Action Alert

Civilian aid reform can enhance security goals

President Obama continues to state that the military alone will not solve the problems in Afghanistan. In a May 16 interview with Newsweek, he admits that “we aren’t  going to succeed simply by piling on more and more troops” in Afghanistan. He continues,

The Soviets tried that; it didn’t work out too well for them. The British tried it; it didn’t work. We have to see our military action in the context of a broader effort to stabilize security in the country, allow national elections to take place in Afghanistan and then provide the space for the vital development work that’s needed so that a tolerant and open, democratically elected government is considered far more legitimate than a Taliban alternative.

While the President has yet to produce a strategy which embodies this promise,  a growing number of voices are offering input on what “vital development work” might look like. The Congressional Progressive Caucus recently concluded a 6 part Afghanistan-Pakistan panel entitled “Afghanistan: A Roadmap for Progress,” which included experts from Aga Khan, Women for Women International and Colonel Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff. Their forum summary report compiles recommendations by a diverse group of government officials, current and former members of the military, development experts, Afghans and Pakistanis. Today, on National Media Day of Action on Afghanistan, here is a look at some of these suggestions  for restructuring spending in Afghanistan, and how this would contribute to the security of the American, Afghan and Pakistani people.

Increase Institutional and Skills-Building Infrastructure

According to panelists Joanne Trotter of Aga Khan, Dr. Adil Najam of Boston University, Hekmat Karzai of Kabul and Clare Lockhart of the Institute for State Effectiveness:

we have completely failed to build Afghan institutions, Afghan skills and Afghan capacity…

For every $1.00 spent of US and international assistance, $0.75 goes back to foreign coffer and only $0.25 stays in Afghanistan, leaving the country completely underdeveloped and under-resourced.

A sound strategy in Afghanistan would be one that directed aid dollars toward Afghan institutions and organization, which contributes to the well-being of the Afghan people. Creating institutions such as health care and judiciary systems would contribute to long term sustainability, and training Afghan workforces of doctors, lawyers, builders and technicians would invest Afghan citizens in the maintenance of their country.

A RAND report indicates that social infrastructure would have a benefit that fighting cannot provide. According to the study, since 1968 only 7% of terrorist groups that have ceased fighting have been compelled to do so through military means. In contrast, 43% put down their weapons after integration into the political process and 40% were captured or killed by  police and intelligence forces.

Provide Funding for Women

The CPC report also states,

Greater attention needs to be paid to the situation of women, according to panelists Joann Trotter (Aga Khan), Clare Lockhart (Institute for State Effectiveness), and Sweeta Noori (Women for Women International). In particular, efforts should be made to 1) Enhance female literacy; 2) Create jobs for women: opportunities at large scale could be made through developing the economic activities in jewelry making (building on Afghanistan’s mineral wealth); agriculture processing (dried fruit, fruit juices, and other products), textiles and ICT. Investment in these industries should be made with particular focus on women’s access to jobs in these areas; and 3) Education of women in health (doctors, nurses), education (teacher training), law and general civil service programs should be made…

Since the fall of the Taliban, women’s rights have improved in minor ways in Afghanistan, but there is still substantial cause for concern. US airstrikes and drone attacks disproportionately affect the female population, leaving many homeless and unable to support themselves after the death of a family breadwinner. Although accurate numbers are difficult to obtain, statistics indicate that  fewer than 20% of Afghanistan women can read and write, and attacks on girls’ schools threaten to undermine the progress of the last few years as fear incites parents to keep their daughters at home. As Kavita Ramdas of the Global Fund for Women stated,

Yes Afghanistan needs troops–but it needs troops of doctors, troops of teachers, troops of Peace Corps volunteers, and troops of farmers to go and replant the fruit orchards.

The US government frequently uses the plight of Afghan women to justify its military incursions. After 8 years of failed strategy, it’s time to invest in an effort that fulfills the promise we’ve made.

Reconsider the Civilian Aid-Military Ratio

Since 2001, 94% of the $864 billion spent on the “War on Terror” has gone to military tools and the Pentagon; in contrast only 5% has been spent on civilian tools through the State Department and USAID. The Congressional Progressive Caucus notes the supplemental funding bill’s lopsided ratio of military to political spending, and that it “contradicts General Patraeus’s counter-insurgency doctrine of 80% (political) and 20% (military). Panelists Joanne Trotter of Aga Khan, Dr. Adil Najam of Boston University, Hekmat Karzai of Kabul and Clare Lockhart of the Institute for State Effectiveness recommend:

Require 80-20 ratio (political-military) with all future US funding, with a special inspector general to monitor the implementation of this ratio.

This policy has the support of heavyweights, including General Paul Eaton, a retired commander in Iraq. According to the CPC report, General Eaton recommended:

a different approach to Afghanistan– one wherein our Secretary of Agriculture is equally invested in the outcome in Afghanistan as our Secretary of Defense. Our approach to Afghanistan must be Cabinet-wide where the Secretaries of Transportation, Health, Agriculture, Education, State, Defense, Labor, Commerce and others expertise guides the non military aspects of our foreign policy doctrines.

The current emphasis on military might has already proved to be counterproductive to US security goals. The civilian costs on the ground are growing. Approximately 1.3 million Pakistanis have fled their homes as a result of the fighting, some leaving children behind, others arriving at camps without food or blankets. An airstrike in Bala Baluk, Afghanistan early this month led to the deaths of approximately 100 civilians, sparking outrage and distrust directed at the American military, and making it one of the highest civilian death tolls since 2001.  As Joint Chiefs of Staffs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen stated Monday,

We can’t keep going through incidents like this and expect the strategy to work.

In spite of the well documented failure of military tactics and the President’s repeated promises to increase civilian aid to Afghanistan, his war funding supplemental allocates significantly more money for military tools than it does for civilian ones outlined above. The House version, approved last week, allocates roughly $81.3 billion to the military, while providing just $10.1 billion to civilian aid projects. The Senate is expected to vote on its own version before Memorial Day.  Take action today and tell your Senator what you think about the war supplemental.

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