Fate of American aid to Afghanistan
Afghanistan.ru - 19.9.2006
Victor Korgun (Photo: ivran.ru)
By Victor Korgun, Head of the Afghanistan sector of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, author of dozens of publications on Afghanistan, worked in Afghanistan for along time.
In August 2002, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared Afghanistan as a serious breakthrough and successful model that could be applied to Iraq. As we see the model does not serve in Iraq. It is not serving in Afghanistan too.
The history of “historical achievements” in Afghanistan reminds a beautiful fable. Afghanistan has turned into a scene of largest ever operation in the history of NATO since the United States handed over the “peacekeeping mission” to the alliance. Physicians are in panic over the fact that they cannot cope with injured people arriving from the southern provinces of Afghanistan.
US, British and Canadian forces fight against Taliban across the country at the same time their NATO commanders who are not oriented to serious fighting have failed to understand what has happened. Under the mandate their job is to maintain peace rather than carry out operations actively but the worsening situation has forced them to do so. This can be explained by lack of peace, democracy and reconstruction.
Instead of insisting on peace talks between rival groups, Americans elated by their victory handed over power to Islamists and field commanders who served American interests in the 80s in the war against the Soviet Union. Later administration was formed involving these people by holding an election and announced this as a victory of democracy. It restricted the activity of ISAF that consists basically of servicemen from European armies to the Kabul region and created a security area for the Afghan government and sent field commanders or warlords to fight against bin Laden in the provinces.
According to the Afghan independent human rights commission, many Afghans have long supported amnesty and national reconciliation, and President Hamid Karzai has recently urged the United States to review the policy and end killing Afghans. But US Administration’s policy confirmed recently by Secretary of State Codoleezza Rice provides for fighting till the last Taliban militant.
Naturally, Afghan public opinion is gradually turning away from the feeble central government in the capital guarded by foreign forces. The lack of security or fragile peace are sufficient reasons for dispelling hope in H. Karzai who is being often described as mayor of Kabul or an aide to the American Ambassador. History says that Afghans traditionally select strong leaders who could guarantee them security, work and prosperity, in short something useful for them.
The Hamid Karzai government working under an American scenario that often contradicts national interests has given nothing to an ordinary Afghan living in severe poverty. Afghans voted for H. Karzai in the 2004 election hoping that he could realize promises given by Americans. Next year’s parliamentary election showed that they had been fed up with old figures, field commanders and Islamic extremists and empty promises.
The promise to bring peace and democracy given by the United States were sufficient to build the country that was tired of war and achieve success. Majority of Afghans had high hopes and was ready to work after the ousted of Taliban regime. Obvious advantages of reconstruction, jobs, houses, schools and healthcare could mobilize the people in support for the government and turn illusory democracy into a reality.
However, there was no reconstruction. When the NATO forces advanced towards the southern provinces this past summer to maintain peace and development British Lieutenant-General D. Richards, the commander of the operation was surprised because nothing had been done there.
Basically, the United States was blamed for this. Until this year US-led international coalition carried out security operations outside Kabul but had never used sufficient forces to fulfill the task. Consequently, officials of humanitarian organizations, both Afghans and foreigners were killed, and nongovernmental organizations, for one, Doctors without Frontiers, left the provinces and came to Kabul or left the country at all.
Private contractors who remained in the provinces often used money designed for reconstruction projects for guaranteeing their security. Over-expenditure was proved to be a quite large sum, especially by the USAID.
The mechanism of rendering international aid is quite interesting. The United States and other donor-nations have promised Afghanistan to give billions of US dollars in the past five years but Afghans have been asking where the money has gone. US taxpayers also can do so. Official reply says that the money went to corruption among the Afghans. However, Afghans could not even imagine that corruption of such a scale reigns among the rulers of this world.
According to a report with illustrated figures by Johannesburg-based Action Aid nongovernmental organization that studies the issue in global scale, only a small part of foreign aid about 40% is real the rest is mythical and the recipient is unaware of this aid.
Some of this money is not been figure out at all any where besides the account column or the tables of construction expenditure, say a new embassy compound. Many of these figures remain only on the documents of the organization that gives aid. For one, cheques drawn by “experts” who are working under contracts with USAID are being sent to the agency’s account in US banks by passing the country that gets aid.
The report emphasizes that a large part of aid is being written off as financing and technical assistance, which are too high and ineffective or in short, as payments for cunning American “experts”. A significant share of the aid is accurately tied to the donor country, of course. The country that receives aid is entitled to buy goods from the donor-nation even if the similar goods are cheaper on the local market.
The United State easily undresses other countries using this scheme and remains as the largest provider of mythical aid after France. 47% of US aid for the development is being paid as the cost for technical assistance, which is fairly exaggerated. For comparison: Sweden charges for this purpose only 4 % and Luxemburg and Ireland charge 2% each. Sweden and Norway follow Ireland and Britain and do not tie financial aid with the purchasing of their goods.
While, the United States ties 70% of its aid to buying its goods, especially US weapons. In these circumstances, Action Aid organization concludes that 86 cents from each dollar of US aid are mythical.
Several years ago the United Nations worked out several procedures with which all countries agreed. Under these procedures rich countries should provide 0.7% of their national income as aid to poor countries annually. Currently, Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and Luxemburg that provide 0.65% of their national revenues are close to fulfill this task. The United States gives only 0.02% real aid or 8 dollars from each resident of the world’s wealthiest country.
Meanwhile, a Swede pays 193 US dollars, a Norwegian 304 US dollars and a Luxemburger 357 US dollars. President George W. Bush boasts that he gives Afghanistan billions of dollars but journalists in Afghanistan say that it would have been better to pass the hat.
The Bush Administration often disorients public opinion deliberately concerning aid programme. Last year, for one, when the President sent his wife to Kabul for few hours to make several good photos the daily New York Times said her mission included a promise to make long-term US commitments to promote education for women and children. Laura Bush said the United States would give additional 17.7 million dollars for supporting education in Afghanistan.
As it often happens with Americans the sum mentioned earlier was used to the establishment of a private non-commercial American University in Afghanistan for local and foreign elite but not for promoting women’s or children’s education.
The former Afghan Finance Minister, currently, rector of Kabul University, Ashraf Gani has complained: “We should not support private education and ignore public education”. By forming the Afghan government the United States exerted pressure on it and gave preference to allocate money to private American contractors.
The growing privatization of American aid is becoming not more than a mechanism pumping over taxpayers’ dollars to the safes of US companies and pockets of rich people.
The criterion under which contractors are being chosen has nothing to do with the conditions of the country that receives aid and the mechanism is far from transparency. For one, the Kabul-Kandahar highway reconstruction project is presented on the USAID web site as an important achievement. This is the only achievement in road construction in five years and is more than the construction of a power station, an irrigation system, a sewage system or a dam. The reconstruction of the highway in March 2006 was covered in the daily Kabul Weekly under the headline “Millions spend on a second class road”. Afghan journalist Mirveis Haruni said that other foreign companies were ready to reconstruct the highway for 250 thousand US dollars per km but the US Company Luis Berger did the job for 700 thousand dollars per kilometer.
The reason for such a move, according to Americans is that US companies do the job better although the contract for the construction of a two-strip road without ditch was given to Turkish and Indian subcontractors for 620 thousand dollars for a kilometer, while Luis Berger Company had already started to built Afghan schools for 665 million dollars. However, the drivers who use the highway see how its layer crumbles into pieces.
Former Planning Minister R. Bashardost says that Taliban solved the road construction issue better than Americans. Now, in an attempt to improve the rating of President H. Karzai and lower anti-American and anti-NATO sentiment in Afghanistan the Bush Administration exerted pressure on the government to turn the so-called US present to road tax by collecting 20 dollars a month from each driver for the use of the road.
Consequently, according to American experts who offer technical assistance for very high payment, Afghanistan could collect $30 million a year from impoverished residents and this will ease the burden of giving aid to the country by the United States.
No one should surprise when ordinary Afghans consider foreign aid as a method of getting an advantage for the foreigners themselves. Afghans complain about the presence of excessive numbers of exotic restaurants at an end of the Highway in Kabul where the experts, engineers and other foreigners, men and women gather together and drink alcohol, spend time and enjoy in swimming pools.
Afghans are dissatisfied over the presence of brothels the number of which was about 80 in 2005, which are brought up to full strength to serve foreigners. They complain that half of the capital is in ruins as before, many people still live in tents, thousands of people are unemployed and their children starve chronically, schools and hospitals are over filled, women wearing patched veils are begging in streets or engaged in prostitution, children are being kidnapped and are being sold for slavery or killed after removing kidneys or eyes. They are wondering about what happened to promised financial aid and can the marionette government do something to improve the situation.
Reportedly, 12 thousand militants and a group of suicide-bombers led by Taliban field commander Dadullah are ready for immediate action at the other end of the highway, Kandahar, hometown of President H. Karzai and southern provinces of Gilmend, Kandahar, Zabol and Uruzgan. They set ambush for the newly arrived NATO forces. The experienced commander of NATO forces, General D. Richards has recently warned that forces must be well-aware that that they might suffer a defeat here.
US forces fight against Taliban militants using their air force like in 2001. British daily The Times of London said they carried out 750 air raids in May alone. Daily reports from Afghanistan say about the loss of NATO servicemen, Taliban militants, Taliban terror suspects and civilians.
Meanwhile, Taliban establishes its control over new villages. They kill teachers and destroy schools. US-led groups that are in charge for drug control burst into villages and destroy opium fields of poor farmers. The residents of east and south of the country who find themselves between the warring sides have long cease to wonder where the money has gone. They are bewildered: Who is in the government and what has happened to the world?
The Afghan government with its negligence and inefficiency stumps itself and its western donors and subjecting the country to new experiences, which are fraught with the revival of Taliban. There is a need to find new approaches to solve the growing crisis and new ideas and new people who have not been burdened by outdated and infective formulas of peaceful construction by building military strength.
There is a need for finding a solution first and foremost in the economic reconstruction and guaranteeing fair living standard for ordinary residents the support of which is quite essential for the government. This concerns not only the current Afghan leaders but the international community as a whole the representative of which are now mainly engaged in working out new ideas, plans and programmes rather than giving real support for reconstruction.