Taking Stock of Four Years of Reconstruction

The goals of the Petersberg Agreement have largely been met: an emergency and constituent Loya Jirga was convened and presidential and parliamentary elections were held. But the country is still in hot water, writes Martin Gerner

The goals of the Petersberg Agreement in December 2001 have largely been met: an emergency and constituent Loya Jirga was convened and presidential and parliamentary elections were held. But the country is still in hot water, writes Martin Gerner

Afghan workers build a kiln to fire bricks on the outskirts of Kabul (photo: AP)
A crucial time for the Afghan nation: the coming months will determine whether the reconstruction of the country can be successful in the long run

​​Since 2002, donor countries have pledged to donate just under $ 13 billion to Afghanistan over the course of five years. According to the Afghan Minister of Economy, Amin Fahrhang, over $ 8 billion of this total has already been spent. After the USA, Germany and Japan are Afghanistan's biggest donors.

Economic upswing

Four years after the toppling of the Taliban, the economic upswing is evident. Hundreds of kilometres of new roads have been tarred and hundreds of schools have been built. Over five million children are receiving an education, many of them girls. While the supply of electricity and water is still inadequate, health services have improved significantly.

Nevertheless, the economy is still ailing. Almost everything is imported: rice and oil, cement and electricity. Kiri cheese, Kellogg's cornflakes, and Coca-Cola are stacked high in supermarkets. Is this globalisation as a one-way street? "None of this reinforces my faith in democracy. What can we do to give our economy a chance?" asked the youngest candidate in the recent parliamentary elections.

The work of about 3,000 development aid organisations has completely changed the face of life in the Afghan capital, Kabul. "Kabulistan", a moloch with a population of between three and four million, is characterised by the stark contrast between rich and poor: new temples of consumption stand cheek by jowl with beggars.

Prices and values have gone off the rails. Night clubs are mushrooming. Anyone who can speak reasonable English and is flexible will often get well-paid work. There is even an Afghan version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" - with a vacuum cleaner as a jackpot - on national television. Critics of rapid modernisation now consider the word "democracy" to be a dirty word that means "anything goes".

Corruption and huge waste

"Aid is getting into Afghanistan, but we have no overview of how much is coming in and where it is being spent," explains Afghan Minister of Economy, Amin Fahrhang. The government hopes that a new law will result in increased controlling and transparency from aid organisations. The newly elected parliament has also severely criticised the way aid money is dealt with.

Many German organisations that are doing excellent work feel as if they are been unfairly disparaged. But mismanagement and a "take-what-you-can-get" mentality are not rare.

photo: AP
Critics of rapid modernisation now consider the word "democracy" to be a dirty word that means "anything goes". The picture shows the shrine of Abul Fazel Agha, a Muslim saint, in Kabul

​​For years, Germany and the EU have provided financial support for projects initiated by the media organisation Aina. The organisation, which sought to help Afghan journalists go freelance, increasingly became a sort of bottomless pit.

"Credible accounting increases mutual trust," explains Jermyn Brooks, head of Transparency International in Berlin. While some international advisors to ministries pocketed annual salaries of up to half a million dollars, the average income in the Afghan public service is somewhere in the region of $ 40 a month.

"We simply have to reform development aid," says Jean Mazurelle, manager of the World Bank in Kabul. "To date, we have not been able to meet the expectations of the people here." President Karzai's chief of staff, Jawed Ludin, is disillusioned: "The golden period of the first four years was also a time of huge waste."

It is highly unlikely that this evil can be stamped out across the board in the short term. Government and ministries are themselves hotbeds of corruption, which brings us neatly to the topic of drug trafficking.

Drug trafficking continues to flourish

Some of the people who pull the strings in the drug trafficking sector and benefit from it are either members of the cabinet or at the head of provincial governments. This is why President Karzai's declaration of a "Holy War" on poppy cultivation does not carry much conviction. After all, both Karzai and the international community have to date avoided open confrontation on this issue.

"His options are limited," explains Ludin. He goes on to say that the drugs barons have received backing from the USA. "The same guys who are being accused of drug trafficking by the international community are our trustworthy partners in the war on terror," is how Ludin describes the dilemma.

The key word here is "alternative livelihoods". According to Christoph Berg of the Germany's Agency for Technical Cooperation, GTZ, "it is all about giving farmers alternatives so that they don't have to rely on the lucrative cash crop that is poppy." He explains that efforts have been made to get farmers to switch to saffron or cotton. In other cases, farmers are offered improved irrigation systems if they will stop poppy cultivation.

It is said that 50,000 farmers gave up the cultivation of poppies last year. However, part of the income from the drugs trade is still filling the coffers of the extremists.

The 'Iraqisation' of the conflict?

Taliban fighters are still a serious security problem in Afghanistan. "In fact, it is likely that the situation will temporarily get worse," says Afghanistan expert Ahmed Rashid, "however, unlike in Iraq, the western presence in the country has the widespread support of the Afghan population."

Those who oppose the government and the international military presence in the country are pursuing a policy of targeted attacks, which have of late taken a new turn: there has been an increasing number of suicide bombers. However, whether this is the first indication of a budding 'Iraqisation' of the Afghan conflict remains to be seen.

Martin Gerner

© Qantara.de 2006

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan


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