputy Minister of Counter Narcotics, General Khodaidad, is very supportive of the British position, but several other sources in the ministry have expressed concern about British priorities.

Mr Aryan says that the aerial photographs replicate material already available from the US, UN and British systems: “We can just look at the photo and say ‘Wow, a five million dollar photo’.”

Other concerns have been raised over a fund designed to provide alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers.

Of $70m earmarked for this project, little more than $1m has actually been spent.

Afghan officials blame bureaucratic obstacles put in the way of spending the money. The UK Foreign Office admitted that there have been “teething problems”, for a fund that is operating “in a challenging environment”.

Behind the criticism over spending lies a more serious concern that the counter-narcotics policy is not working.

Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is on the increase again, and rising fastest in areas under British control. A number of officials believe that the problem is now out of control, and that the international community has lost the war on drugs.

British policy towards Afghanistan is now undergoing its most radical review since the fall of the Taleban in 2001. There is a big increase of staff in Kabul, including a doubling of diplomats on the political side, directly engaged in relations with the Afghan government.

The review will include security, drug control policies, and development spending under a new ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles. He told the BBC that Afghanistan is now “one of Britain’s top foreign policy priorities”.


Can the War in Afghanistan Be Won?
John Simpson / BBC NEWS

(June 17, 2007) — The Taleban have new confidence and new tactics, and their campaign against the government and its NATO backers has been increasingly successful since the beginning of this year.

In the east of the country, around Jalalabad, suicide bombings have become such frequent occurrences that the road from there to Kabul is now known as “the Baghdad road”.

I have been coming to Jalalabad since 1989, but for the first time in my experience we needed a police escort to drive around there. In the countryside near the town, they urged us not to get out of our vehicle when we stopped, despite the intense heat. “There are spies everywhere,” the police explained.

The police themselves are a major target for the Taleban and al-Qaeda guerrillas who operate here now.

Outside the main police headquarters in the town, a senior policeman ran out and ordered us to stop filming in case our presence attracted the attentions of a suicide bomber.

There have been several attacks there, and an unexploded rocket is still lodged in a tree in front of the building.

Terror Tactics
Until the end of last year, Jalalabad was relatively quiet. Now it is becoming a battleground.

Along part of the length of the so-called “Baghdad Road”, local people point out the places where American soldiers fired at passers-by a few weeks ago, after an attempted suicide bombing. The soldiers claimed they had come under small-arms fire from the side of the road.

The local authorities later apologised and paid compensation for the deaths. So far neither Nato nor the government of President Karzai seems to know how to counter the resurgent Taleban

As a result of this and other incidents in this part of the country, Nato and US troops are often regarded with dislike and distrust.

The Taleban’s tactics are designed to make people feel there is no safety anywhere.

Last week, just north of Kabul in an area which has always been a stronghold of support for the government and for the Northern Alliance which swept the Taleban from power in November 2001, the Taleban staged a fierce and concerted attack on a pro-government village.

Just south of Kabul, in Logar province, two schools have been attacked in the past few days, and schoolgirls murdered or injured. The Taleban are particularly opposed to the education of women.

At the hospital where one of the schoolteachers and her pupils were being treated, they begged us not to film them for fear of the consequences.

And the capital itself experienced on Sunday its worst bombing since the fall of the Taleban in 2005, when more than 30 people were killed in an attack on a police bus.

Uncertain Future
For several years after the Taleban were chased out of power, they seemed to be finished. Girls went back to the schools which the Taleban had closed down, women’s groups started up and women appeared on television as newsreaders.

Now a new campaign of murder against prominent women has begun.

With Nato troops mostly tied up in the southern part of the country, the Afghan police and army are finding it harder to operate elsewhere. New recruits, new weapons and new tactics are coming in to help the Taleban from outside.

Especially from Iraq. Al-Qaeda, the Taleban’s close ally, is redirecting some of its forces here.

The new al-Qaeda commander in Afghanistan, Mustafa bin Yazid, has himself had combat experience in Iraq, and is thought to be behind the new tactic of suicide-bombing; something that was relatively rare in Afghanistan until recently.

But the Taleban are not winning all the battles. I spoke to a senior Taleban figure who has just defected to the government in Kabul after falling out with the overall Taleban leader, Mullah Omar.

He maintained that many Taleban leaders like himself are hostile to al-Qaeda, and are looking for some third way between the government with its Nato allies and the foreign extremists led by bin Yazid.

But he agreed the Taleban were proving increasingly successful against the government, and confirmed that their strategy was to surround Kabul and eventually capture it.

While NATO forces are in the country, that will not happen. But so far neither Nato nor the government of President Karzai seems to know how to counter the resurgent Taleban.


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