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Tag Archives | Afghan Aid

The Impeding Funding Gap in Afghanistan

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai looks on as President Barack Obama delivers remarks  at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

Afghan President Hamid Karzai looks on as President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

One of the most pressing issues currently facing Afghanistan is the difficult economic transition set to occur at the end of 2014. Although security is the concern that grabs headlines, it’s the economy, and the ability of the Afghan government to afford itself, that will determine the long-term success of the Afghan state. Sadly, it is highly unlikely that the Afghan government will be able to domestically source revenue to cover the military and security expenses it faces, let alone finance development and the social safety net, thus far provided largely by NGOs and donors nations, that the population has come to expect.

Although significant funding has been committed by donor nations it falls well short of the $10 billion a year through 2025 that President Hamid Karzai asked for. The $10 billion request represents significant figure for foreign donors, between 61% and 78% of GDP depending on which GDP estimates are used. The $4 billion committed by the international community at the 2012 Tokyo Donors Conference is not even a sure thing, as donor fatigue and historic failures to live up to development aid commitments are likely. This means, in the best-case scenario, that the government of Afghanistan would face a budget shortfall of at least $6 billion a year starting in 2014, but odds are it will be far greater.

Afghanistan is staring at a difficult future, made all the more so by the fact that it is impossible to judge what past vast sums of international development and security money have accomplished, making requests for more especially problematic. The United States and Europe are under significant pressure at home to cut military and civil spending, and even donors that are not under pressure have generally failed to meet aid commitments to Afghanistan. Afghanistan must prepare now for a future in which the government budget is significantly diminished, as the ongoing troop reductions preface even more dramatic decreases in development assistance.

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Afghanistan’s Long Road to Gender Equality

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An Afghan woman teaches a class of girls in the Rukhshana School on March 11, 2002

An Afghan woman teaches a class of girls in the Rukhshana School on March 11, 2002

In all countries with troops still on the ground in Afghanistan there is steadily growing public feeling that the sooner their armed forces are out of the war there the better. And hopefully with minimal further injury and loss of life. While the various home governments will no doubt spin the line of how successful the deployment has been, we should have no doubt that post-International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Afghanistan will be a very difficult place. Not just in terms of the country’s obvious ongoing political fragility, but also with respect to its socio-cultural environment and in particular, the subordinate situation of women.

Recent media reports of the murders of three young Afghan women – one by her husband for working outside the home, another by her in-laws for her refusal to go into prostitution, and the third in retaliation for the rejection of a marriage proposal – are stark reminders of this.

While we shouldn’t ignore the fact that every year women in ISAF countries are also killed by close family members and experience ongoing domestic violence from current or previous partners, the Afghan cases come out of a cultural environment where the majority of the adult population considers violence against women justified in certain circumstances. A picture of this mindset is revealed in the results of a survey recently carried out by the Afghanistan Central Statistics Organisation and UNICEF. The Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) is an international household study developed to monitor the situation of women and children around the world.

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Battling the Taliban’s Influence in Schools

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300 villagers gathered in Paktia province, Afghanistan

300 villagers gathered in Paktia province, Afghanistan

When US Major Lee and Captain Gil entered Ganat Kahiyl High School in eastern Afghanistan recently, a local teacher slipped them a small note: “The Taliban have visited our school and forced their curriculum upon us. Can the government help?” This was not an empty threat. Insurgents burned down Sahakh High School in the same district a couple months earlier for teaching girls and the government’s curriculum.

Taliban attacks on schools that defy insurgents are reported often, though difficult to confirm because of Taliban influence, say analysts. In fact, the US officers were visiting the school to promote the Village Outreach Program, devised by the local US Army and the district governor of Zormat to battle that type of Taliban influence on schools and children. The new project, loosely modeled after McGruff the Crime Dog, a cartoon bloodhound used by the American police to build crime awareness in children, is meant to teach schoolchildren civic responsibilities and instill trust in the government and the police.

“If your parents don’t let you go to school, you should cry. Cry until they let you go to school because you are the future of Afghanistan!” District Chief of Police Abdul Wahab, who was visiting the school with Lee and Gil, told high school students that day. Given the relatively poor reputation of the Afghan National Uniformed Police in most parts of the country, this friendly, fatherly policeman and his message seem revolutionary here. Local forces say there is a lot of hope riding on the program as it builds confidence among schools in places like Zormat. Lee says he hopes it can instill an appreciation for civic responsibility and trust in police and government, so that they can help teachers and schools like Ganat Kahiyl High School, but it still has a long way to go.

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In Tokyo, the International Community Pledges $16bn for Afghanistan

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Zalmai/UN

The major donor’s conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo attempted to shore up a slew of issues in Afghanistan as the 2014 deadline approaches when coalition forces are scheduled to leave, ostensibly leaving Afghanistan’s nascent security forces on there own. The donor’s conference aimed at setting aid levels for the crucial post-2014 period. The “Tokyo Declaration” adopted at the end of the conference, pledged $16 billion for development projects over the next four years, when most NATO- led foreign combat troops will leave.

Japan, the second largest donor, after the United States says it will provide up to $3 billion through 2016, and Germany has announced it will keep its contribution level at current levels of $536 million a year, at least until 2016.

Similarly, India committed $2 billion including $500 million committed during Manmohan Singh’s visit to Kabul last year out of which a large portion of this assistance has been disbursed or is committed to ongoing projects.

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The Resumption of Business as Usual Between Pakistan and the U.S.

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U.S. soldier allows a convoy to pass while directing traffic at the border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan August 27, 2011 at Torkham, Afghanistan

U.S. soldier allows a convoy to pass while directing traffic at the border crossing between Afghanistan and Pakistan August 27, 2011 at Torkham, Afghanistan

The bilateral relationship between Pakistan and the U.S. is one of the most important and contentious in the world. Illustrating its complexity, Pakistan is expected to shortly announce that it is reopening Afghan supply lines through its border, which were closed following the NATO raid last year that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Not surprisingly, the newly brokered deal - apparently reached following Pakistani President Zardari’s invitation to the NATO summit this weekend in Chicago - will come at a price. Pakistan is likely to require $1 billion from the U.S. in return for the access, plus an additional $1 billion in payment for its participation in battling Islamic militants within Pakistan, which has resulted in heavy tolls on the Pakistani military and civilians. The deal will allow U.S. supplies to enter and leave Afghanistan into 2014, when it is expected that the U.S. military mission there will substantially conclude.

Before the border was closed by Islamabad, about 100 fuel tankers and several hundred supply trucks had been using the border crossing to resupply U.S. and NATO forces. The closure of the border essentially stranded hundreds of NATO supply trucks within Pakistan and led to an increase in the cost of fuel that had to be shipped into Afghanistan from alternative routes. After the border closure, U.S. supplies had to be ferried by helicopter, or from an alternative route bypassing Pakistan, which was significantly more expensive compared to the overland route, traveling through Pakistan from Karachi. Although these alternative supply networks were essential, they were clearly unsustainably expensive – particularly given the pending U.S. military drawdown this summer.

So it appears that common sense has prevailed. Islamabad made its point, and although it never did receive the formal apology it was looking for from Washington, it was seen to have officially stood up to the Americans. But Mr. Zardari and the military are smart enough to know that maintaining heightened bilateral tension for too long did not serve them well, given Pakistan’s dependence on American military aid. Pakistan may have done some soul searching about whether it should continue accepting military aid from the U.S. Clearly, it has arrived at its answer. The U.S. needs to do the same.

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A Passage to Kabul

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U.S. soldiers with an Afghan civilian in Helmand province, Afghanistan

U.S. Marines with a local Afghan civilian in Helmand province, Afghanistan

A recent reading of E. M. Forster’s novel, A Passage to India, prompted me to reflect on the West’s drawn out engagement in Afghanistan. The centerpiece of this prescient narrative is an incident in an ancient cave in Northwestern India between an Indian doctor and an English woman during the heyday of the British Raj. The alleged assault of an English woman by a ‘native’ doctor raises tensions among the community of Anglo-Indians, Hindus and Muslims, exposing the inherent racism and bigotry that accompanied Britain’s ‘benign’ imperialism in India.

The smothering void of the cave reflects the failings of the British mission to civilize the country; no matter what noise visitors make, one echo is monotonously identical to the next: “The echo in a Marabar cave is not like these; it is entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof. Boum is the sound as far as the human alphabet can express it, or bou-oum, or ou-boum – utterly dull. Hope, politeness, the blowing of a nose, the squeak of a boot, all produce boum.”

‘Boum’ is what’s currently echoing in Afghanistan. In the novel, ‘boum’ also serves as an allegory to illustrate the gap between the Indians and British and the innate misunderstanding that the unequal interaction between imperialist and native produces. In Afghanistan, ‘boum’— after 10 years of war — is an illustration of the piecemeal progress that has been made in the country; the Western voices only have produced a monotonous echo, which in many parts of the country barely is noticeable. ‘Boum’ is also the echo of a foreign imposed alien form of government held together by foreign experts, advisors, and a foreign army.

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Afghan War Enters Tenth Year

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A U.S. Marine prepares to return fire during an engagement in Helmand province, Afghanistan

A U.S. Marine prepares to return fire during an engagement in Helmand province, Afghanistan

The Afghan War has entered its tenth year and shows no sign of abating. Furthermore, the Afghan War has the dubious distinction of being America’s longest conflict surpassing U.S. involvement in Indochina. However, military progress has been made in wrestling significant portions of the country from the Taliban and eliminating Al Qaeda elements. Despite these gains there is widespread doubt that the war can be successfully brought to a conclusion. What gains have been made are increasingly tenuous and any military successes could be reversed once some American troops begin to leave in July 2011 as scheduled.

Additionally, there are concerns that the war could prove to be a colossal waste of effort and lives once the U.S. military completely evacuates by 2014 with the exception of support units. There are legitimate concerns that U.S. and NATO forces are propping up the Afghan government which will be unable to hold onto major population centers without a direct American troop presence. Continuing Western military involvement beyond 2014 depends on domestic political support on Capitol Hill and in many European capitals.

Public opposition to prolonged U.S. involvement hovers around 50 percent according to polling by Quinnipiac University. Congress is expressing displeasure with the war and because they approve the funding they could hold back dollars unless future guarantees are made. Particularly, transparent progress in the training of the Afghan Army and National Police and insuring that corruption in the Karzai government is dealt with effectively.

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