A lot of us could say we told you so but this gives little satisfaction. Many, not all, US troops in Afghanistan lack respect and consideration for Afghans who are routinely looked down upon. Afghans watch large coalition vehicles plough through the Kabul traffic with little regard for other road users. Vehicles are run off the road and hit with no possibility of compensation. Personally I have been hit by the wing mirror of a hummer as I walked on a side street. At the same time poverty and lack of jobs adds to the resentment. It is estimated that 7m Afghans are chronically hungry, that is over 25% of the population. 53% live on less than $1 (54p) a day. Poor unemployed male youth between 16 and 25 years in post conflict situations usually means trouble. Their anger can easily be directed by politicians and anti government groups.
In some countries people are very forgiving towards foreigners’ cultural mistakes. Afghans generally do not come into this category. They are very sensitive about foreign interference and influence on their culture. Foreigners are seen as bringing alcohol and prostitution. They have not brought it but certainly greatly increased its prevalence. This together with inflation is common in large UN missions. House prices have reached the level of large western cities with $2,000 a month is common for a house with three bedrooms. Afghans are priced out by these people who they know are supposed to be helping them. The international agencies are rightly concerned with the position of women in Afghan society and many men see this as a threat and complain bout cultural interference. Personally I believe child marriage; forced marriage, giving women to sort out disputes and violence against women is a human rights rather than a cultural issue. In many ways Afghanistan is more tribal than Islamic and often the two are confused.
Most know that $12b has been spent on Afghanistan in three years but see no change in their lives. The money is seen as squandered or stolen and this causes resentment towards the international community who through the UN and NGOs distribute the money through various projects. Theft is unlikely but waste and lack of accountability is common. Unfortunately for some in the UN completing a project and writing good reports is more important than the successful completion at a reasonable cost. For example one agency may decide on a project such as building a public building and contract it to another UN agency because they feel they are unable to do it themselves. That agency will then take about 8% as an admin fee and subcontract it to an NGO. If it is a $1m+ project this would be over $200,000. The NGO then may subcontract the project to local construction companies who will do the project for a fraction of the original cost and may not have the capacity to do the job. The result is a waste of money and a poor finished product. Afghans see this and are naturally angry. The UN falls back upon its procedure manual and says they did nothing wrong. Technically perhaps but not caring, not being accountable and just covering their backs does not sound too right although not uncommon in the UN. However, money given to the government directly is not likely to obtain better results. A large amount will end up in pockets and most government departments do not have the ability to administer the projects. This problem is repeated in every UN mission. Greater UN accountability and working with government counterparts sounds simple but is far from it.
Due to security regulations UN agencies and most international NGOs have to live in large guarded houses and be driven in land cursers. They do not have a choice. They can only go to a few international restaurants and can not walk on the street so are segregated from Afghans. Often the only Afghans they meet work with or for them. This lack of contact causes misconceptions and resentment.
A lot of mistakes have been made. The coalition forces ran around chasing Bin Laden instead of giving Afghans in ex Taliban areas tangible benefits from the new regime. Kicking down doors and dragging families into the street including women does not reduce the number of ‘anti government forces’.
The drug trade does not do anything for Afghanistan’s stability but it does give lots of people a sustainable income and prevent malnutrition and even starvation. Burning fields and not giving compensation does not make any friends. Farmers in the US are paid not to produce so why in Afghanistan while a viable alternative is being worked out. A few months earning a few dollars a day road building is not one of these. Afghans still remember the 1880 massacre of the British and talk of doing the same to their grandsons. I wonder how may British troops in the Helmand province actually know the history.
Finally if the US had spent more attention on supporting Afghanistan rather than engaging in an illegal war in Iraq then Afghanistan might be progressing.