- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

News reports that the Bush administration plans to boost U.S. aid to Afghanistan are a recognition that more needs to be done. Aid is needed at all levels in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul needs aid to help it regain the political momentum that has slipped away in the past year. Aid to the regional leaders shows them they have more to gain by supporting the United States and Kabul than allying with one of Afghanistan’s neighbors. Aid reaching the grassroots shows that Kabul can make life better without al Qaeda and its Taliban allies. Aid filtering down to the village level can help limit the resurgence of violence by supporters of these groups to Afghanistan’s volatile borders with Pakistan.

Judging any government program by the amount spent rather than the results achieved is dangerous. In Afghanistan, focusing on the bottom line is positively deadly. Aid misspent in Afghanistan can easily recreate the culture of dependency of the early 1990s that helped pave the way for the Taliban seizure of power. In the past, the U.S. has not matched its generosity in Afghanistan with judgment and evaluation. A new, fully-enabled ambassador in Kabul (reportedly to be Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad) and an expanded U.S. presence are the first steps in providing expertise and making things happen for the better.

The U.S. aid effort in Afghanistan is part of a multinational campaign that includes other donor countries, international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Many of the donors have failed to provide the resources they have pledged to Afghanistan. Washington must urge them to come forward now, rather than later. The U.S. also needs to set an example of making sure that aid money goes to benefit Afghanistan and its security, not boost donor-country industries, enrich the bureaucracies of international organizations, or position NGOs for further donations.

Too much of the aid for Afghanistan stays in the hands of outside institutions or their staff; too little reaches the Afghans in the villages. Last year, the United Nations was paying consultants a thousand dollars a day to serve in Mazar-e-Sharif, hardly a hardship post, with electricity, flush toilets, beds and women without burqas. Many NGOs invest in projects that look good to donors but are not what the Afghans need.

All these groups have their own political agendas, and those without local knowledge can often find their programs and policies hijacked to serve Afghan political aims of which they may be unaware. Such groups need to be called to account. The US should practice full disclosure in regards to its aid to Afghanistan. It should challenge other aid donors, international organizations, and NGOs to do the same. The U.S. should not hesitate to cry foul against those who are feathering their own nests or playing — usually badly — Afghan politics in the guise of aid programs. Aid to Afghanistan will not help that country if it goes to fund a horde of international aid “professionals.” The aim of any aid must be a peaceful and secure Afghanistan.

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