Sunday, 25 January 2009

Winning Hearts & Minds in Afghanistan (2)

The MoD website has posted a number of reports this month on how the UK's Armed Forces are helping with reconstruction projects in Afghanistan (see post below).
However, according to Baktash Siawash in his Afghan Citizen blog, western governments' efforts at reconstruction are off-target.

Baktash cites the UK-led Provincial Reconstruction Team's plans to spend $20million (£14.5million) on a new radio station in Helmand as an example of why he thinks the West is losing it in Afghanistan. He argues that western governments are missing the point; that it is the basics (food, clean water, medicines) that the people need not the luxury of listening to the BBC World Service. As he says: "The needy of Afghans are not the same with westerns citizens, Afghans still think how bring a Piece of bread and glass of tea at the end of the day for their children and family."

Since 2001 the UK has committed to spend over £1billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan and the British Government claims real progress particularly in education and health care (achievements since 2006 by the PRT in Helmand can be seen here).

As has notoriously happened in Iraq, there can be no doubt that corruption is taking a significant bite out of the money being provided to Afghanistan. In the debate on the Queen's Speech last month in the House of Lords, Lord Astor said: "However, [returning soldiers] ask what cause their colleagues are dying for as they see the Afghan Government spending their time lining their pockets. We are annually putting £1.6 billion in aid into Afghanistan and apparently less than 4 per cent of it works through the system to ground level, largely due to corruption. It is outrageous that so little of our taxes go to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans. Far too much goes on luxuries such as cars and houses for Afghanistan's new rich. DfID must urgently redirect its policy on this".

Although Lord Astor did say apparently less than 4% of UK's aid percolates through to ground level, even if 40% of it benefits the people, that's still a scandal.

Whilst Baktash's eloquent appeal to the West to "review your strategies about Afghanistan" could equally be directed to his own government in Kabul, I would agree with him that spending 50% of PRT's annual budget of £29million on a new radio station does seem misdirected, especially when people are hungry.

You can't win hearts and minds when stomachs are empty.
FCO: UK in Afghanistan - reconstruction
FCO: Provincial Reconstruction Team Helmand
They Work For You: Lord Astor's speech