October 25, 2008

US' Afghan market dreams faltering

Saturday, October 25, 2008

By Aunohita Mojumdar in Kabul

A dormant industrial park cordoned off by a wall stands on the main highway outside the northern Afghan city of Mazar e Sharif.
Funded by USAID, the US government's development aid arm, the park was the representation of hopes for a flourishing market-led economy in Afghanistan, an economic policy that was supposed to put the war-torn country back on its feet.

But it lies strangely silent, lacking the hum of machinery and noise of human activity. A non-starter in the absence of basic requirements such as power and water.

In a reconstruction effort led by Western countries and dominated by the US through its sheer political clout and large financial contribution, Afghanistan adopted the free-market approach with little debate, less research and none of the existing conditions that have presaged a shift to such an economy in western countries.

The ideology was enshrined within the 2002 National Development Framework, but there were "no discussions with civil society or political parties" says Mudasser Hussain Siddiqui, a policy research manager with Action Aid in Afghanistan.

"It was formulated by citizens or Afghans residing in the US and led by the World Bank," he says.

More recently, the approach was enshrined as one of the defining tenets of the vision for Afghanistan as "a society of hope and prosperity based on a strong private sector-led market economy" in what is known as Afghanistan's National Development Strategy (ANDS), finalised and adopted at the Paris Conference in June 2008.

Four months later, despite the spectacular collapse of the market in Western countries and an ongoing debate over the pros and cons of the value of the market-led economy in those nations, there is little discussion here in Afghanistan about the approach and what it has delivered.

Endorsing ANDS, Michael Yates, the Afghanistan mission director of USAID, said: "The US government and the broader donor community are committed to helping Afghanistan achieve this important vision."

Reform 'laboratory'

But Bahman Hares, an Afghan working with Action Aid, laments the fact his country has become "a laboratory" for different policies from other countries.

And Haroun Mir and Idrees Rahmani, researchers for the Afghanistan Centre for Research and Policy Studies, argue that ambitious economic reforms were launched without adequate thought and planning.
"International institutions have brought policies studied by foreign experts and imposed them on the government for implementation," they say.
Afghanistan has had to follow these policies in order to get debt relief and access to financial and technical assistance from these institutions.

Yates argues that the telecom sector is a good example of the private-sector model.
Afghanistan's four mobile companies recently surpassed $100 million in combined quarterly revenue and have invested more than $1.3 billion in the economy.

The beneficiaries of this 100 per cent, private-sector led, market-oriented achievement are Afghans, he says.

The investments stay in Afghanistan, the jobs go to Afghans, the taxes paid by the telecoms companies go to the Afghan government – allowing the government to offer greater public services to its people.

The success of Afghanistan's telecoms sector serves as a model to the rest of the economy, and to the world, of what can be achieved with the right policies, he says.

But is the telecom sector a model or an exception?

Deregulation has not automatically translated into growth and the industries to supply even basic goods is almost non-existent.

Lack of competition

A walk around Kabul, one of the most economically active areas of the country, tells its own tale.

Mushrooming houses, shops stocked with goods, the chaos of traffic and throngs of people suggest the hustle and bustle of economic activity.

A second look however reveals a different story. Walk into the shops stocked with goods and a look at the manufacturer's origin will reveal that the goods are imported.Food items are largely sourced from Pakistan and Iran while household goods are largely Chinese.

While few countries in the world are exempt from the threat of cheap imports, Afghanistan's tragedy is that here there are no indigenous competitors, no local industry that can even provide an alternate source of goods and services beyond the subsistence agricultural economy that has always existed.

Despite this, the Afghan government and its international backers follow a low-tariff regime in the name of a free-market economy, even while countries exporting a massive amount of goods into Afghanistan continue to follow protectionist policies and impose tariffs on Afghan carpets, raw hides and plants.

Six years into reconstruction, the promise of a better economic future, stable environment and improved security still remain elusive.

Despite growth figures that are quoted frequently in a bid to prove signs of economic recovery, the benefits of economic growth remain skewed and despite a high rate of growth (13.5 per cent in 2007), food insecurity has increased with 4.5 million people facing severe food shortages, according to the World Food Programme.

According to the WFP, more than half the population, estimated at 24.9 million, live below the poverty line and the 2005 National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment found that around 6.6 million Afghans do not meet their minimum food requirements.
Targeting the poor

Opinion is divided on the reasons for the lack of economic development.
In a recent paper, ACBAR, the umbrella organisation for more than 10 non-governmental organisations, argued that a pilot participatory survey had revealed an urgent need for pro-poor targeted schemes rather than the "trickle down" theory of the market place.

The government, it said, must develop policies and programming that "explicitly contain components and programmes that directly included the poor in targeted initiatives".

For an effective trajectory of poverty reduction, the poor cannot be an add-on category, it said.

Yates, however, argues a strong free-market economy "attracts new businesses, creates jobs and ensures higher demand is met by higher productivity, not higher prices".
Freddy Bob-Jones from the British government's aid arm, DFID, in Afghanistan, also argues in favour of the free-market approach, saying "recent evidence shows the failure of the market economy has been caused primarily by state failure through corruption, lack of policy clarity and good infrastructure".

"The state is standing in the way of the growth of the private sector.
"Growth in the telecom sector shows the potential for commercial success - the government has deregulated in that area and the sector has grown massively."
But some economic analysts feel that the free-market policy does not take into account the very real absence of power, water and roads, which continue to present the biggest stumbling blocks to the growth of indigenous industry, along with the prevailing insecurity.

Power failures
"Unfortunately the debate is among experts from donor countries and international multilateral organisations and does not include Afghan voices" say Haroun Mir and Idrees Rahmani, researchers for Afghanistan Centre for Research and Policy Studies

According to current government statistics, only 20 per cent of the population have access to public power (grid-supplied) "on certain days for a limited number of hours".
On a per capita basis, the electricity generating capacity is "well below what it was in 1978", while on water resources the national development strategy refers to the current "unclear delineation of responsibilities between ministries with regards to the water strategy" adding "co-ordination between water-related institutions remains weak".

While a considerable amount of roads have been built or repaired, they are highly unstable due to the increasing insecurity.

Rahmani and Mir say Afghanistan is far away from meeting other basic free-market prerequisite conditions as well.
"A market-led economy without basic requirements like power, water and roads leaves investors with no incentive to invest," says Action Aid's Siddiqui.

Siddiqui feels some form of protectionism is required to allow the domestic industry to grow as, without that, it is more cost-effective for businessmen to import cheap goods than produce them in Afghanistan.

Jones agrees that "there could be some protection in a neutral way, by creating infrastructure, some limited protection in areas like value-added agriculture" but insists that this has to be limited.

An earlier assessment of the free-market policy by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit had, however, argued for more, rather than less, state intervention, saying the market on its own would not deliver the wider benefits expected of it.
Asked whether the market-led approach could work in Afghanistan if privatisation was on track and in the absence of corruption, Jones states: "I cannot give a definite answer to this. It needs more analysis."

Both Mir and Rahmani, however, feel the debate has never included Afghans.
"Unfortunately the debate is among experts from donor countries and international multilateral organisations and it does not include Afghan voices from civil society and the business community," they say.
Both, it seems, would seem to have some grounds for their critique.


october 21, 2008
A EurasiaNet commentary by Aunohita Mojumdar

During the US presidential campaign, both candidates have endorsed the idea of deploying more troops to Afghanistan to help the embattled country surmount its present stabilization challenges. While the candidates may think they are being generous with this offer, they would do well to take a hard look at the nature and details of the deployment, as well as how it would dovetail with a larger Afghan strategy that includes humanitarian relief, reconstruction programs and civil society development.

In Afghanistan there is no public demand for more troops, but rather growing scrutiny of military conduct. Indeed, an increasing number of Afghans seems to want the Afghan government to exert greater control over foreign troops in the country. Such a desire, of course, is not likely to be met. But it reflects building resentment among Afghans.

A major cause for the shifting attitudes is civilian casualties resulting from ongoing military operations. Foreign forces appear to be increasingly resorting to air strikes, resulting in a growing number of civilian deaths and injuries. Of the 1,500 civilian killed in 2007, the UN estimates that 629 were killed by pro-government elements, while 700 were attributed to anti-government elements. (The remainder could not be attributed conclusively to either side). Human Rights Watch noted in a September report that the number of civilian deaths "nearly tripled from 2006 to 2007, with recent deadly airstrikes exacerbating the problem and fuelling a public backlash." Most airstrike casualties were connected to missions carried out under the auspices of Operation Enduring Freedom -- the codename for the campaign carried out by US-led coalition forces -- rather than the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force, the rights group found.

The Afghan parliament and government have echoed increasing public anger at civilian deaths. The anger has been exacerbated by the seeming reluctance of US forces to grapple with the issue.

Seven years into the reconstruction of the country, Afghans are less tolerant of the presence of the international community and less forgiving about the inefficiencies of aid delivery. Despite figures of double-digit growth, the percentage of the population living below the poverty line is rising. So is food insecurity. While internationals may lament the corruption in Afghanistan, a survey by Integrity Watch Afghanistan showed that 92 percent of Afghans would like international aid to be funnelled through their own government, warts and all.

To many Afghans it is inconceivable that the petty corruption of local officials is considered a greater crime than the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid in salary and expenses to expatriates -- not all of whom demonstrate a commensurate skill and capacity -- or when millions of dollars are absorbed by the sub-contracting process.

Afghans are growing increasingly disenchanted with their perceived second-class status in their own country. Afghans are paid a fraction of the salaries given to international experts, and it is disgruntling for well-educated locals to see foreign aid workers frequenting restaurants and shops that they themselves cannot afford. The Taliban have skilfully exploited this rising discontent as a force multiplier in their favor, a fact documented effectively by the International Crisis Group in its July report on Taliban propaganda.

As Afghanistan prepares for its own election cycle -- presidential elections are scheduled for 2009, with parliamentary elections to follow in 2010 -- it is likely that this resentment will become a rallying point for politicians and administrators alike. Anti-foreigner jingoism stands to increase in the coming months, and politicians will likely pander to the conservative sensibilities of many Afghans. There have been growing indications of this from President Hamid Karzai’s administration. But the international community’s response remains unclear. Increasing talk of "Afghan-led" projects or "Afghan culture" suggest that many members of the Western coalition, tiring of the long slog, are willing to abandon quietly their limited support to basic human rights and rule of law issues.

Indeed, the last few years have seen increasing compromises on issues related to women’s rights, human rights and rule of law, while the international community pursues the chimera of "stability first."

The United States needs to undertake a hard-headed reassessment of the political realities in Afghanistan and address local concerns. Otherwise the incoming administration may find that its changes in strategy may be quickly overtaken by shifting realities on the ground.

Editor's Note: Aunohita Mojumdar is an Indian freelance journalist based in Kabul. She has reported on the South Asian region for the past 18 years.

Posted October 21, 2008 © Eurasianet

LEADER ARTICLE: Between Two Elections

Times of India

20 Oct 2008, Aunohita Mojumdar

KABUL: Ahead of the US presidential polls Afghanistan is getting a renewed share of attention in Washington as the presidential candidates vie to prove their credentials in foreign and domestic policy. An 'Afghan strategy' has become a necessary part of the electoral paraphernalia as attention, which had once shifted from the Afghan to the Iraq theatre, returns.

Unfortunately for Afghanistan, the attention is largely occasioned by the spiralling insecurity which is taking a larger toll of lives including that of American soldiers than at any time since 2001. The UN recorded a total of 1,445 civilian deaths between January and August 31 this year, an increase of over 39 per cent over last year. Combined with increasing public disenchantment, non-delivery of basic services and increasing civilian casualties as a result of military operations, this has led to some soul-searching for answers amongst members of the international community with varying assessments.

However, whatever the opinion of the members of the western alliance, the reality is that it is America which dominates just by the sheer size of its support - both military and aid. Currently the US contributes more than 20,000 of the 50,700 troops for the NATO-led ISAF command and approximately another 13,000 under the US-led Coalition Forces.

In Afghanistan, it dominates western economic, political and security policies towards the country and US-centric financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF also play a determining role. Even where other western countries differ, this difference is usually not articulated because of the difficulties of securing enough support within the western coalition that could actually influence policy. In the foreseeable future this US dominance is likely to continue not least because of the considerable interests US has in the region.

9/11 and the ensuing 'war against terror' provided the US with the first foothold in terms of military and political bases in the region, not just in Afghanistan but also Central Asia. Currently the US is well positioned to pursue any military and political objectives in Iran and Pakistan from Afghanistan and its bases in Central Asia have been a source of considerable pressure and irritation for Russia. US interests in the energy resources of the region will also determine the direction of the growth of energy routes in the future which will be of considerable relevance to India.

Currently both the US presidential candidates support an increase in troop strength in Afghanistan. Though there is less detail about how exactly this 'surge' will play itself out, it is likely that future operations will see an increasing focus on Pakistan. Hawks in the Indian establishment may be gleeful about the cross-border strikes into Pakistan, but there is an absence of reasoned analysis. While it might suit India to let lie, institutionalisation of unilateral cross-border intrusions by inter- national military forces in the region has long-term implications for Indian security.
From the US presidential debates there is not much detail about the possible shift in American policy towards Afghanistan post-elections. Certainly the current presidential race suggests a limited awareness of realities on the ground, an ignorance whose extreme form was evident in the gaffe of the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, who described Afghanistan as a "neighbouring country" of the US.

It is US officials, both military and adminis-trative, who have given more indicators of change in US policy though it is still too early to judge whether talk of change is being used more as a device to stem the tide of despondency, especially amidst partners in the military coalition. Recent weeks have seen an increasing number of US' western partners in Afghanistan terming Afghanistan a battle that cannot be won, but must be managed, amidst renewed signals of "talks with the Taliban".

While it has been clear that a pure military solution could never provide a complete solution, the response to the proposed negotiated settlement with the insurgents does not appear to have been well thought out. The international community seems content to let the Afghans take the lead on the political negotiations. While the details of any settlement ought to lie within the Afghan polity, it is unfortunate that the international community which has sacrificed both lives and money in pursuit of the idea of a liberated democratic Afghanistan, is unwilling now to draw a line in the sand.

Whatever the results of the US elections or a rearrangement of US priorities, it is Afghanistan's polity which is likely to see the most radical change in the coming year with the country approaching both presidential and parliamentary elections. Growing disenchantment with reconstruction and increasing anger at civilian deaths suggests that anti-foreigner jingoism will play well in an electoral battle. The impact of this will be exacerbated by the continuing ban on participation of political parties in the elections, a situation that gives more credence and influence to individual strongmen and conservative constituencies.

Democratic rights including human rights, women's rights, rule of law and freedom of media are likely to come under increasing pressure as the country moves towards the polling booth. Ultimately the next chapter of US policy towards Afghanistan may be determined more by changing realities in Afghanistan than in the White House.

The writer is a Kabul-based freelance journalist.

'After 30 years, Afghan refugees may not want to return': Salvatore Lombardo

Himal: October-November issue

By: Aunohita Mojumdar

Since 2002, in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Taliban, the United Nations refugee agency’s Afghanistan office has been involved in the largest repatriation project in its history, attempting to assist longtime Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran to move back to their homeland. Some five million refugees have moved back, but some three million have yet to do so. For the past year and a half, Salvatore Lombardo has been at the centre of this massive operation, as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) representative in Afghanistan. As he prepared to leave his post, Lombardo sat down with Himal’s contributing editor in Kabul, Aunohita Mojumdar, to reflect on the situation of the millions of Afghans who remain outside of Afghanistan.

On the eve of your departure, how do you assess the situation of Afghan refugees?
What is very clear is that the era of mass returns is over, and we are now entering a situation – with two million registered Afghans in Pakistan, and one million in Iran – that is much more complicated, much more challenging. We must understand that those who have not yet come back are people who have been in exile for a very long time, who are almost second generation. The aspirations they have, the wishes they have, certainly do not find an answer in the Afghanistan of today. Because of insecurity, many of them cannot go back to the places they came from; and even if they did return, they would probably like to go to the cities.

Now, if conditions were better, would all the people start coming back? I am not so sure. [To begin with,] the economic situation being what it is, their condition is very, very poor. And one aspect that is often neglected is the issue of what the refugees have become after 30 years: there is not enough recognition that a population that has been in exile for 30 years may not necessarily want to return.

How could they become full citizens in their countriesof refuge?
I think that is the big question, because the government position in both places is a ‘no’ to local integration, and I don’t think that this position is likely to change because of the overall situation in the region – but also, to be fair, it is not easy for any country. In my view, the biggest challenge would be the destiny of the population, knowing that they have changed and knowing that the answer to their problems is not in Afghanistan. There is clearly a humanitarian problem in all of this. No doubt about that.

These will be the enormous challenges in the years ahead. First of all, we need to make sure that the return of those who want to do so continues to be voluntary. A critical factor will be the relationship of Afghanistan with Pakistan and Iran. I think the quality of that relationship will always influence the destiny of the refugee population. If the relationship does not go well, it is obvious that the population hosted there will suffer. But if you look in a global context, over 30 years it is incredible how the Pakistani people and the Iranian people have been so generous to this population. I think this is something that needs to be recognised. Whatever the politics, the human element of this has been quite exemplary.

How do you solve the problem of integration?
In the years to come, the challenge will be to find the right equilibrium, one that reflects what is possible here and excludes what is not possible. What is needed here at this point is an injection of realism and pragmatism. It is wrong to say that nothing can be done, but it is also wrong to say that everything can be done. It is wrong to pretend that a school and a health clinic are going to attract the refugees back to Afghanistan or resolve the problem of the population still in exile. The answer is not in the schools or in the health clinics, and it is not in the land-allocation system. The answer is in the population itself, which has grown, as I have said, become something else. Their wishes and dreams cannot be met by the schools and health system you have here in Afghanistan.

We are planning to have a conference with the government in November on the issues of return and reintegration. There are two basic objectives. One is an injection of reality. How many people can actually come back to Afghanistan? We would like a discussion to clarify this question. I think the reality today tells you that if the conditions are what they are today, that number would be minimal, at least if you want people to come back in a decent situation. The other thing that we would like to see at the conference is a seizing of the opportunities that are available under the Afghan National Development Strategy finalised in April, and to see whether, within that, areas of return can be factored in. If you have a district in which the population has doubled due to returns over the last six years, what does this mean in terms of development, education, health, access to water, community-development activities? Can these be factored in? For me, this is what pragmatism is about. One cannot resolve the situation by simply saying, Give UNHCR 500 million dollars and we will resolve it.

We are very good at intervening and fixing problems at a time when everything is confusing, or where there is a war or a lot of problems. I think humanitarians are brilliant at arriving in a disturbed area and making things happen very, very quickly. But when you enter into the question of how to develop a community, how to sustain it, and how to find an answer for the long-term wishes of the population, we don’t have the answers for that. We are certainly the best advocates, and we will not stop to fight for that or to speak for the good of the refugee population. But if you ask me whether I have an answer for this, well, that belongs to someone else. It belongs to the government, it belongs to the overall development process of a community, and that is what has been very complicated here; it has been very difficult.

What about the matter of land allocation to refugees who have returned?
Unfortunately, that programme is not being managed very well, and until now it has not been successful at all. In choosing the land, you pick up land that nobody wants, because if the land is good it is not going to end up in your hands. In selecting an inappropriate piece of land, you end up with catastrophic problems. First and foremost, there is the livelihood issue: you end up with a piece of property 50 kilometres from the city, where nobody is interested in going because there are no job opportunities, and where the investment that you need in order to make it economically viable is not proportional to the challenges you face.

The government response to that has been extremely weak, and the selection of beneficiaries has not always been fair. This programme lacks credibility, and everyone is very sceptical. The donors are particularly so, for very good reasons. In my view, the answer is in a bit of realism. The dream that you are going to give a piece of land to everyone who comes back was false. It should never have been done and should never have been shared, because that dream does not exist. This illusion of setting up 50 or 100 townships around the country to which everyone would return was also false. The answer to the problem is not in moving the refugees from one displacement to another displacement.

The situation has been exacerbated by internal displacement.
That, I think, is a new element in the equation – the fact that you have a worsened humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, compared to the situation we were in before. With regards to those who flee because they find themselves in a conflict area, we are all confronted with the lack of access, which remains very limited in the south and southeast of the country. This is a new element that we have not seen before. Then you have the drought, and we haven’t even seen the impact of this yet. The displacement we are seeing is not enormous, but it might become so depending on the crop.

Is the political climate likely to make things more difficult?
There is no doubt about that. If the political and economic climate in the region is not at ease, for a number of reasons, then there is no doubt that the search for solutions for the refugee population will be much more complicated, much more difficult. History proves very well what it was, and what it is. It will take some time.

Beating Afghanistan's drug lords

October 4, Al Jazeera

by Aunohita Mojumdar in Kabul

Countering the threat of narcotics may be one of the most difficult jobs in Afghanistan – a war-torn nation which accounts for more than 90 per cent of the world's poppy production.

According to the UN, drug-trafficking in Afghanistan is backed not just by drug lords, terrorists and insurgents, but also by senior figures in the government and Afghan polity.

Recently, the chief judge of the anti-drugs tribunal was killed after he refused to bow down to threats by drug-traffickers.

But General Khodaidad, the minister of counter-narcotics, has earned rare praise for his efforts as well as his strategies.

This year, the country showed a decline in poppy cultivation for the first time. Khodaidad, however, is not about to rest on his laurels, speaking instead of the difficulties which lie ahead.

Challenges to the counter-narcotics programme come not only from anti-government elements, but even from well-meaning supporters, he explains.

While he acknowledges that there is lack of cohesion in anti-drug efforts, he also says funding by international donors threatens to undercut government policies which have tried to link economic prosperity to a decline in poppy growth.

General Khodaidad spoke with Al Jazeera in his office in Kabul.

Al Jazeera: This year poppy cultivation has decreased for the first time. Yet, the success is limited to some areas of the country and other areas, such as the south, show no progress. What are the reasons for the success in some areas and the lack of it in others?

Khodaidad: There are lots of difficulties in counter-narcotics issues in Afghanistan, particularly in eradication and law enforcement issues. It is not possible for Afghanistan to solve this drug problem by itself.

In 2008, we were very busy with the pre-planting campaign, distributing public information, travelling to 26 provinces, talking to people. We saw a 19 per cent decrease in poppy cultivation.

However, there are an increasing number of addicts in Afghanistan. I travelled to 26 provinces talking about the harm of poppy cultivation and that it was dangerous, hazardous to the health of people, and bringing in illegal money.

Some $4bn is coming into this country [through the drug trade]. It is harming the interests of legal agriculture.

Which part of your public campaign was more effective - the appeal of religion or law enforcement?

We talked about the role of Islam - that poppy production runs counter to the teachings of Islam and religion. We told them also that poppy growing fuels terrorism and supports insurgents. The governors also realise that enforcing the rule of law has an effect on the reduction of poppy [cultivation].

The Good Performance Initiative (GPI) programme [which rewards provinces that have eliminated poppy cultivation or nearly eliminated it] has delivered the money at the right time to the right place.

Last year the money had already gone to the 13 poppy-free provinces to support the farmers and the governors.

What is the reason these initiatives have not worked in southern Afghanistan?

The problem there is a lack of reform in the Ministry of Interior (MoI). It is under-reformed, and the police do not have equipment. Furthermore, there are no proper prosecutors and judges. The amount of poppy seized last year was less than before.

The ministry seized only 7,500 tonnes as opposed to 8,200 tonnes the year before. It is not even one per cent which has been seized or captured.

We have to improve this by reforming the MoI and deploying good prosecutors, attorney generals, and judges.

You are emphasising the lack of rule of law as a reason. What of the argument that people grow poppies because of poverty? It is the prosperous provinces in the South which are growing poppies.

There is a link between drugs and terrorism, drugs and drug-trafficking, drugs and corruption, drugs and insurgency and drugs and poverty.

So why was the message you sent out not effective in the South?

We have a strong message. We went by air and by road to the fields, talked to the Ulema - the elders, and the mujahideen, old and new.

We were sending a very strong message. Some people listen very well. The Good Performance Initiative fund impacted a lot.

Khodaidad says the number of Afghan addicts is increasing
You mention the Good Performance Initiative but the amount of money available is very small compared to the direct bilateral aid being given by donors to the poppy growing provinces - Canadians in Kandahar, the British in Helmand and the US in several provinces of the South. How does this impact of the GPI?

I am also worried about the direct work in the provinces. It should be coordinated with the Ministry of Counter Narcotics (MNC).

The projects under the GPI are already underway. There will be $50m for 18 provinces free of poppy. If the donors work directly with the provinces and not through the MNC the effect will be very negative.

We will not be able to achieve the results we seek. The MNC is directly involved with the people.

We are involved in policy and coordination. We are talking to the governors. The right package will send the right message. If Nato or the Coalition go directly to the provinces with aid the result will be negative. We need to coordinate, talk, share and take joint decisions.

Directly working with the provinces without negotiations with the MNC and MoI - the result will be [the] wasting [of effort and resources].

The joint coordination on the GPI is going very well. The pre-planting campaign is going very well. We request the international community not to work directly in provinces.

I am talking to international donors not to go directly to the provinces, to work together. If you give a task to the governor of a province, he will do it.

You have spoken of the difficulties of eradication and counter narcotics campaigns. Do you think this is a job for the police alone?

The strategy keeps changing. We needed a workable long-term strategy for our armed forces. It is not only one country which is looking to reform the MoI.

First it was the Germans and now the US has taken responsibility. The number of police is increasing. We need to increase the quality and capability and have a well-educated police with a strong leadership. We need an honest police force to fulfil the responsibilities of law enforcement.

The concept of auxiliary police does not work in Afghanistan. We need an accountable police force, not self-styled police. The police must have the trust of the Afghan people.

Now we have 330 people trained in counter-narcotics efforts. The ministry of defence promised force protection during eradication.

But last year you did not get this force protection?

We hope we should do better. Eradication is getting harder. We did not have force protection in Helmand last year. We have discussed force protection and it has been promised.

What about the role of international forces in counter-narcotics?

There is an in-principle decision on adoption of the 12-point action plan. The job is very clear to everyone: to Nato and to the Afghan national army.

Our ministry cannot work on its own. It needs Nato air support and support from Coalition forces.

Thomas Schweich, a former US ambassador for counter-narcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan, has pointed to the 'stability first, counter-narcotics later' strategy employed by the Pentagon. Why will foreign forces not become more involved in anti-drug campaigns?

Without Nato we cannot complete this job.

They should destroy the labs, hit the convoys, and hit the base - the locations where all the drugs are made, processed, shipped and so on.

Police on their own cannot fully carry out eradication. The international community should target the labs and convoys if they want to save the lives of their own soldiers.

Otherwise they are wasting their time. The right bullet has to be fired at the right target.

What about the Afghan government? Do you and the prosecutors face 'telephone justice' whenever someone with links high up is arrested?

Drug-traffickers are always using someone to save them. Judge Halim was killed and the honest people are always getting threats. The international community must take more responsibility. Nato, the European Commission, and the embassies must realise that their involvement is crucial.

How would you describe your job?

It is a very dangerous job. I travel a lot to the provinces. I receive a lot of threats. It is not an easy job. It is not the job for one man, for one ministry.

If we work together [and] support each other the job will be easy. If not, I am not optimistic about the future of Afghanistan, especially in regards to eradicating the poppy trade.

Peace Day

Khaleej Times

Afghans reflect on 'Peace Day'

Al Jazeera/ September 22/ By Aunohita Mojumdar in Kabul

On September 21, Afghanistan marked Peace Day, a UN-sponsored event whereby all fighting parties (Nato, Taliban, and the Afghan military) agreed to cease hostilities for one day.

Al Jazeera asked ordinary Afghans what they believe will bring peace to their war-torn country.

For Kandigul Diljan Durrani, Peace Day in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, was almost like any other day.


She said she was irritated by all the road closures due to the city-wide events held to commemorate the day.

"It took me much longer to come to work. The streets were so crowded, the vehicles could not find a way through and people were fighting with each other. What kind of a peace day is this?"

Durrani is 40 but looks much older. The years of constant warfare and bloodletting have taken their toll as she and her family moved from province to province in search of safety; they were too poor to flee to neighbouring Pakistan.

Her house in the Kart-e-Naw area of Kabul was bombarded by artillery in the fighting which rocked the capital when rival factions fought for power in the mid-1990s.

Her husband was beaten senseless by one of the militias and is today disabled.

His arms hang limply by his side, and he is unable to do any work or earn a living. Durrani became responsible for feeding, clothing and sheltering her family of nine children.

Her oldest boy, wants to go to Iran and find work because there are no jobs for him in Kabul.

"If there was peace, we could both have found work in the same place. It would be easier to get jobs and we would be able to lead good lives," she said.

Asked who she holds responsible, Durrani said: "God is responsible for this."

"And our leaders. The only way peace can return is if the people sit together and talk; surrender their weapons."

Video shop destroyed

Mohammed (Zabi) Zabiullah remembers the good life he once led.

The family shop which filmed weddings and other events in Shar-e-Naw, the centre of the city, made enough money to house, clothe and feed them as well as send the children to school.

When the Taliban came, with their edicts against videos and TV, they destroyed the shop and beat his elder brother who was running the place.

The family fled the country in fear, living as refugees in the city of Peshawar, in Pakistan. They survived on handouts and loans.

Zabi, who had just finished high school when the Taliban took power saw his dreams of a higher education and a god job fade away. "I think I could have been a doctor today had the conflict not interrupted our lives. I had good marks in school," he told Al Jazeera.

Earlier this year Zabi's father died, burdening him with even more responsibility as the only wage-earner for the family. "Now there is no chance. I have to support my family."

Zabi feels Afghanistan's political leaders are to blame for the lack of change.

"No one is working honestly. Everyone wants to fill their own pocket. If they help the country develop economically they could make a real difference. What does Peace Day mean now? Only those people with a TV and electricity to watch it will have heard about it."

Blaming foreigner influence

Wahid Frogh, a student at Kabul University, feels foreign influence is the cause of the violence in his country. Fact file
In 2002, the United nations General Assembly declared September 21 as the permanent date for the International Day of Peace.

However, the day was unofficially marked as early as September 1982.

By creating the International Day of Peace, the UN "devoted itself to worldwide peace and encouraged all of mankind to work in cooperation for this goal".

"It is the interference of the international and regional powers that have brought this violence. If they left Afghanistan alone we could stand on our own," he said.

"I know politicians say that the location of this country is very fortunate because of its geo-strategic importance. But I think it is our misfortune. Because that is the reason for the interference by superpowers."

Frogh does not advocate an immediate pullout of international troops since that would make the situation worse, but feels initiatives like Peace Day "need to start with the people not the government".

"Our government is not accountable to its own people. I would not like to participate in such an occasion because it is like cheating, a political manoeuvre."

Frogh feels even the Taliban's acceptance of Peace Day is a gambit. "There are many groups within the Taliban. How can they accept Peace Day which has been announced by the Western countries. I think the Taliban wanted to make a show as well."

Frogh knows the travails of war despite his young age. Losing his father during the years of conflict, he saw his mother struggle as a seamstress to raise him and his siblings.

While in school Frogh had to work part time as a waiter to help his family and even today is searching for support that would enable him to complete his studies.

More to be done

Bahman Hares, who works with an international NGO, feels that initiatives such as Peace Day are meaningful but do not go far enough in addressing the lack of security in the country.

"The root causes of the problem have to be addressed. Unless that happens one day such as this makes no difference. It is just about speeches and the media. After 26 years of war and continuing violence this country needs more than that to bring peace.

"Look at the economic problems - the number of people below the poverty line, the economic migration due to drought. There is much injustice and corruption."

Hares and his family returned to Afghanistan after 10 years as refugees in different cities of Pakistan, and hoped they would find stability and security.

"But peace has not been restored, we are witnessing violations. I am not hopeful about this. The current policies of the government and the internationals cannot bring the change needed in Afghanistan."

Scathing criticism

Borhan Younus says foreign powers are not doing what is needed for peace
Borhan Younus, a journalist and writer, is very critical of Peace Day in Afghanistan.

"This is a show produced by the UN, a waste of money. Peace is not a slogan to be chanted. It is not a flag to be given to somebody," he said.

"It is a condition to be created. The big players, the US and the foreign forces are not paying heed to what is necessary to bring peace."

Younus believes only Afghan initiatives, planned and executed by Afghans can bring about the necessary change to allow peace to flourish.

"It should not be at the behest of one side in the conflict. The UN cannot even move out of Kabul."

Younus also sees signs that the Taliban are adopting different strategies and even using diplomacy to achieve their goals.

"They are emerging as a more responsible force. They have always had a bit of respect for the UN, even when they were in power."

He says the fact that the Taliban agreed to suspend offensive operations for one day indicates their growing strength.

Nevertheless, he holds both sides equally responsible for the violence.

"The occupation forces who sometimes trigger violence and the Taliban who do not heed calls for reconciliation are both to blame," he said.

October 07, 2008

Q&A with UNODC Afghanistan Country Chief Christina Oguz



August 27, 2008

Afghanistan experienced a 19 percent decrease in the land under opium poppy cultivation in 2008 in comparison with the previous year, according to a report prepared by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. But even as the Afghan government lauds the decline, UN experts worry about another spike in production. This concern is underscored by the fact that actual production of opium declined only by 6 percent in 2008 over the previous year, the UNODC report states.

Winning the war against drugs in Afghanistan will be possible only if farmers who forsake the cultivation of poppies receive a level of economic and technical assistance that can help them grow alternative cash crops, UNODC officials suggest. Presently, the level of aid being given to these farmers is insufficient to achieve the desired aim. In some poppy-free areas, especially in the North, farmers are opting to cultivate cannabis, a plant much more difficult to detect.

Another cause for concern: links between the Taliban insurgency and the drug trade seem to be growing stronger. Despite the poppy cultivation decline in 2008, some experts estimate that the Taliban will derive up to $70 million in drug profits, which will be used to finance their insurgent campaign. Breaking the link between drugs and the militant will require greater involvement by NATO forces in Afghanistan. In an exclusive interview with EurasiaNet, the Afghanistan country representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Christina Oguz, discusses current trends and concerns about Afghanistan’s struggle to contain narcotics trafficking.

EurasiaNet: The UNODC’s 2008 Annual Opium Poppy Survey for Afghanistan cites strong leadership and the drought as factors for the decrease in the area under poppy cultivation. Do you see the decrease in 2008 as a trend or temporary?

Oguz: Well drought is a small reason, [accounting for] about 15 percent of the decrease. Most of it we can actually attribute to the government, both the central government – especially the Ministry of Counter-Narcotics – but also the governors in particular. If you look at Nangarhar Province, it is a remarkable achievement, but also Balkh is [poppy free] for a second year in a row. Badakhshan, which used to be number two [in production], [only] has around 200 hectares [under cultivation now]. It could easily become poppy free. What these three governors have in common is that they are strong leaders and they provide a clear vision for what they want, and people believe in what they say because they are able to mobilize the local community. This is a key combination. Having said that, we have to remember that poppy is an annual plant and so every year farmers have to make the decision: ‘Shall I plant? Shall I not plant?’ That decision is being taken now because the planting starts in October and this is where my worries come in.

I hope very much that this [the 2008 decline] is a trend. … It [is] a golden opportunity for the [Afghan] government and the international community to go in with massive investment in agriculture and rural development in a much more concerted way than they have done before … The problem is different for farmers depending on where they are. In Nangarhar, the landholdings are very small. … I think [farmers] there can last for the rest of the year on what they have. But next year, if they don’t see that somebody will come to their rescue, a percent will go back to cultivating poppy.

EurasiaNet: The report indicates a North-South divide in terms of poppy cultivation. Why is the South producing more than the North?

Oguz: We have agriculture conditions that are conducive [to producing narcotics in the South]. You have an insurgency, high levels of production, very well organized criminal networks and all this together makes the environment very conducive to cultivating opium.

EurasiaNet: How can the counter-narcotics strategy be tweaked to increase its effectiveness in the South, where poverty is not the main factor? Farmers there seem to be better off than in the North.

Oguz: What we would like to see is much more law enforcement. [We need] investment to wipe out the laboratories, stop the drug convoys and dismantle the criminal networks. In terms of law enforcement, this is much more productive than trying to eradicate the plant. Also it is important for the farmers to realize that they are not always the main target.

EurasiaNet: Has law-enforcement worked so far?

Oguz: The police have not been so professional. … A combination of having a more professional and dedicated police force, and a [greater degree of] political will to eradicate corruption [is needed in the South]. I think if you look at what they have been able to achieve in terms of eliminating poppy cultivation from the northern part of the country, you see it as a model. The government needs to act on corruption. What we are seeing is that … the brains behind the drug trade are still untouched.

EurasiaNet: Has there been any increase in political will to address narcotics trafficking in the last year?

Oguz: Close collaboration with the neighboring countries needs to be developed. I know there are a lot of political difficulties involved in this. But the fact is that criminal networks don’t care about with whom they collaborate. … Governments are sometimes, for political reasons, more resistant to really having a working relationship. I think this must change.

EurasiaNet: So do you see a difference in the political will?

Oguz: I do see a difference. I must say during the last half-year or so there is much more talk about [narcotics]. Before [the drugs issue] did not feature very high up on the agenda, but now the government talks about it, people talk about it. If the public awareness is there, it is crucial for a political breakthrough.

EurasiaNet: The UNODC report for the first time calls on the international community to act on UN Security Council Resolutions 1735 and 1822, and target drug traffickers who support and fund terrorism in Afghanistan. The report adds that the international community has "yet to demonstrate willingness" to comply with the Security Council decisions. Why is this willingness absent?

Oguz: They [members of the international community] don’t have the legislation in place. We are helping with that. Referring to the [United Nations Security Council] resolution, which calls upon member states to add names [of financiers] to terrorist lists. … This is not happening. This is not only for Afghanistan but also along the whole chain. We are … reminding people that they should do that.

EurasiaNet: In 2007 you called for names to be added to this list. Has a single name been added?

Oguz: Not to my knowledge.

EurasiaNet: What prevents the international community from doing this?

Oguz: I don’t know. I cannot comment on that. Maybe their intelligence is not good enough.

EurasiaNet: The report says the International Security and Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) needs to get more involved in combating drug traffickers. How can this occur?

Oguz: I do think [[ISAF is] getting more on board and there are lots of areas of course where [it is] synchronizing. This is what people tell me. I don’t have concrete information. Obviously ISAF has another mandate, which is security, but they are operating in the areas where you have all these phenomena we talked about. The link between insurgency and drug trafficking and drug production is very close.

EurasiaNet: Is the link between insurgency and drug trafficking getting stronger?

Oguz: Yes it is getting stronger. Afghan law enforcement officials do see drugs and weapons and suicide equipment and terrorist manuals in the field.

EurasiaNet: How will this linkage impact the situation here? You have called for urgent action on this.

Oguz: It is very, very, very worrying because in a way you have all the evils concentrated in one part of the country [- the South]. … [The drug traffickers and the insurgents] have different agendas, but they have something in common and that is money and power.

EurasiaNet: This is a good news year. But what about the increase in cannabis cultivation? Are you assessing it?

Oguz: We are to the extent that we can do it. In terms of cannabis mapping, we are in discussions with one of our donors – because it is more difficult to find the cannabis in satellite imaging. We need high resolution images. It is easier to hide it with other crops. We would like to do it in the provinces where cannabis is being grown, test the methodology and then hopefully do it countrywide next year.

It is a big concern. If you look at countries that are exporting it, Morocco was the biggest one, but they are clamping down. There is the risk that Afghanistan is becoming the number one country in cannabis. People think that cannabis is just a substitute for opium. It is not. It is not just a substitute; some people are diversifying their trade, and, of course, if it happens in Uruzgan, Kandahar and Helmand, you have the same problem as you have with poppy. … If you focus on only one thing you don’t see what is around, so I think it is important to start talking about cannabis.

EurasiaNet: If you had to sum up this year, would you say it’s an opportunity?

Oguz: It is an opportunity that would have to be taken now. There isn’t so much time to waste here. We have to act immediately because the farmers make their decision now.

Editor’s Note: Aunohita Mojumdar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul.

UN: Decline in Afghan poppy trade

Al Jazeera/ August 27, 2008

For the first time since the US-led invasion in 2001, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has shown a decline, a joint UN-Afghan government report has shown.

The Afghanistan Opium Survey 2008, made public by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Wednesday indicated that there was a decline of 19 per cent in the areas known for poppy cultivation.

The report, also released in conjunction with the Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics, said that in the past year five more provinces had become "poppy-free" raising the total to 18 of 34 provinces where poppy cultivation has been stamped out.

Five provinces in southern Afghanistan, including Farah, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Nimroz, now account for 91 per cent of Afghanistan's poppy cultivation. The province of Helmand alone accounts for 66 per cent of the country's total.

But the report did offer a stark warning that terrorism and drug trafficking were interlinked; regions of Afghanistan where the Taliban and insurgents are in control account for the highest concentration of poppy cultivation in the country.

Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the UNODC, urged both the Afghan government and the international community to concentrate on high value targets and to shift resources from eradication of poppy fields to destroying opium markets, heroin labs and the drug convoys.

"The geographical overlap between regions of opium and zones of insurgency shows the inextricable link between drugs and conflict," Costa told Al Jazeera.

"Since drugs and [the] insurgency are caused by, and effect, each other, they need to be dealt with at the same time – and urgently."

More action needed

But Haroun Mir, a deputy director of Afghanistan's Centre for Research and Policy Studies (ACRPS), voiced caution that the decline in poppy cultivation should not be seen as the beginning of a sustainable downward trend.

He said that a decline in poppy crops was also partially because of severe drought which has struck Afghanistan's northern, north-western and north-eastern provinces.

UNODC officials have also warned that it was possible that recent gains could be reversed if the international community did not immediately take action.

Costa said that neither the Afghan government nor the international community had followed the UN Security Council resolutions that call for naming those funding terrorism with drug money.

"Member states have yet to demonstrate willingness to comply with the Security Council's decisions, for example, by seeking extradition of the criminals who sow death among their youth."

Nato forces have so far refused to contribute to counter-narcotics operations, saying such involvement falls outside their mandate. They instead say the responsibility is that of the Afghan National Police.

Afghan forces, however, have been unable to go it alone.

Colonel General Khodaidad Khodaidad said the lack of security in several Afghan provinces was making eradication of poppy fields and the fight against drug trafficking more difficult.

"In Helmand, for example, we did not have proper force protection," Khodaidad told the media.

UNODC says that unlike earlier attacks on the eradication teams which were carried out by farmers, this year the attacks were carried out by "insurgents".

Investment, encouragement needed

UNODC: farmers must be given incentives to lure them away from growing poppies [GETTY]
UNODC has attributed the drop in poppy cultivation to strong provincial leadership.

It also pointed to the current drought in Afghanistan which has led to an increase in the price of wheat while the price of opium has come down due to excessive supply.

The UN agency has warned, however, that steps are needed to sustain the poppy-free areas by providing incentives as well as emergency aid in drought-affected areas, where there is a "serious risk of a backlash next year".

Christina Oguz, the country director for UNODC, says that farmers throughout Afghanistan are currently contemplating whether to plant poppy seeds or not.

"That decision is being taken now because the planting season is in October and this is where my worries come in."

"I hope this [decline in cultivation] will be a trend but I would rather see it as a golden opportunity for the government and the international community to go in with massive investment in agriculture and rural development in a much more concerted way than they have done before to those areas which are poppy-free or close to poppy-free," she told Al Jazeera.

Oguz warned that farmers in north and north-eastern Afghanistan were hit particularly hard by the drought.

"They can last for the rest of the year but next year if they don't see that somebody will come to their rescue, they could go back to [growing] opium."

Incentives and rewards

UNODC has called for incentives for the poppy-free areas in the form of a "good performance reward".

Though a good performance fund has been set up to reward provinces that refrain from poppy cultivation, a substantive part of aid from the major donors goes directly to the provinces which are growing poppy.

While the US spends most of its funds in the southern provinces, Canada and the UK spend a substantive portion of their aid in the provinces of Kandahar and Helmand where their troops are located.

Costa acknowledged that Helmand was a dangerous province but called for a two-pronged approach - "combining counter narcotics with counter insurgency".

He called on international forces to destroy the labs that make opium, target the convoys which transport them and dismantle the markets where opium is traded.

He said Nato and international forces should attack those who provide the farmers with the opportunity to cultivate opium.

"If we can delink the activity of farmers for the export market, the price of opium in Afghanistan would decline and I think we would we would make major progress towards major structural changes in the opium economy of this country."