IN APRIL, the US Army published the â€œCommanderâ€™s Guide to Money as a Weapons System,â€™â€™ a handbook that provides guidance on how to use aid funding to win the support of the â€œindigenous population to facilitate defeating the insurgents.â€™â€™ This summer the US government indicated that it plans to nearly double (to $1.2 billion) the main fund military commanders in Afghanistan use to support projects intended to â€œwin hearts and minds.â€™â€™
This handbook and the surge of aid money illustrate the centrality of development assistance to the United Statesâ€™ counterinsurgency strategy. The underlying assumption is that aid projects, such as building schools, clinics, and roads, will win the hearts and minds of Afghans, give them more faith in their government, and turn them away from the Taliban. The logic sounds reasonable. But the problem is that there is little evidence to support it.
Some colleagues and I have spent the last year conducting more than 400 interviews in Afghanistan trying to understand the stabilization benefits of the billions of dollars worth of development aid that have been spent so far in Afghanistan. While many projects have clearly had important humanitarian and development benefits, we have found little evidence that aid projects are â€œwinning hearts and minds,â€™â€™ reducing conflict and violence, or having other significant counterinsurgency benefits.
In fact, our research shows just the opposite. Instead of winning hearts and minds, Afghan perceptions of aid and aid actors are overwhelmingly negative. And instead of contributing to stability, in many cases aid is contributing to conflict and instability. For example, we heard many reports of the Taliban being paid by donor-funded contractors to provide security (or not to create insecurity), especially for their road-building projects. In an ethnically and tribally divided society like Afghanistan, aid can also easily generate jealousy and ill will by inadvertently helping to consolidate the power of some tribes or factions at the expense of others – often pushing rival groups into the arms of the Taliban.
2010-01-09 23:57:44 UTC