Afghanistan After the US invasion

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Note: The following article is an excerpt from the book, "Afghanistan After "Democracy": The Untold Story through Photographic Images" (Click here to see some images from the book. :: Warning :: Viewer discretion advised. Graphic images may be disturbing to some viewers) by Dr. Mohammed Daud Miraki. Dr. Miraki hopes to raise enough funds through his book (Click here to buy the book) for a women hospital and a research facility dealing with uranium contamination brought about by the US invasion of Afghanistan.

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On October 7, 2001, the US propaganda machine was hard at work trying to deceive the world that what it is doing in Afghanistan is beginning

After the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the rhetoric of democracy, "liberation" and reconstruction echoed from the official White House propaganda machine, neo-conservatives and conservative media outlets. This rhetoric, supported by the influx of billions of dollars, has not only failed to bring about reconstruction, it has made life difficult for the ordinary Afghan people and subjected future generations to a perpetual suffering and death.

Meanwhile, as the US government was preparing to invade Afghanistan, it launched a barrage of rhetoric and propaganda, aimed at convincing the world that its goals were to "liberate" Afghanistan, free Afghan women and children, and rebuild schools. While President Bush talked about a plan equal in scope to the Post WWII Marshall plan, my relatives and friend gave me a different view of reality: US bombs raining down in the night while they slept. This sickened me, and I told my parents: "Our blood is cheap. First, it is spilled by the Russians. Now it is the Americans’ turn." Like all mothers across the world who are protective, my mother told me, "Son, leave everything to God. Don’t talk about these issues. People are put in prison as we speak." My father, a General in the Afghan Intelligence Service when we left the country in 1982, replied, "This is a tragedy, but you have to tell the truth and expose the lies that are bleeding our people."

Before and after the invasion the Bush administration’s rhetoric and propaganda was shameless. One of the biggest issues it abused was women rights. Karen Huges of the Bush administration led the Coalition Information Center (CIC) to spread lies about the Bush administration’s intentions. Laura Bush took her turn and made the following shocking accusation on November 17, 2001, in her husband’s weekly radio address from their ranch in Crawford Texas: "Only the terrorists and the Taliban threaten to pull out women’s fingernails for wearing nail polish." British Prime Minister Tony Blair, also known as "Bush’s Poodle," repeated Laura Bush’s accusations three days later: "In Afghanistan, if you wear nail polish, you could have your nails torn out."

In reality, however, Afghan women were being killed, losing their family members and homes thanks to the US’s "liberation" bombing. In early October, an Afghan woman, Nurgessa, who roamed the deserted streets of Kandahar accompanied by her little boy, said the following about the "liberation":

Last night, while we were sleeping the Americans bombed our homes. When I woke up I saw Agha Gul [her husband] shattered into pieces and my other two sons had their heads blown away, I screamed for my little boy, Sa’may. Sa’may was unconscious. I ran while the bombs were dropping. This morning I woke up with my little Sa’may looking for grass. I want to boil grass for Sa’may because he is hungry. We have nothing left. Sa’may’s father and my other beautiful sons were all that I had.

The UK Guardian reported the pain and misery imposed on women in Afghanistan on October 7, 2002, a year after the US invasion:

Few people paid a higher price when America’s military machine launched its war in Afghanistan a year ago today than Orfa. She was away visiting relatives when the American fighter jet dropped out of the clear midday sky and dived towards her village in the hills outside Kabul. When she returned home a few days later it was left to her neighbours [sic] to explain the inexplicable. They told her that the aircraft, almost certainly an F-16, had mistakenly fired a precision Mk 82 500lb bomb directly at her small mud and stone house, killing her husband, carpet weaver Gul Ahmad, his second wife, five of their daughters and one son. Two children from the house next door also died. When the Guardian first found Orfa last year, four weeks after the bombing, she was still deep in shock, haunted by the horrifying image of her family’s remains. Their bodies were so badly torn apart they could not be identified for separate graves.

The report continues:

‘I don’t know how long it will be now until the Americans help us,’ Orfa, 32, said. ‘They have done nothing for us and I don’t know what to do with my children or how to support them.’ The awkward truth is that the only outside help Orfa has received has come from the visitors who arrived at Bibi Mahru the day after the bombing. They were Taliban officials still clinging to power in the dying days of the ultra-orthodox Islamist regime and they brought shrouds for the dead as well as 17,000 Pakistan rupees (£190). Orfa shared the Taliban’s money with her next-door neighbour, whose two children were killed by the same bomb. Most of her portion went on medical care for her seriously injured and deeply disturbed son, Jawad, 14. ‘He went to his father’s grave every day and just stood there staring it at. I don’t have any more money to spend on medical care for him,’ she said. Now the boy has been sent to Pakistan with an aunt in an attempt to break his grief-stricken obsession.

The pain and suffering of these women were of no consequence for Laura Bush when she proudly stated the following only five weeks after October 7, 2001:

"Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women."

Reconstruction: the Ever Lasting Illusion

When the false promise of hope is dangled to desperate people, it is natural that they are euphoric at being saved by the mighty rich United States from misery, hunger and homelessness. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the so-called reconstruction is nothing but an unreachable, illusive carrot dangled from a distance away that gets farther with every passing day.

The so-called reconstruction is a hollow dream that has turned into a nightmare more terrifying as time goes on. Not only has it created social ills and infested Afghan society beyond repair; it has also failed to create anything tangible. The problem is rooted mostly in development aid, which never fulfills its promise. Furthermore, reconstruction cannot succeed when it is only a foreign policy instrument and talking points in speeches of George Bush and others glorifying this deception as inevitable success.

The classic Western models of success: elections, representative governments, parliament do not mean any thing to the common man and woman of the Afghan society. These people were eager for an avenue of survival and hope for the future. The following statement from a poor resident of Kabul sums up the failure of the US-led reconstruction program and the hoopla it has created and resonated from the Western corporate media outlets:

"Election, parliament and constitution? What can I do with that? Can I eat, wear and support my children with these symbols? No, I cannot. I am a widow. I care about survival, food and shelter for my children."

In order to understand the failure of development assistance, it is important to understand what role foreign aid plays to the developed nations. Generally, development assistance or foreign aid is an instrument of foreign policy. Before we continue, it is prudent to define foreign policy, which is best understood as "International objectives pursued by a country in dealings with other countries, as well as the methods to achieve said objectives, in order to advance national interests."10 To achieve those goals or objectives, a country has a number of means to employ in fulfilling its goals, which include military power, diplomacy and foreign aid. With the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the onset of the New World Order–a new paradigm– of achieving national interests are pursued by the US and its allies that range from political isolation to economic sanctions followed by military intervention. However, before any such drastic measures are employed, the offer of incentives serves as another way to lure poor nations to follow wealthy or powerful nations’ programs.

As recent as 2001, the Director of the USAID Andrew Natsios testified before the Senate Appropriation Committee, highlighting the significance of the US development assistance as an alternative foreign policy tool facilitating US foreign policy objectives and global agenda. Natsios stated:

Foreign assistance is an important tool for the President and the Secretary of State to further America’s interests. In fact, foreign assistance is sometimes the most appropriate tool, when diplomacy is not enough or military force imprudent. In general, foreign assistance works hand-in-hand with other foreign policy tools. Foreign assistance implements peace agreements arranged by diplomats and often enforced by the military; foreign assistance supports peacekeeping efforts by building economic and political opportunity; foreign assistance helps developing and transition nations move toward democratic systems and market economies; foreign assistance helps nations prepare for participation in the global trading system and become better markets for U.S exports. All of these activities help build a more peaceful, stable, and prosperous world –” which is very much in the interest of the United States.

The quote, above, summarizes the nature of the US foreign assistance. That is, development assistance serves as a tool of US foreign policy by establishing US-approved political systems, with the ultimate goal of making these countries better consumers of US goods and services. Foreign assistance has been used to keep the US-sanctioned regimes in power or to pressure governments to adapt ways favorable to the US point of view.

Global institutions such as the United Nations obligated wealthy nations to help the developing country as a matter of moral duty. The recent United Nations Millennium Declaration that was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations set down principles dictating that developed nations are responsible to contribute to the fulfillment of the eight set goals significantly by the year 2015. The Millennium Development Goals "form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest."

The obligation of the Millennium Goals obviously fell heavily on the developed industrialized nations to contribute to the realization of these goals. In fact, at the International Conference on Financing Development in Monterrey, Mexico in March 2002, the developed countries were urged to fulfill their obligations of delivering 0.7 percent of their gross national product (GNP) as Official Development Assistance (ODA)13 to the developing nations:

…we urge developed countries that have not done so to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7 per cent of gross national product (GNP) as ODA to developing countries and 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of GNP of developed countries to least developed countries, as reconfirmed at the Third United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries, and we encourage developing countries to build on progress achieved in ensuring that ODA is used effectively to help achieve development goals and targets.

Unfortunately, the recent study by the Actionaid International, an NGO located in Johannesburg concluded the following regarding the fulfillment of such obligations, especially those of the G7 nations:

"The G7 countries are the worst performers when it comes to real aid. On average, the world’s seven largest economies give just 0.07% of national income in real aid. In other words, they must increase real aid tenfold to reach the UN target of 0.7%"

"The G7 countries are the worst performers when it comes to real aid. On average, the world’s seven largest economies give just 0.07% of national income in real aid. In other words, they must increase real aid tenfold to reach the UN target of 0.7%."

The study by Actionaid International considers development assistance more as a phantom than real in terms of its substance and contribution to the alleviation of poverty in the developing nations.

The study points out:

According to our analysis, more than 60% of aid flows are ‘phantom’; that is they do not represent a real resource transfer to the recipient. For the worst performing G7 donors, the figure is as high as 89%. Real aid stood at only US $27 billion, or 0.1% of donor national income in 2003, with G7 donors at an average of only 0.07%.

As the quote indicates, the G7 nations not only failed to provide 0.7 of the UN-targeted development assistance but also deceived developing nations with promises of aid when in reality more than 60% as phantom not real aid. The report criticizes the US for:

"Eighty-six cents in every dollar of American aid is phantom aid, largely because it is so heavily tied to the purchase of US goods and services, and because it is so badly targeted at poor countries." The report continues, "Italy and the USA are among the biggest culprits of tying, spending upwards of 70% of aid on domestic firms and organisations [sic]."

To understand, why the US ties development aid to the purchase of American goods and services, a short historical review is needed.

In the wake of Cold War, the US realized that the Soviet Union could not attack the West directly, but could dominate the world by influencing newly independent countries. In light of the achievement of the Marshall Plan geared for the recovery of Europe, the United States extended development assistance beyond the Europe. Since the aim of the United States was containing Soviet Union’s influence in the Third world, development assistance appeared to be a useful foreign policy tool extending the US sphere of influence in the newly independent countries of the Third World. The US government created several enterprises aimed at fostering developing assistance worldwide. However, in 1954 the Mutual Security Act was enacted as the hallmark of what would be known as development assistance.

"The Mutual Security Act of 1954 introduced the concepts of development assistance, security assistance, a discretionary contingency fund, and guarantees for private investments."

This was followed by the Foreign Assistance Act, enacted by the US congress in 1961, giving birth to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It is through this mechanism the US has fostered development assistance to the less developed countries. However, when the USAID was formed in 1961, the Buy American Act of 1933 was incorporated to make sure that goods and services are American. In fact,

data from USAID’s Buy American Report, the best available assessment, indicates that over the last decade between 70 and 80 percent of funding appropriations were directed to U.S. sources. In gross terms, the Business Alliance for International Economic Development estimated in 1996 that foreign aid sustained 200,000 U.S. domestic jobs.

Moreover, former USAID Director Brian Atwood stated the following to the US Senate Subcommittee in 1995:

"Foreign assistance is far from charity. It is an investment in American jobs, American business."

So, there are fundamental legal clauses incorporated into the legislation that created the USAID as a vehicle to market American goods and services.

Since the end of the Cold War, US lawmakers have criticized expenditures on USAID. In the 1990s, when the Clinton Administration attempted to streamline government through privatization, USAID was also affected. In fact,

USAID became largely a contracting organization. USAID closed 24 missions between 1993 and 1997 and reduced its fulltime professional staff from 11,150 to 7,609. With an eye to its own survival, USAID supplanted its national security constituency with an influential interest group of commercial supporters. Prohibited from lobbying for funds in Congress itself, USAID now actively beseeches its "partners", as it calls its contractors, to push for greater funding through what, for lack of a better term, we may call the K Street consultants’ money-go-round.

This compelled USAID to work for its survival by having permanent large US organizations, function as contractors. These arrangement benefits USAID since these contractors are also lobbyists who secure funding from congress.

Ruben Berrios (2000) in his analysis "Contracting for Development" stated that USAID resorted to awarding contracts to large for-profit organizations, most of which are located in the Washington DC area, demonstrating a geographic bias in the USAID procurement process.

The involvement of contractors in the USAID and the interdependence between the agency and its "partners" becomes evident in the following observation:

Adding to this "insider" culture, USAID employees tend to trade jobs between the Agency and its contractors with great frequency. The Research Triangle Institute, Chemonics and the Academy for Education Development are but three of the many contractors that actively court USAID employees.

Therefore, the intimate relationship between the USAID and its contractors undermines local work force and institutions in nation receiving funds.

In light of the New World Order and the "War On Terror", USAID has gained more vigor in many ways similar to what it used to have during the Cold War. In a hearing in the US Senate, former USAID Director Natsios introduced the Global Development Alliance (GDA) as a new business model to render development assistance:

We need to fundamentally change the way we do business, because the provision of foreign assistance has changed drastically. The globalization of the world economy has meant that governments, while still essential, are not the only institutions through which public services are provided. The role of religious institutions, non-governmental organizations, private foundations, universities, corporations, and even individuals in providing services and accomplishing public objectives has dramatically increased. The Global Development Alliance (GDA) is USAID’s business model for the 21st Century. We propose to serve as a catalyst to mobilize the ideas, efforts, and resources of the public sector, corporate America, the higher education community and non-governmental organizations in support of shared objectives.

The US and other Western governments pursued development aid as their tool of foreign policy without taking into account the needs of Afghan people and the position of the Afghan government. The practices of the donor nations not only undermined the government’s legitimacy by bypassing its authority, but they also did little to improve the future of the Afghan people, who are still wondering where the money went.

The problem with the US-led reconstruction aid has been two folds, counter-narcotics and antiterrorism campaigns and distribution of aid is done outside the mechanism of the Afghan government.

First, it advanced US foreign policy goals. Two basic policy goals have been pursued. They were counter narcotics and anti-terrorism campaigns because the US-led coalition viewed security in militaristic terms only. The pursuit to eradicate poppy cultivation went hand in hand with the anti-insurgency operations. In both cases, they undermined the stability of Afghan society by contributing to poverty and perpetual underdevelopment.

The counter-narcotics measure or war on drugs has not only failed in the US but also in South America and Asia. However, since the collapse of Taliban was partly facilitated by the assistance of former drug barons, naturally those drug dealers resorted to their old ways. Drought, lack of humanitarian assistance and failure to provide alternatives crops has led farmers to cultivate poppies so they can survive. The UK and US pursued the war on drugs undermining without considering poor farmers’ sustenance. Instead of addressing the basic needs of the Afghan people, the international community resorted to its own short sighted policy goals. How could they now eradicate opium when their allies during the invasion in 2001 were drug dealers and other organized criminals? Perhaps, the rhetoric was for publicity purposes and the constituency at home. Tony Blair was lying blatantly when he said that the coalition forces would destroy Taliban-controlled poppy fields. However, Blair has conveniently forgotten that the Bush administration had awarded the Taliban regime $43 million in 2001 for eradicating opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan.

If the invaders–Americans and British– had met the basic needs of the Afghan people, stability would have been more likely than the current state of affairs. The recent report by the Senlis Council on Afghanistan also criticizes the counter narcotics approach employed by the US and UK in Afghanistan:

Aggressive militaristic interventions like forced eradication without immediately viable alternative livelihoods reinforce the extreme poverty of rural communities and destroy the livelihoods of Afghan farmers and their families. Public frustration with ongoing poverty is deteriorating relations between the Afghan people, the Afghan Government and the international community.

The report continues:

In several of Afghanistan’s provinces, the Taliban is now providing governmental services such as justice and economic security. It provides physical security through fighting the eradication forces that come to destroy farmers’ livelihoods and in doing so is far more effective at winning ‘hearts and minds’ than the international troops.

The report highlights the failure of the US-UK governments particularly prioritizing counter narcotics over survival of the population and it backfired:

Given Afghanistan’s myriad poverty-related challenges, the prioritisation [sic] of counter-narcotics above the survival of Afghans is unfathomable to Afghanistan’s rural communities, and has undermined many of the international community’s more positive efforts.

The result of this approach has been hunger and starvation. To the common people in Afghan villages, the only issue that matters is survival, to feed their children and buy medicine for their ill children. Instead, their children remain hungry, and die from curable diseases. They do not care about icons of democracy, institutions and Western ideals. They measure success in the number of children surviving their fifth birthday and whether the elders live to see their 45th birthday. The consequence of such irresponsible and miscalculated policy goals result in angering common people, thereby, furthering instability in the country, as the Senlis Council’s report attests to:

Hunger and dehydration have turned into anger and desperation, as demoralised [sic] Afghans are forced to leave their villages in search of better living conditions. Those who cannot afford to leave –” most of whom are farmers –” believe that the war in Afghanistan is due to poppy eradication, particularly in the south. There, the majority of farmers have no income after seeing their livelihoods destroyed, and are forced to turn to the Taliban for protection. Without poppy cultivation –” the majority of farmers’ survival strategy –” they are unable to send their children to school, pay for medicines or afford fuel and electricity.

It continues:

Yet, the local and international development community’s abilities to respond to Afghanistan’s many poverty-related challenges have been undermined by the United States’ and United Kingdom’s misguided focus on counter-narcotics eradication policies. As such, these two self-appointed lead nations on terrorism and counternarcotics are jointly responsible for southern Afghanistan’s current hunger crisis.

By the same token, the pursuit of the War on Terror on a military front has further alienated the Afghan people and revealed the US invasion for what it really is: a campaign to ensure US security and global geo-strategic hegemony.

Where the most effective, long lasting effects would be the eradication of conditions that foster extremism, military operations have been chosen over poverty eradication and development, a fact also concurred by the report of the Senlis Council:

While the international community has financed international military coalition operations in Afghanistan to the tune of more than 9 times of what is spent on poverty relief, the southern half of the country is gripped by a growing insurgency and a growing hunger crisis. The international community is failing to live up to its promise to help rebuild Afghanistan. Afghans clearly perceive the growing gap in international expenditure for military purposes and expenditure for poverty alleviation purposes. The priorities of external funding openly show that the international community has adopted its own priorities for its actions in Afghanistan informed by narrowly defined ‘homeland security’ objectives. As a result, disillusionment and a widespread feeling of betrayal are intensifying among Afghans.

Moreover, the maltreatment of individuals detained by the US-led coalition has further angered Afghans. Some of the horror stories of abuse committed by the US military circulated throughout Afghanistan and have contributed to the perception of the population that the US forces are evil.

Ongoing military operations have contributed to mass displacement of population in Southern and Southwestern Afghanistan. Villagers displaced by vicious military campaigns have created rudimentary refugee camps where hundreds of children and elderly die on daily basis. Furthermore, the continued loss of life caused by these military campaigns exacerbates the situation. Once families have been terrorized by military forces and sustained losses, they abandon their villages only to be terrorized by abject poverty, hopelessness and disease. The hopelessness and sheer terror of poverty and disease is illustrated by the following quote from a villager in Kandahar:

"Democracy is important according to your culture but according to our culture feeding our children is more important."

The second problem with the US-led reconstruction has been the flawed method of aid distribution. The distribution of aid through alternative mechanisms–”Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies–and the imposition of restrictions on development aid, the USAID undermined the legitimacy of the Afghan government to its population, which added to the total failure of this concoction called reconstruction.

The Afghan government would have been the most cost-effective way to pursue development projects. Instead, 3 quarter of the development aid is channeled through NGOs, consulting firms and UN agencies. This fact is reported in the recent World Bank report quoting World Bank Economist William Byrd, who co-authored the report:

"Roughly three quarters of total aid to Afghanistan goes outside government channels."

It continues:

Our report emphasizes that this is a very serious problem for aid management, aid effectiveness and achieving results for the Afghan people. Aid going outside government channels sometimes can be delivered quickly, but is often at a very high cost and does not help the government build its capacity to oversee the delivery of services itself.

This failure is partly related to the conditions attached to foreign aid as the report of Actionaid International points out:

Donor reluctance to be held downwardly accountable to poor countries contrasts with donor enthusiasm for holding recipient governments to account through aid conditions. Donors use conditionality in a number of ways: as a financial accountability device, a commitment device, and as a way of inducing policy change. But the underlying concern that leads to conditionality is always the same: donors lack confidence in either the commitment or the capacity of the recipient.

This undermines the legitimacy of the Afghan government, a fact also reiterated by the World Bank Country Director Alastair McKechnie:

"Furthermore, the credibility of the government is increased as it demonstrates its ability to oversee services and become accountable for results to its people and the newly elected parliament."

The Director continued,

"In Afghanistan the wastage of aid is sky-high; there is real looting going on, mainly by private enterprises. It is a scandal…In 30 years of my career I have never seen anything like it."

McKechnie’s statement is not surprising since 47% of the US development budget is wasted on over priced and lavish technical assistance. That is why Afghan Ministries are flooded with overpriced experts, expatriates, USAID- funded organizations and consulting firms. This business model of micro management leads countries like Afghanistan to lack confidence in the "aid" that they are receiving:

As conditionality has escalated and structural reforms have become more complex, donors have also sought to micromanage many of the day-to-day functions of government by specifying the detailed steps countries must take to improve policy, and by using Technical Assistance to place donor-funded staff, many of them expatriates, in key government positions where they can implement and monitor change.

The Afghan Ministry of Finance has to wait for "approval" from international donors to determine the appropriate venue of spending. Due to the intrusive nature of the donor institutions, the Afghan Finance Ministry is unable to raise the salary for Afghan civil servants. The ministry proposed increases in salary for government employees to enable them to sustain themselves in light of the massive cost of living increases. Unfortunately, the IMF rejected the proposal, thereby facilitating the continued cycle of poverty and corruption. Only recently has there been agreement from the World Bank on the increase of salary for civil servants. This type of intrusive approach undermines local perception of need imposed by what the donor considers to be the appropriate avenue. This fact is also highlighted by the report of Actionaid International:

Policy conditions take the initiative away from countries and often lead to donor preferences being implemented at the expense of more locally appropriate policy. This happens both because local people are widely excluded from the policy making process, and because of the lack of flexibility in the model pushed by donors.

The intimate relationship of large for-profit organizations and the USAID result in the allocation of reconstruction contracts to companies, most of which are politically connected. Journalist and photographer Ann Jones describes the cozy relationship between the USAID and contractors:

Sometimes it invites only one contractor to apply, the same efficient procedure that made Halliburton so notorious and profitable in Iraq. In many fields it "pre-selects vendors" by accepting bids every five years or so on an IQC – that’s an "Indefinite Quantities Contract". Contractors submit indefinite information about what they might be prepared to do in unspecified areas, should some more definite contract materialize; the winners become designated contractors who are invited to apply when the real thing comes along. USAID generates the real thing in the form of an RFP, a Request for Proposals, issued to the "pre-selected vendors" who then compete (or collaborate) to do – in yet another country – work dreamed up in Washington by theoreticians unencumbered by first-hand knowledge of the hapless "target".

One example of how US contractors operate is The Louis Berger Group, which was notified by USAID in September 2002 that it had been awarded a contract to rebuild the highway between Kabul and Kandahar, a two-lane truck line extending 241 miles. For the Bush Administration, a visible symbol of reconstruction was needed. The company, Louis Berger Group, had to expedite the job:

Besides the fact that the United States military needed a primary road to shuttle troops and supplies from one region to another, the completion of this highway had political significance in both Afghanistan and the United States. The Afghan presidential elections were to be held in October 2004, and United States President George W. Bush was in a close race for reelection to be decided less than a month later. Both campaigns could use the good press.

In order to expedite the completion of the highway, The Louis Berger Group changed the design for the highway. Initially the road was supposed to be 14 inches thick but to save time and speed up completion of the highway, a chemical called Integrabase was used which reduced the road’s thickness to 8 inches. The company that manufactures Integrabase boasts about the effectiveness of its product in a case study:

IntegraBase is the only modifier which so dramatically increases the structural capacity of asphaltic materials that it is possible to reduce the thickness of the base course and lower initial construction costs. IntegraBase enabled Louis Berger to reduce the thickness of the base course from 14-inches to 8-inches – while increasing the overall strength, durability and performance of the road. IntegraBase’s dramatic increase in the resilient modulus of the base course also enabled Louis Berger to completely eliminate a planned 12-inch sub-base.

Well, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. The road should have withstood the heat of summer and ice of winter, but it failed in the first winter as cracks had appeared all over the surface. The failure of this project is also reported by the CorpWatch, which evaluated the road as well as the material used:

Critics, however, say that quality was sacrificed for speed in the name of political expedience and profit. Some claim the highway is not thick enough to withstand the harsh weather conditions, including icy winters and 120-plus degree heat in summer months; indeed, the highway surface suffered deep cracks during the first winter. It lacks a median to prevent head-on collisions. Sources involved who asked not to be identified have said that Berger engineers were aware that the substances tested in its labs for the road were inadequate to handle expected traffic flow, but still used the material.

Another example of how reconstruction funds have been abused by international contractors is the Dasht-e-Barchi road. Six months ago, President Karzai announced that the road in the Dasht-e-Barchi area would be repaired and rebuilt. The funding allocated for this project was $10,000000. This amount is an outrage. Ten million dollars could repair all the roads in the capital, Kabul if only the function is taken over by the Ministry of Public Works. However, since funds are allocated to the donors’ domestic firms, the cost of rebuilding remains high and the basic necessities of local communities are ignored.

Similar reports about schools being rebuilt or rehabilitated with the assistance of funds from the USAID but in reality the money has been swindled and wasted, as the following quote indicates:

The American government’s development arm USAID, boasts of the number of girls’ schools it has built. I asked to see one in Kabul, and was shocked by the state of it. A plaque on the wall boasts of this as a gift from the American people, but the Lycae Mariam is nothing to be proud of. Teachers there say the Americans did little more than add a coat of paint on the one standing building, and replace the roof of makeshift huts. The new roofs are already leaking, and in the courtyard hundreds of girls are still being taught in tents. The school looked like an emergency had just hit.

Billions of dollars injected into the Afghan economy have disappeared without producing anything tangible. For example, of the initial $4.5 billion announced at the Tokyo donor conference in 2002, a significant portion was spent on humanitarian projects. These projects could not be part of reconstruction because it was required to have sustainability as an integral part of the strategic planning. The allocation of funds to NGO and UN agencies created a parallel government side by side with the Afghan government:

Although $1.8bn was due to be spent on reconstruction in this first year, bureaucracy, particularly at the UN, and the cost of emergency humanitarian aid have swallowed most of the money. There are still huge areas of the country where people are on the brink of starvation and aid workers have warned that the situation is likely to get even worse as winter approaches in the weeks ahead. A four-year drought is also consuming more of the money than was expected, leaving only $100m this year for reconstruction. The average cost of maintaining a foreign UN employee in Afghanistan for a year is around $250,000. Add to that the soaring cost of house rentals, which means some UN agencies are paying $15,000 a month for their Kabul offices, and it is little wonder funds are running out.

Unfortunately, billions of dollars have been wasted without truly rebuilding:

During 2002-5, the U.S. spent about $1.3 billion — or some 38 percent of the total $3.6 billion pledged by the international donor community after 2001 — on Afghan reconstruction (as compared to $30 billion in Iraq), that is, a little over $250 million per year, a paltry amount. Moreover, the Bush administration has reconstruction aid to Afghanistan from $1 billion in 2005 to $623 million in 2006. Afghans are widely slashed reported to being increasingly disenchanted with the U.S.-led reconstruction program. Projects languish unfinished, and project quality leaves much to be desired. For example the U.S.A.I.D. in 2004 budgeted to build or renovate 289 schools, but U.S. contractors built only eight and refurbished 77, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). Likewise, the U.S.A.I.D. budgeted to build or rehabilitate 253 health clinics in Afghanistan; eight were built and none were rehabilitated. The GAO pointed to poor contractor performance (and security problems, inconsistent financing, staff shortages, lack of oversight). Other reports echo the concern over the poor quality of work undertaken. For example, in a village close to the U.S. occupation forces’ main base at Bagram, a mud-brick school built in 2003 compliments of American taxpayers is now in utter disrepair — its walls crumbling and its roof pitted by termites chewing into untreated wooden beams. Moreover, the project costs of official U.S.-sponsored projects are often much higher than by a private NGO. For example, CARE International built 40 schools in 2004, which in most cases cost $10,000 – $20,000 less than U.S-sponsored projects.

Moreover, the influx of foreign NGOs and consulting firms in Kabul increased demand for housing. Hence, the price for a modest house near Kabul increased from $50 to $1500 while rent for houses in the affluent Kabul neighborhoods rose from $300 monthly up to $15,000 a month. Those connected to the reconstruction became rich and could afford housing while the average government employee still earns only $30-$50 per month.

Since the 2/3 two third of the international aid was being dispersed to NGOs and UN organizations, this influx of free money created a boom in the emergence of more than 2000 NGOs. As the NGOs and UN organizations wasted billions of dollars, and their self-enrichment continued, they refused to be held accountable. This compelled Afghan Planning Minister Dr Ramazan Bashardost to resign his position on December 13, 2004. Prior to his resignation, Dr Bashardost was planning to hold these NGOs accountable and dissolve those that are ineffective. However, President Karzai stopped him:

Planning Minister Bachardoust wanted to know how the NGOs were actually spending the money allocated to them — how much for the rents and salaries, for their cars and how much they were actually using for their projects. He demanded that the organizations open their books to the government, but few were prepared to do so. Only 437 out of a total of 2,355 organizations obliged his request. Then Bachardoust threatened, somewhat overzealously, to close their offices in December. President Hamid Karzai stopped him."

The irresponsible behavior of Karzai compelled planning minister Dr Bashardost to submit his resignation.

The waste of billions of dollars by the NGOs angered many Afghans; however, the former planning minister was in a position to label this financial waste by the NGOs as a Mafia System when talking to the Reuters news service:

Government members, the NGOs, the big embassy staff, the United Nations staff … they made a mafia system and you can see the result," Bashardost continued: "I am against the mafia system,"

Before his departure from the Ministry of Planning, Bashardost accused the large number of NGOs of corruption and embezzlement:

"Bashardost has accused 1,935 national and international NGOs active in the post-war Afghanistan of involvement in corruption and embezzlement and urged the government to dissolve them."

Bashardost’s disenchantment with the NGO was not only justified but rather commendable, because he was the only member of Karzai’s cabinet with the concern for Afghanistan but not his own self-enrichment. He said the following in regards to the NGOs in the country:

I have yet to see an NGO that has spent 80 per cent of its money for the benefit of the Afghans and 20 per cent for their own benefit." He went on: "International NGOs get big amounts of money from their own nations just by showing them sensitive pictures and videos of Afghan people, … but [NGOs] spend all the money on themselves, and we are unable to find out how much money they originally received in charitable funds.

Dr Bashardost continued raising his voice and the international media continued reporting:

The former minister stated that out of $4.5 billion pledged to Afghanistan by international donors at the Tokyo conference in 2003, about a third has been allocated to international NGOs and a further third to the United Nations. But while the NGOs and UN get the bulk of the money, it’s the democratically-elected government, which gets only a third itself, that will be held accountable by the Afghan people for the success or failure of the reconstruction effort.

The National Business Review of New Zealand reported similar failures,

According to government figures released last week, only 23 per cent of several billion dollars sent for international assistance is directly administered by the Afghan government, with the balance in the hands of humanitarian aid agencies or private contractors. That cash tap has seen the number of NGOs in the country balloon from a few hundred three years ago to about 2,400, according to the World Bank. And yet there has been precious little bang for all those bucks, leading to widespread belief that the NGOs are spending too much for too little — and engaging in corrupt practices along the way.

This system of aid disbursement did not produce anything tangible that would translate into employment and improvement in the lives of common people. Most male adults rely on labor jobs in the construction industry. Although construction of expensive homes and shopping centers has been initiated, most of the construction companies are foreign and tend to import their own construction workers. The disbursement of billions of dollars through NGOs and consulting firms excluded the Afghan government from initiating any major public work project, which would have reduced unemployment, a plague for the Afghan economy.

Now the question that is asked often is what happened to the billions of dollars? The short answer is that the money went back to the US and other countries that supplied the consulting firms and NGOs. Unfortunately, it is a circular process whereby money donated ends up back where it began. For example the German Newspaper, Der Speigel reported the following that sums up the loss of money and lack of productive outcome:

The international community has sought to deliver quick success in rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan. But the country has become an El Dorado for international consultants and professional aid workers who ply the streets in Land Cruisers. Their methods have also fostered an atmosphere of corruption and sloppiness that has left many Afghans feeling disappointed and cheated. Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest countries, with annual per-capita income of just $200. Foreigners here, though, earn far better: Hundreds of consulting firms are competing for huge projects, and the number of active consultants here is estimated to be at least 3,000. ‘Suddenly there were more consultants than flies and dogs in this city,’ says an employee of the US embassy, who has worked in Kabul for two years. One German diplomat here estimates that at least a quarter of US relief aid is spent on foreign experts alone.

The "reconstruction" has been a milking cow for many consulting firms, NGOs and UN agencies. They acquire contracts and become rich while those in need of services –” the Afghan people –” see nothing but an army of foreigners with expensive cars and secluded villas:

…in a brick villa in Wazir Akbar Khan, is Emerging Market’s main competitor, BearingPoint. The global consulting firm’s Afghanistan budget alone is over $100 million. The company’s chief executive here, Ed Elrahal, has succeeded in placing 70 of his company’s consultants in the government. Yet even after three years of ongoing consultations through an army of experts, the country still has few functioning ministries or even a sufficient number of Afghans capable of establishing them.

A fraction of the $100 million would have sufficed if it had been given to local Afghan experts. The result would have been tangible productivity and improved living standards. Had development and reconstruction been the real goal, the mode of disbursement of funds and their application would have been different. Unfortunately, foreign aid is deception, a dangling carrot that does not materialize into anything tangible.

A prominent Afghan politician Dr Ashraf Ghani, who serves as Chancellor of Kabul University and Finance Minister 2002-2004, had a very bleak assessment of the so-called reconstruction:

Mr Ghani believes the Afghan government could build a school for about $40,000 (£23,000), a fraction of the $250,000 cost racked up when one international aid agency took on the task of delivering 500 schools. The difference would arise because the Afghan government would use locally hired contractors, while the aid agency spent 80% of its funds on hiring external technical assistants, he explains. Another case of money being wasted was the reconstruction of the road between Kandahar and the capital Kabul, which the government estimated would cost $35m. It was eventually built by USAID and ended up costing more than $190m, Mr Ghani says. Moreover, these are not isolated cases, Mr Ghani insists, as he estimates that more than 90% of the more than $1bn that was spent on about 400 UN projects in Afghanistan in 2002 was a waste of money.

As to the waste of the UN and NGO communities, Dr Ghani said the following:

With more than 2,400 national and international aid agencies and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) registered in the country, the government is finding it hard to hold on to its staff, Mr Ghani says. The country’s 280,000 civil servants earn an average wage of $50 per month, while approximately 50,000 Afghans work for aid organisations where support staff earn up to $1000 a month.

So how much have Afghans benefited from the US imposed democracy and reconstruction?

The short answer is not much.

Six years after the US invasion and false promises of reconstruction, the living conditions of Afghans are worsening with each passing day. The gap between the very few rich and the rest of the population living in abject poverty is widening. Government employees have no incentives to work because they are paid on average $40 per month. I spoke to a medical technologist with 34 years of experience who was receiving roughly $40 a month. I asked him how does he can make ends meet. He replied, "If it were not for my son’s working and owning my house, I would be homeless and Allah knows I would be dead." I asked, "Do you feel comfortable going to work six days a week?" He started laughing, "I am not crazy to be wasting my time and my life. I go to work only two days a week and some times three days a week."

People are hungry and starve to death. Children are dying from curable diseases while the US and its allies spend massive amount of money on military operations. The Senlis Council concluded that:

The prioritisation [sic] of Western domestic security needs in Afghanistan means that Afghans are now paying with their lives. The success of the initial invasion in 2001 has not been followed by real changes in the everyday lives of Afghans.

It continues,

Failing counter-narcotics policies driven by the international community intent on pushing its War on Drugs in Afghanistan are inflaming poverty and worsening the security crisis in the country. Farmers incensed at having their livelihoods destroyed by international forces fail to see the benefits of the international community in their country. Eradication policies generate local hostility and suspicion towards the designs of the international community in Afghanistan.

And,

For many Afghans, the results of the international community’s nation-building efforts in Afghanistan are largely symbolic and are more in line with the ‘homeland security’ objectives of the foreign forces rather than the real needs of Afghans.

Another question is has life improved for common Afghans who live far away from the symbols of democracy? No, it has not. Based on my own observations, life has become more difficult in many ways. In Kabul, where the fruits of democracy and reconstruction are supposedly evident, the maternity hospitals lacked disposable gloves. Children roam around the streets for hours on begging to raise enough money to buy some bread. The Senlis Council reached an equally bleak conclusion:

… The Afghan population is still devastated by relentless poverty. Afghanistan is one of the few places in the world where polio not only still exists, but the incidence of the disease is increasing. One in four children born in Afghanistan cannot expect to live to the age of 5.

It continues:

Close to 50% of Afghanistan’s population of approximately 29 million people44 cannot expect to reach the age of 40, and nearly 100 percent of the population can not expect to live beyond the age of 45, one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, and 20 years lower than in all of Afghanistan’s neighbours45 [sic]. Further,

Afghanistan is one of the few places in the world where the life expectancy for females, at 44, is less than that for males.

Children who survive disease and malnutrition face a bleak future with absolutely no hope of improvement. This is true at least for nearly 50% of population because it is under the age of 15:

Nearly half of Afghanistan’s population is under the age of 15, meaning that they have spent most of their lives in a conflict environment with potentially grave long term ramifications. Surviving to the age of 15 in Afghanistan is a remarkable achievement in a country where 1 in 4 Afghan children do not survive to the age of 5 and less than 40% of Afghan children receive life-saving vaccinations. Of those children who do survive to the age of 5, half of them will have spent most of their lives hungry, undernourished and underweight.

Moreover, large portion of the population is malnourished and has limited access to clean drinking water:

More than 70% of the population is chronically malnourished, while less than a quarter of the population has access to safe drinking water. The extremely limited electricity supply is accessible by only 10% of the people.

The situation is worse for women, especially in mortality related to childbirth. The main reason for this is lack of sufficient healthcare infrastructure and investment in healthcare. The international community is more concerned with fighting narcotics than investing in healthcare. That is why, the average yearly international donor fund for counter narcotics, far outweighs investment in healthcare. On average $491 million are allocated to the war on drugs while only $87 million are earmarked for healthcare-related issues. Moreover, the $87 million fund is usually disbursed through NGOs and other external organizations bypassing Afghan healthcare infrastructure. Consequently, maternal mortality is the highest, as UNICEF surveyed:

Maternal mortality is among the leading causes of death in Afghanistan. A recent study undertaken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, surveyed four provinces where the average maternal mortality rate was 1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births.

Incidentally, the maternal mortality rate is highest in Badakhshan in Northeastern Afghanistan:

In Badakhshan, for every 100,000 babies born, 6,500 women will lose their lives. Healthcare workers maintain this crisis has as much to do with the low social and nutritional status of its victims as it does with the remote and rugged terrain. In Afghanistan as whole, a woman dies of pregnancy-related causes every 27 minutes of every day. In Badakhshan, a woman faces almost 600 times the risk of dying in childbirth than do her counterparts living in North America. Of the thousands of infants left motherless, 75 per cent will perish either during, or soon after, delivery.

Dismal healthcare facilities and lack of trained doctors and nurses contribute to this horrific problem:

According to the Afghanistan Ministry of Health, there is one hospital in Faizabad and 30 clinics spread throughout the rest of the province. In Argo, where there is a population of 100,000, there is only one doctor permanently living in the area.

Public Health Minister Dr Fatimi referred to the high rate of maternal mortality as a silent tsunami in Afghanistan:

"Fifty to 70 mothers die every day from birth complications, which is a silent tsunami for Afghanistan,"

The number of doctors compared to the number of soldiers from the US-led coalition illustrates the failure of reconstruction and "democracy" in Afghanistan:

According to the 2006 WHO, World Health Report, there are 4,104 physicians in Afghanistan, which means that there is approximately 1 physician per 7,066 Afghans. This is in stark contrast to the international military presence in Afghanistan, where there are approximately more than 23,000 Operation Enduring Freedom and around more than 16,000 NATO-ISAF troops, which translates into one soldier per 742 Afghans.

The expenditure on poverty reduction and rebuilding could not be compared to the colossal military expenditure of the US and ISAF forces:

While approximately US $66 of international aid is delivered to one Afghan per year, the annual cost of one international troop in Afghanistan amounts to approximately US $270,000. The disparity between international military expenditures and development aid flows to this devastated country is staggering: US-led international forces spend at least US $12 billion per year in military operations in Afghanistan, while NATO-ISAF spends approximately US $3 billion per year.

The gap between the promised funds and those delivered is another source of failure that further undermined the Afghan government. Clearly, the international community’s priority is not rebuilding Afghanistan. The funds that were promised in each of the donor conferences failed to live up to the actual amount received, leaving reconstruction to be nothing more than a hollow dream:

The billions of dollars pledged at the Tokyo Conference in 2002 was followed by promises of additional billions at subsequent donor conferences in Berlin (April 2004) and Kabul (April 2005). However, only half of the amounts that were pledged have actually been dispersed. Notwithstanding, a further US $6 billion was pledged at the London Conference in January 2006.

Since 75% of the aid is disbursed and delivered through international agencies, the Afghan government retains only a symbolic value to the people. The international donors are responsible to their own citizens, not the Afghan people.

A viable government requires legitimacy. The Afghan government’s legitimacy is threatened by this mode of "development," Dr Ghani’s made clear in an interview with the BBC:

"Within six months of starting my job as finance minister, my best people had been stolen by international aid organisations [sic] who could offer them forty to a hundred times the salary we could."

Essentially, the claim of reconstruction is a lie since it has not materialized as promised to the Afghan people:

"Eighty-six cents in every dollar of American aid is phantom aid, largely because it is so heavily tied to the purchase of US goods and services, and because it is so badly targeted at poor countries."

When 86 cents of every dollar of the American aid becomes phantom aid, how could this possibly contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan?

Another problem is Americanization of the system, namely the wholesale firing of Afghan professionals with decades of experience under the pretext of making hospitals and offices efficient. The truth is that the US wants to implement its model of capitalism in Afghanistan, even if no one has food to eat or money to pay for healthcare. The shortage of physicians and health technicians is ignored in the name of the so-called free market. There are no private companies to hire these professionals with decades of experience. It would have been nice if other opportunities existed, but there are none.

Corruption also plays a significant role in the failure to invest in productive infrastructure. The magnitude of bribery and sheer robbery by public officials is so bad that they refuse to accept local currency but rather demand dollars. In fact, according to an Afghan government commission, the amount of bribes paid in Afghanistan ranges from 20 Afghani to 15,000000 dollars. In a country where an experience medical technologist is paid $40 a month, the millions of dollars paid in bribe point to the magnitude of profit connected individuals and company can expect to secure.

One reason for unemployment in Afghan cities is the eagerness of corrupt officials to make money rather than to worry about the welfare of people. If someone wants to be appoint mayor of a town or a city, that person has to pay $40,000 in bribes since he would be making more than $400,000 selling government land to the highest bidder. The magnitude of corruption is not limited only to the provinces. Officials in the central government in Kabul are equally complicit in massive corruption and inefficiency.

Unfortunately, the harsh truth is that there is not a lot of hope for the future of Afghanistan. Billions of dollars in development aid did not benefit ordinary Afghans. Abject poverty is the rule of the day. Orphans and widows roam the streets to make a living, as the photos in the following pages would reveal.

The NGOs and foreign advisors enjoy life to the fullest. They are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, enjoy luxury vehicles and houses, while ordinary Afghans die from homelessness, hunger and disease. Billions of dollars donated went into the pockets of NGOs and individuals, while the poor remain poor.

Children As Victims

The kidnapping of children is an abomination that has risen exponentially after the US invasion. This dreadful crime takes several forms. They include kidnapping for ransom, bodily organs, and human trafficking for sexual purposes. The first type is almost identical to the kidnapping of adults, however, the trauma experienced by both the child and parents seem to be more severe as the criminals resort to truly gruesome ways of extracting their ransom. This is committed either by a crude group of criminals as well as organized criminal syndicate.

As recent as 2005, the UN publication IRIN reported:

Government officials and human rights activists have been alarmed at the increasing number of child kidnappings in the southern Kandahar province after several kidnapped children were allegedly killed when their parents failed to meet ransom demands.

It continued:

According to local media reports in Kandahar, one child is kidnapped per week in the region on average. There are fears that the actual number of kidnappings is higher, as many parents do not report the disappearance of their children, fearing reprisals.

As to the heinousness of the criminals, the IRIN reported the following from a protester in Kandahar:

Protesters IRIN interviewed were angry no measures had been taken against child abductions in the Kandahar region. ‘They kidnap our children and send us their body parts and we are just watching it,’ an unidentified protester told IRIN. He said the kidnappers demanded large amounts of money and sent the chopped fingers of a kidnapped child to show they were serious. ‘No child has so far been returned,’ he noted.

According to Paktribune:

"Children in Afghanistan are being kidnapped–from off the streets and even from out of their homes."

The Tribune recounted the experience of horrified father who had received the finger of his kidnapped son with note attached to it stating, "Next time it will be his head." Eventually, this father borrowed money from many people and pai

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