Thursday, October 30, 2003

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Nation-building in Afghanistan

The Chicago Tribune reports on the latest success in restoring stability to Afghanistan, courtesy of a British-led Provincial reconstruction team. The vital grafs:

Sholghara owes its tentative peace to a rare combination of military and humanitarian efforts. In August, British soldiers from the Provincial Reconstruction Team, United Nations officials and top commanders of the two main armed factions in the north, collected about 400 weapons and expelled eight of the most recalcitrant commanders from the valley....

The innovative approach of the Mazar-e Sharif PRT, one of four such teams of coalition troops in Afghanistan, has won praise from Afghan officials and guarded support from aid groups that initially opposed the teams' creation. It also has made the British PRT a potential model for NATO's expanded peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan.

Instead of building schools and digging wells, as U.S.-led PRTs have done around the country, the British troops in Mazar have concentrated on improving security, leaving reconstruction to humanitarian and aid groups. Among other projects, the PRT is setting up an academy to train local police.

While the policy of the U.S.-led military coalition has been to track down remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda while steering clear of Afghan factional conflicts--known in military jargon as "green-on-green" fighting--the British soldiers in Mazar spend much of their time helping to resolve disputes between factional leaders and attempting to clear up misunderstandings that could lead to more fighting.

"If you want to stop factional fighting, you need to get stuck in and help," said Col. Dickie Davis, commander of the British PRT in Mazar. "I regard what we do as fundamental to our mission."

This follows up on previous Tribune reports indicating that PRTs can succeed in the nitty-gritty of stabilization.

Given that NATO just decided to expand its stabilization force outside of Kabul, do you think it would be possible to increase the number of PRT's to more than four?

For those readers skeptical of nation-building -- think of it as town-building.

posted by Dan on 10.30.03 at 09:05 AM


I agree that such nation-building is going on, but I continually fear that the political situation will do things in. Yesterday saw the UN confirm that the Taliban is now actually asserting control of territory in the south, and there are serious fears that the rapidly expanding opium trade could lead to new turmoil inspired by warlords-turned-druglords. If the mujahadeen, who have formed a party of their own and intend to challenge Karzai, decide not to accept the 2004 election, we could easily see a resumption of the civil war which undoes all this.

posted by: Brian Ulrich on 10.30.03 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

There have also been reports of corrupt or wasteful aid spending. Aid workers in big new cars and the like. The State Department ordered the speeding up of a road's construction to meet an artificial deadline that had been proposed- even if it meant degrading the quality of the road.

The PRT's seem universally well received and judged capable of turning things around. The NATO expansion may be just in the nick of time. The moves to try to force some of the Warlords out of the central government are also overdue but welcome nonetheless.

The clock is ticking and if things go sour as the previous poster indicated so well, then the people of Afghanistan could lose faith in the international community and go back to each man for himself.

What a black eye that would be for the USA - if Afghanistan disintegrated into civil war and Iraq degenerated into a quagmire. It would present a serious long term national security threat as well as exhausting us and making us look like bloody fools. The wolves would start circling at the smell of blood.

posted by: Oldman on 10.30.03 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

Brian-- I doubt that any of the warlords will reject the 2004 election; something like that happening would be minimal. Abdul Rashid Dostum has re-started his own old political party, Jombesh-i-Milli Islami (National Islamic Movement) that, despite its name, is politically challenging the Northern Alliance's hegemony. Instead of a show-down between Karzai and the warlords, I'd expect a military clash between Fahim's Northern Alliance and Dostum. And there's the instability in the southern provinces (Zabul, Paktika, Paktia, Samangan, Kandahar) which would make an election there simply impossible. Voter registration has started in Kabul and the surrounding provinces and it's not clear what regions are next.

Daniel seems to be optimistic, but take Bamyian for example. A PRT-team from New Zealand arrived there a couple of months ago. The reaction? Dissappointment. Bamyian's an impoverished area, with Taliban re-grouping in neighbouring provinces.

posted by: Arash on 10.30.03 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

The PRT a success? Huh? My experience with them for the last 10 months has been that they are a futile waste of money pursuing public relations goals with no clear idea of exactly what 'nation building' is or how one goes about it. The simple fact is that it is done by the nation itself, not soldiers.
It is easy to throw rocks at aid workers for driving around in brand new cars and doing nothing, and for some of these NGOs, specifically many of those funded by USAid this is certainly the case.
However, when you consider that the US PRT in Bamyan (before the Kiwis) was paying USD500 a day to rent a bulldozer that rarely, if ever, got used, then we have to consider the following harsh, hard reality...
Soldiers are NOT humanitarian aid workers. They are, to put it bluntly, hired killers. I know, I trained soldiers for many years and I don't remember a damn thing that involved humanitarianism. Simply put, the PRTs do not have the capacity, neither in terms of financial or technical expertise to make one iota of difference in the future development of Afghanistan.
Indeed, what they have managed to achieve is a blurring of the lines between the military and humanitarian aid workers, a confusion that should not exist AT ALL. The recent targeting of humanitarian aid workers by the Taliban and other forces seeking to destabilise the Karzai government are a shocking example of the dangers of this.
The PRT disaster is not a whole lot more than an exercise in manipulating aid for political outcomes.
If the PRT are in Afghanistan to maintain security, than that is what their mandate is, not meddling about in areas of which they have no business.

posted by: El Bizarro on 10.30.03 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

Dear Sir,
my name is sayed maqsood having an afghan nationality and living in kabul afghanistan and i am the Director of national NGO which is working for reconstruction of afghanistan and i heared that the prt group are donating fund for rebuilding of afghanistan therefore i request u to please send me information about new project which is giving by PRT and i will be thankful for u r such kindness
with best regards.

posted by: s.maqsood on 10.30.03 at 09:05 AM [permalink]

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