Category Archives: News Briefs

Fixing Development Aid in Afghanistan

Written by Abid Amiri | 13 APRIL 2012
Published in the Diplomatic Courier Magazine

Recently in Washington there is a lot of talk about what has gone wrong in Afghanistan. It is now considered the longest war in U.S. history. The American public is growing wary about the war, and their support for the military presence in Afghanistan has dropped sharply. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, 69 percent of Americans think that the U.S. should not be at war in Afghanistan. Also, the recent Quran burning incident and the Kandahar massacre by staff sergeant Robert Bales have angered the Afghan population. Anti-U.S. sentiment in Afghanistan is at an all-time high.

There are several arguments as to what’s gone wrong in Afghanistan. Some believe the war in Iraq shifted the focus from Afghanistan, which allowed the Taliban to re-group and come back stronger. Others blame President Obama’s counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy for the lack of success in Afghanistan. Critics argue that in the absence of a reliable partner in Kabul, the COIN strategy is too costly and potentially self-defeating. While the U.S. military strategy is at the core of every argument, failure of the U.S. foreign assistance strategy in Afghanistan is completely ignored. What has gone wrong in Afghanistan is not that the U.S. has failed militarily, but it has failed to develop a sustainable local economy for Afghans – a reliable economy that could have convinced the Taliban to lay down arms and make a better living by contributing to the overall economy.

When the U.S. went into Afghanistan in 2001, the country did not have an economy. There were no roads, no airports, no electricity, and no water. Basically, there was no infrastructure – thanks in large part to the four decades of constant war. There were no institutions to support the Afghan economy. The government barely had money to fund its activities, and most importantly, everyone lacked access to basic needs in schooling, health care, sanitation, and nutrition. There were lots crucial development projects that the aid money could have been used for and it would have helped the Afghan economy.

Instead, the United States came in and spent billions of aid dollars on projects without having a clear strategy for the country’s economy. Aid money was spent inefficiently on projects without strong oversight or any involvement from the Afghan government. Portion of the fund ended up in hands of the Taliban, in exchange for protection in remote areas controlled by the insurgents. The effectiveness of aid was seriously impaired by a lack of active oversight. The aid money went into pockets of corrupt leaders, warlords, and the Taliban, while the majority of the people did not see any benefit. It undermined the central government, empowered the enemy of the state, and gave rise to corruption. Therefore, the aid money has not produced tangible results on the ground in Afghanistan. The Afghan economy is heavily dependent on foreign aid, according to the World Bank report. The decrease in foreign assistance post-2014 is likely to cause the economic bubble to burst, plunging the country into an economic recession.

Afghans are hardworking people and ready to act, both individually and collectively. They are prepared to struggle to stay float and to get ahead. They have a very realistic idea about their conditions and how to improve them. But they are too poor to solve their problems on their own. So, too, is the Afghan government. Had the U.S. come up with a Marshall Plan based on the country’s needs, Afghanistan would have had a reviving market economy today. The Taliban would have laid down arms and made a prosperous living by contributing to the overall economy. The country would have played a crucial role in connecting regional markets through the Silk Road, which would have contributed to the stability of the region.

In short, what has gone wrong in Afghanistan is not the failure of U.S. military strategy, but the lack of an effective foreign assistance strategy – a blueprint for spending aid money on projects that are relevant to the Afghan economy. It is not too late to design such a strategy and finance projects important to the country’s economy, so that the future is more sustainable, and the already achieved success is durable.

Is the Quran only for Afghans to defend?

WRITTEN BY ABID AMIRI | 27 February 2012

Published in the Diplomatic Courier Magazine

The major news out of Afghanistan this week has been the Quran burning violent protests around the country. On Tuesday the news broke that the U.S. – led military coalition forces had sent the holy books by mistake or intentionally, that remains to be investigated, to a garbage burn pit in Bagram Air Filed.  Afghans were outraged by this appalling act, and thousands of them came out on the streets to protest.  At first the demonstrations were peaceful. As the protests continued around the country in different provinces, they turned violent. Thus, at least 28 people have been killed and hundreds wounded since Tuesday.  In addition, four American soldiers have been shot dead.  However, it is important to know why only Afghans are protecting the Quran, and protesting against burning the Islamic holy book. Remember it is not the Afghan holy book, but the Islamic holy book. Why don’t people in Iran, Saudi Arabia or other Islamic countries also come out to protest? Not suggesting that they should, but isn’t the Quran their holy book too?

Certainly, Afghanistan is different than almost all other Islamic countries. First, it has the lowest literacy rate among Muslim nations – thanks to the four-decade long war. Three out of four Afghans age 15 and over cannot read and write. If they cannot read the Quran, they definitely do not understand it. Therefore, the majority of the population receives its basic Islamic knowledge from the tribal elders, the local Imams, and other religious leaders in the community. These individuals have strong political incentives to take advantage of incidents such as these protests. They mobilize people, appeal to their anger, and emotions in order to promote their political agendas. On the other hand, Muslims in Iran or Saudi Arabia are well educated. They do not take their religious leaders’ call for protest for granted. Almost 80% of Iranians are literate. They can read and understand the Quran. That is a major difference in literacy rate between Iran and Afghanistan – two neighboring countries, and it makes a huge difference in peoples’ approach to problems like the Quran burning.

Second, the unemployment rate in Afghanistan has been fluctuating between 30-40% since 2001, unlike any other Muslim country. That means almost 7 to 8 million people are unemployed in the country.  A man from Parwan province was quoted in the 2010 Oxfam survey saying, “If the people are jobless, they are capable of doing anything.” Many of these young unemployed men are frustrated. They develop a sense of negative attitude towards the central government. Some leave the country, those who can afford to do so, and others get involved in widespread antisocial and criminal behaviors like the Quran burning violent protests. The bottom line is that while young Muslims around the world are employed, and enjoy a good life, the Afghan youth are struggling with unemployment and uncertainty that fuels anger, and violent activities, as a result.

Third, according to some estimates, almost 36% of the Afghan population is living under the poverty line. It is an unprecedented figure compared to any other Muslim country. In other words, one out of every three Afghans has a total income of less than $1 a day. They can at best barely meet their minimal needs for survival. Remember Afghanistan has had the harshest winter this year, and reportedly 40 people, most of them children, have frozen to death. These are the people living under the poverty line, in tents. Their children do not have warm clothes, and they walk around in the snow with bare feet, or torn apart sandals. People are sick and tired of living a subsistence life. They are frustrated and annoyed by the fact that so much foreign aid money has been poured into the country and their lives haven’t changed a bit, in some cases have gotten worse. These people are easily motivated by those who have political agendas to join violent protests.

In sum, it is not only Afghans responsibility to defend the Quran; however, the current social and economic problems have created the platform for Afghans to engage in such violent activities. Other Muslim nations are not amenable to such threats; therefore, we haven’t seen the Quran burning related incidents elsewhere.

Written by: Abid Amiri
Washington, DC – Saturday, February 25, 2012