Eight years of Western aid efforts in Afghanistan have been ineffective. One of the reasons the Taliban are succeeding is because they have made fewer mistakes. The West needs to recognize its mistakes and it needs to use the Lancaster House conference in London to discuss and fix those mistakes. The following are four proposals:
1. A Professional Afghan Corps: Afghanistan needs a professional Afghan Corps composed of foreign aid officials and experts who are deployed for at least three-year tours. They need to be fluent in Dari or Pashto before they arrive. These officials must also receive paramilitary training and be provided with weapons so that they can work and function in the countryside. They cannot continue to sit in Kabul or move around the country only when supported by private security forces. This author is willing to be part of that Corps and there are many others out there who would also.
2. Reconstruction Officials Must Like Afghans: Since writing for the Kabul Press, this author has been contacted by U.S. officials and PRT members serving in Afghanistan. It is plainly evident from their e-mails that a percentage of them simply dislike Afghans and do not want to be in Afghanistan. This is consistent with this author’s experiences while working for the U.S. State Department in 2008. He met U.S. diplomats deploying to Iraq who despised Arabs. They were going to Iraq solely because their one-year assignment in a war zone would be good for their careers. The U.S. and other governments need to begin screening out these people. They have no place in Afghanistan.
3. Long Term Humanitarian Aid Must Be a Priority: The West needs to recognize that Afghanistan is in a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations’ World Food Programme estimates that 1/3 of Afghans do not get enough food to lead healthy lives, with another 1/3 of the population living on the border of “food insecurity.” This after eight years of Western aid! USAID, for example, devotes little attention to this issue. It seems to be focused almost exclusively on developmental aid. Trying to encourage exports from a country where people are going hungry seems crazy. One cannot “win the hearts and minds” of people whose stomachs are empty. Part of the problem is that with one-year tours, officials want to leave with “successes” on their performance evaluations, so they emphasize “quick impact projects” (i.e., lots of small, ad hoc, uncoordinated, minor impact projects). This is no way to help build a country.
4. A Credible “Dissent Channel” Must Be Established: Wars are often won or lost depending on which side adapts, evolves, reacts and innovates quicker. At this stage in the Afghanistan conflict, it is the Taliban and al-Qaeda which are taking the lead in these areas. Flexibility requires that the West encourage dissent, opposing viewpoints and criticism. If programs are not working or if officials need to be replaced, that information must rapidly flow up the chain of command. Alas, Western Government’s such as the United States, actively discourage such criticism. Loyalty and silence are prized. It seems that senior officials within the U.S. State Department would rather lose the war than permit dissent. The U.S. State Department “officially” has a Dissent Channel.
This author worked for the State Department in 2008, and was neither advised about it nor instructed on how to access that Channel. Statistics reveal that the number of users has declined virtually year since it was instituted in 1971. It appears that only one person may have used it in all of 2009. Susan Johnson, President of the American Foreign Service Association, told Nicholas Kralev of the Washington Times on September 16, 2009, that the U.S. State Department’s Dissent Channel is virtually dead. “People don’t seem to believe in it anymore.” She said. Part of the reason for its decline is that the State Department is notorious for retaliating against dissenters.
The other is that the Department is not receptive to criticism. The result is that State Department failures are rarely exposed and State Department mistakes are rarely fixed. As a result, every year al-Qaeda seems to grow stronger and seems to spread to a new country, while the State Department slowly plods onward. It reacts and responds to events, always one step behind. The State Department’s Foreign Service has grown more loyal (i.e., silent), but less effective. The London Conference must address these issues.
photo by Basir Seerat http://afghaneye.blogspot.com/