Cross-posted also as a diary at Daily Kos

In preparing for my upcoming trip to Afghanistan, I’ve run across some disturbing figures that explain much about why Afghanistan became a Taliban stronghold…and why it is likely to become one again.

Most Afghanis lead a Hobbesian existence – one that is poor, nasty, brutish, and short. These conditions provide a ripe incubator for future terrorists.

Let’s start at the beginning of life in Afghanistan.  UNICEF reports that the infant mortality rate is 1,600 per 100,000 live births.  The infant mortality rate in the US is 69 per 100,000 live births – and in Iraq, it is estimated to be 502 per 100,000 live births.  Afghanistan has the second highest infant mortality rate in the world.  

Surviving birth and the first year of life is but the first hurdle – additional 25% of Afghan children die before they reach their fifth birthday.  UNICEF notes:

  • One in 10 Afghan children are severely malnourished, more than half suffer from stunted growth, and one in every four children dies before age five – the fourth highest level in the world.
  • Diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections account for around 41 per cent of all child deaths, with vaccine-preventable diseases accounting for another 21 per cent.
  • One in three Afghan children suffer from iodine deficiency which can lead to goiter, learning difficulties and, in extreme cases cretinism, and severe mental impairment.
  • A shortage of safe drinking water, as well as poor sanitation and hygiene, add to the already weak health status of many children in Afghanistan.
  • Only 13 per cent of the population has access to safe drinking water, and only 12 per cent has access to adequate sanitation facilities.

The typical Afghan woman gives birth to 6.75 children over her lifetime.  Statistically speaking, at least one of her children will die before they reach age 5.  

Overall, the life expectancy is very short – 42.9 years.  The women outlive the men, but just barely – 43.1 years (women) compared to 42.71 years (men).

So, aside from “elections,” erecting a pipeline that transports natural gas through Afghanistan from the Caucasus states to Pakistan for export, and building large air bases, what is the U.S. doing in Afghanistan?  NOT MUCH.  

The U.S.-Afghanistan Reconstruction Council describes itself as “a coalition of American and Afghan professionals committed to rebuilding Afghanistan by empowering the people of Afghanistan to rebuild one community at a time.”  Here’s a map depicting what they are doing:

The World Bank now headed by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, recently issued a report in which they detailed how the $456 million in grants and $436 million in loans given by the Bank since 2002 are being spent in Afghanistan.  This is quite a paltry sum when one considers that we spend over $1 billion per month in the country on military occupation operations in Afghanistan and $6 billion per month on military occupation operations in Iraq.  So, what are the World Bank’s goals in Afghanistan?  

The World Bank has provided advice to help the government manage donor funds effectively and in a transparent way. It has advocated building the capacity and the legitimacy of the state, and channeling donor resources through the government so that

investments are aligned with national priorities.

Since June 2005, the Government of Afghanistan has started

consultations with civil society, the private sector, and international partners to design an Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS). This process will identify areas for action that will have the biggest impact on economic growth and poverty reduction. The effective design and implementation of the ANDS will require improvements in data collection as well. While the

government is only in the early stages of developing the Interim ANDS, it has sought to establish a platform for broad consultation now, as the foundation for evolution to the full ANDS by the end of 2006. The government hopes to finalize its I-ANDS by December 2005.

When I read this, I screamed out, “WTF?”  We have occupied Afghanistan for four years and there is a need for a study?  Prenatal care, clean water, and immunizations would go a long way toward improving overall quality of life of the Afghan people and promoting peace and stability. Here’s where the larger chunks World Bank money has gone:

  • $33 milion towards water and electricity nationwide
  • $45 million to develop a transparency program for  government policy making and expenditures
  • $15 million to renovate universities and community schools nationwide
  • $35 million to train teachers
  • $40 million to strengthen higher education programs nationwide
  • $153 million to build highways and airports
  • $59 million for “high impact” health care of women and children

The U.S. and NATO military forces have set up provicial reconstruction teams whose stated mission is to “extend the authority of the Afghan central government, promote and enhance security, and facilitate humanitarian relief and reconstruction operations.”

A recent report by the US Institute of Peace claims that tensions between military forces, international NGO, and the civilian populace hamper projects that can actually improve the day to day life of Afghans:

Provincial Reconstruction Teams have confronted a cluster of contentious issues that inevitably arise in combat and other nonpermissive environments to cloud the relationship between international civilian assistance providers and international military forces. These issues include the preservation of the “humanitarian space” that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations (IOs) require to operate, the role of PRTs in promoting a secure environment, the use of military personnel to provide assistance, and information sharing and coordination.

Civilian assistance providers insist that they cannot allow their efforts to be perceived as part of the campaign plan of a belligerent force. Otherwise, the “humanitarian space” they need to alleviate suffering–wherever it is found–will be placed in jeopardy, along with the lives of relief workers and those they seek to assist. A clear distinction between civilian and military roles is considered to be vital to the preservation of humanitarian space.

There are fundamental differences in the way the civilian assistance community and military leaders conceive of a secure environment. The military emphasizes national security, public order, and force protection–all of which are enhanced by assertively addressing and reducing the sources of threat. Civilian assistance providers, on the other hand, equate security with ensuring that belligerents do not perceive them as a threat.

Humanitarian organizations seek to alleviate suffering without regard for the aid recipient’s affiliation with any of the parties to a conflict. When military units in combat provide “humanitarian-type” relief, it is typically associated with political objectives. For military forces confronting an insurgency, it may be a matter of military necessity to ensure that assistance is provided to displaced civilians and that civic action projects are undertaken to cultivate popular support and increase force protection. When the focus shifts from humanitarian assistance to reconstruction, the salient concerns that arise are the blurring of civil and military roles and interference with each other’s efforts.

So, you ask, why should we care about any of this?  Americans have desperate needs here at home.  I am by no means a neo-conservative and don’t advocate for U.S. occupations abroad to project power.  If one concludes, however, that terrorism presents a threat to world stability and security, it would be a good idea to ameliorate those causes that give rise to the terrorist cause.  These causes have nothing to do with elections and everything to do with disparate living conditions and the loss of hope.  

Over the next two months, as I prepare to go to Afghanistan, I will share my research with the blogosphere.  Perhaps we can discover some better approaches to these problems than those that are currently being employed.  Please let me know of any suggestions or references or contacts that you may have that would be helpful.

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