The Reconstruction in Afghanistan

The West's Mistakes and Shortcomings

In October 2001 the Afghanistan military campaign was launched. Today, critics refer to Afghanistan as a vast reeducation camp. Virtually all the moral concepts of the people have been up for discussion or questioned for five years, says Martin Gerner

British NATO soldier on patrol in Kabul in July 2006 (photo: AP)
Many Afghans say that in their view an infiltration of foreign influences is threatening. Identity and sense of self-esteem suffer as a result, writes Martin Gerner

​​Five years after the end of the Taliban regime, the Bundestag, Germany's parliament, has just voted to extend its armed forces mandate in Afghanistan. Withdrawal, which was called for by a few parliamentarians, was not under serious discussion. On the contrary, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will also strengthen its presence in the eastern part of the country during the coming months. Nevertheless, demands for a change in strategy are legitimate.

Since July, the NATO-ISAF troops in the south have set out on a course that could prove to be disastrous: the mixing of military missions. The strict division between the mandate of the US-led coalition forces, which are hunting for the Taliban and alleged terrorists, and the ISAF mission, which professes to be doing something else, is rapidly blurring. The ISAF is thus becoming more American.

The NATO troops stationed in southern Afghanistan recently declared part one of their offensive against the Taliban to be successfully completed. Now ISAF is supposed to accelerate the progress of the "civil military" reconstruction in the appropriate regions of the country.

Lieutenant General David Richards, NATO Commander in Afghanistan, says about the race against time, "Our troops have six months to win. Otherwise we could lose the support of the population." What has long been looming appears to have happened.

The people, especially in the southern provinces, see considerably less reconstruction than in Kabul or in the north. At the same time, they are victimized by the regular police and the Taliban. Tom Koenigs, the German UN Special Representative, speaks of a "popular uprising."

Democratization from the top down

The increasing dissatisfaction among the population is directed against both vanishing aid money and President Karzai's failure to act and his willingness to compromise when it comes to politicians and players who have blood on their hands or are corrupt. His popularity is at an all-time low.

Poppy farmers in Afghanistan (photo: AP)
According to Martin Gerner, the forcible destruction of fields without equivalent alternative sources of income has reaped storms of outrage

​​Meanwhile, it has become apparent that presidential and parliamentary elections are largely regarded as democratization from the top down. Disillusionment set in long ago, because incriminated and corrupt Mujahideen and militia leaders call the tune in the People's Assembly.

At the grassroots level, in the villages, the new political orientation conflicts with traditional moral concepts. Existing shuras, or village councils, which have proved their worth for decades, are being hastily pushed aside in the framework of various programs to make way for gender-balanced committees. In the process, the moral concepts of the local population clash with the guidelines of impatient development aid policies.

An infiltration of foreign influences

Critics also refer to Afghanistan as a vast reeducation camp. Virtually all the moral concepts of the people have been up for discussion or questioned for five years. Identity and sense of self-esteem suffer as a result. Many Afghans say that in their view an infiltration of foreign influences is threatening.

Segments of the population in Kabul regard "democracy" as a dirty word, since, in addition to development funds, alcohol and prostitution have also found their way into the city landscape. The conflict between rich and poor intensifies every day.

The struggle to advance women's rights is also being emphasized too much, in the opinion of experts. Increased attacks on newly built girls' schools recently could also be a reaction to this attempt.

Protectorate of the USA

In reality, during the past five years Afghanistan has become a protectorate of the USA, the United Nations, and large financial organizations such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Over two-thirds of the Afghan budget comes from foreign sources.

The Afghan government has an influence on the allocation of only 25 percent of the subsidies. That causes frustration up to the highest levels of the administration. More codetermination would give the Afghan government and parliament more credibility in the eyes of the people. The fact that the donor countries maintain control of the aid money is cited as the reason for the widespread corruption in Afghanistan.

At the international Afghanistan Conference in January 2006 in London: Hamid Karzai, Tony Blair and Kofi Annan (photo: AP)
Over two-thirds of the Afghan budget comes from foreign sources. The Afghan government has an influence on the allocation of only 25 percent of the subsidies

​​This is, in fact, one of the greatest problems. Fraud, mismanagement, and shoddy work can also be found among the international players, however. The expressway between Kabul and Kandahar, a model project, is already in need of repair again after two years. It was built with the cheapest tar mixtures possible. Here, as in other construction projects, large sums of money were misused by US consulting firms for salaries for top personnel and luxury housing.

In the opinion of the Kabul-based organization Integrity Watch Afghanistan, the West has been ignoring the subject of combating corruption for a long time. In order to regain lost confidence, the international Afghanistan Conference held in London at the end of January 2006 formulated a plan called the "Afghanistan Compact."

Among other things, it is intended to help fight corruption and achieve more transparency. Thus far, this agreement has produced no significant results. The Afghan government contends that many aid projects did not take the priorities of the population into consideration. It is up to the donor countries to refute this accusation.

Only a small portion of the 80 million euros in funding provided annually by the German government to governmental development aid organizations, such as German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), and to nongovernmental organizations, both international and Afghan, actually goes to the people in Afghanistan.

Salaries, administrative costs, and expenditures for materials and supplies swallow up large sums. At best, 30 percent, around 25 million euros, remains. By comparison, the German armed forces operation at the Hindu Kush costs 314 million euros annually, almost one million euros a day. If it is true that the Taliban cannot be defeated militarily, then the proportions must be changed to provide more funds for civil reconstruction.

Storms of outrage

For the anti-drug policy, 2006 was once again a year without far-reaching success. The West has made mistakes. The forcible destruction of fields without equivalent alternative sources of income has reaped only storms of outrage. Every radical approach drives the farmers into the arms of the enemy. It will take years until alternative livelihoods offset the loss of income from poppy cultivation. Nevertheless, development of the manufacturing industry has not been stepped up as necessary.

The US Coca-Cola company did start production of Coke, Sprite, and Fanta in a $25 million plant in Kabul this month, providing jobs for 350 people. Yet just outside Kabul, a region of productive fruit plantations, no factories have been opened thus far to produce for the local market and for export.

German development aid is currently funding projects such as the reconstruction of the country's largest sugar factory in the province of Baghlan and the sugar beet production there. However, even the most productive alternatives to poppy cultivation achieve at most one-third of the income it generates.

Martin Gerner

© Qantara.de 2006

Translated from the German by Phyllis Anderson

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