We failed the Afghan people

Afghanistan is now how it was always going to turn out to be. 
There was an adage floating around Afghanistan in my time there, ‘The Americans have the watches but the Taliban have the time.’
There is another adage of equal import; Rich people don’t go to war. 
Australia never really had a dog in the fight with the Taliban. For sure they are an objectionable cultural failure but we let equally objectionable cultures exist all around the world without taking umbrage where we are driven to commit billions of dollars and twenty-one lives. We did that because the only dog is that we were the lapdog to the United States in a period of its second-most failed President. 
Australia has failed the Afghan people. In 2001, Afghans were considered to be the most impoverished people in the world. Today, after almost three trillion dollars has been spent on fighting this two-decade-long war, Afghanistan is now 16 from the bottom, a GDP of $2095, up from $1200 twenty years ago. 
So what went wrong? A simple answer, those in charge had not the slightest idea how to effect change. 
Things were done for political impression rather than dissolving the country’s ailments. The people are as poor today as they were before all this started while the country had just evolved from thirty years of conflict fomented by the Russians and exacerbated by the Americans. 
Where we went wrong was that we promoted wealth for the middle class seeking a trickle-down economy rather than bringing the poorest levels out of poverty. Everything we did was to satisfy the rich and middle class, We built the infrastructure for them to ride on, fancy buildings for them to practice their ‘democracy’ without any sense that the more we did the more they would take. 
The Taliban are Afghans. They come from and live among the people. Not all are fundamentalist although all are Muslim, it is what binds them. They do what they do because there is little else to do that gives them the same power in a system that is both tribal and feudal.
In the first phase of working there, One of my engineers, a mild gentle man, told me about his role in the pre-invasion days, in the five year period when the Taliban ruled the country. His role was to assemble the loose brick walls that were used to execute women charged with adultery, simply by placing them on one side and backing a truck into the wall from the other.
I saw Ismael during the second period I was there and asked what he was doing working away from his home district. He explained, there was no work there and if he stayed, his only option was to join the Taliban or they would have persecuted him and his family.. 
What was needed was true economic development that fostered entrepreneurship rather than create an economic environment that survives on foreign aid. 
Afghanistan’s major industry is agriculture yet less than ten percent of the people own land and the rest survive as tenant farmers or labourers. The average farm labourer might earn $240 per month working from sunrise to sunup, seven days a week doing backbreaking work when the work is available and like the rest of the world, it is seasonal. 
A Taliban operative might earn $100 for two days work setting a roadside bomb. 
The economics of each define why and how the country has progressed.   
It is too late now to change the outcome and our departure at this stage is well served. Afghanistan has been enabled to become among the most corrupt nations on earth, ranked 177 out of 180 countries. 
We rewarded bad behavior instead of rewarding the good. We are now reaping the return on our investment. 

Steve Hutcheson is an engineer who spent three and half years in Afghanistan working largely with the United Nations as a program manager and finally with a US contractor. 

Coins and Aid Programs

Over the last two decades, as many will know, I have been engaged in working out the ways to get some hundreds of millions of dollars in funds distributed out to some fairly remote and difficult parts of the world such as flood affected Pakistan above, or conflict rife Kosovo or Afghanistan and more recently across thousands of miles of ocean in Micronesia. I have just been made aware of how this might change enormously for the better in the future.

Continue reading “Coins and Aid Programs”

Holiday in the Southern Hotspots

Well it is not really a holiday, except for the local staff whom have been given half a day off for the inauguration of President Obama leaving the rest of us to deal with a tranche of emails. In my case, I was up early and on a plane to the south of Afghanistan, to a small provincial capital known as Lashkar Gar in Helmand province.

Helmand has the dubious distinction of being the center of opium production in Afghanistan and also a popular hangout for a large contingent of the Taliban. My protectors advise me that they are within rocket firing distance to the south of our compound and routinely fire them into the PRT base of which we are in between these two forces. It was a cheery thought to welcome me as if the hundred or so security personal that were at the airport to greet the dozen or so of us that arrived this morning was not foreboding enough.

There was a little time left before the staff went to lunch and with the afternoon off I decided we might go to one of the nearby projects to see how it was going. It has been a thorn in our side since it is well behind schedule and one to the reasons I had come down here.

In order to go there however I needed to go in the company of a team of security personal so was obliged to wait a few minutes for them to rig up. No mean feat considering all the equipment they carry. Even I was obligated to don body armor which I suppose made sense considering all the other protection that being afforded me.

Before I could alight from the car on site, Mike the security chief and his team conducted a recon of the building site to ensure that it was safe.

The site itself was like a thousand others I have been on, 20 or so local building labourers mixing and pouring concrete into the foundations of what would become a new court house in Lashkar Gar. The contractor needed some prompting since he has fallen behind schedule. He is the grey bearded gentleman to the right in the following picture.

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Just beyond the fence behind me there was a lot of activity going on with several local police cars and policemen doing whatever policemen do in this town. Mike ( the Australian on the left of me) had indicated that the local intelligence was that there is a vehicle borne suicide bomber in town seeking out international targets. Again I felt a sort of cheery feeling in that my vacation day was being so well spent and the comfort of my own office and my own bed was a distant but desirable attraction.

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The group above are the detail that accompanied me to site. They seem very well trained and everything else aside, I felt less intimidated by their presence.

Driving to the site was an experience. The escort vehicles take control of the road, blocking it in order that the vehicle I was in could pass unheeded. Their vehicle was heavily fortified with steel inner doors.

The job I hear you ask. Well the contractor needs a little supervision and and we reached an agreement that he would double his workforce and add additional machinery, hopefully before I leave the day after tomorrow.

Tomorrow I will go to our other project here in Lash at the Governors office where we are doing a complete renovation.

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This was the contractor I had to convince he needed to do this job when I first arrive. By all accounts they are doing a great job and are receiving accolades from all concerned. I think I will be happy enough if it gets a little warmer and all I mean by that is if the sun comes out.