View Full Version : [Afghan News] February 14, 2012

03-03-2012, 05:22 AM
Taliban will not talk peace with Karzai government, spokesman says
By Nick Paton Walsh and Masoud Popalzai, CNN Tue February 14, 2012
(CNN) -- The Taliban have met with U.S. officials to discuss possible peace talks, but do not want to negotiate with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government, a Taliban spokesman said Tuesday.
The spokesman's comments, rejecting a key American condition, could potentially derail American efforts for Afghans to reach a negotiated end to the decade-long war.
In an e-mail response to questions from CNN, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid denied previous reports that the Taliban had been invited to meet with the Karzai government in Saudi Arabia, saying that talks with what he called a "puppet" government would be pointless.
"We have never been asked to attend talks with Karzai administration officials in Saudi Arabia, but even if we are asked to attend, we won't because (the) Karzai government is a puppet and unauthorized, and meeting with them will not be beneficial in solving the issue," Mujahid wrote in a message from an e-mail account regularly used by the Taliban to issue statements.
The spokesman, in answers that he said had taken some time to consider, said the Taliban wants direct discussions with the Americans.
"The issue is ... who is powerful and has got the power to make a decision, and who hasn't, and everyone around the world knows that the one who has got the authority in opposition to the Mujahideen (the Taliban) is America," he wrote.
The e-mail also contained the Taliban's first open recognition that they have met with U.S. officials in Qatar -- talks that senior American officials also confirmed.
The talks with the Taliban are aimed at establishing what the senior U.S. officials called "confidence-building measures" to lay the groundwork for negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, with the United States possibly serving in a mediation role.
U.S. officials have been trying to jump-start peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan officials through discussions over the past year.
The nascent process has been marred by dissatisfaction from Afghan government officials that they were not included at the start. Karzai's advisers have complained that U.S. officials were going behind Kabul's back in talking to the Taliban.
After initially opposing U.S.-Taliban talks, Karzai has since given his blessing, paving the way for a meeting last month between U.S. envoy Marc Grossman and Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, senior U.S. officials said.
The Taliban's demand to talk with U.S. officials and not the Karzai administration could throw a wrench in the U.S. State Department's demand that all talks be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.
Another meeting between U.S. officials and Taliban representatives could happen this month, the senior U.S. officials said.
The officials said the likelihood of reaching a deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban is slim. The talks could sow discord in the Taliban ranks, between those who want to negotiate and those who don't, the senior U.S. officials said.
On Tuesday, Mujahid said that the Taliban sought confidence-building measures from the Americans for talks to proceed.
"The trust-building phase is totally up to Americans," the spokesman wrote, "and they have to take measures and our conditions are as follows: Exchange of Guantanamo prisoners, the establishment of political office (in Qatar), removing the sanction lists of the UN (against Taliban figures)."
American demands for the Taliban include requiring them to renounce terrorism and to distance themselves from al Qaeda, senior U.S. officials said. Taliban representatives seemed organized, professional and willing to meet those demands during the Qatar talks, according to the senior U.S. officials.
CNN's Elise Labott contributed to this report.

Taliban reveals political strategy for first time
By Nic Robertson, CNN Tue February 14, 2012
(CNN) -- CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson explains that when the Taliban admitted to having talks with U.S. officials, it also showed, for the first time, the group's political strategy and how Taliban leaders might be hoping to get a better deal from the negotiating table than they can hope for from the battlefield.
Why are the Taliban admitting to talks now?
It has taken them some time to answer CNN so they have given some consideration to our questions. It seems they want to show they are proceeding and that they are talking with the Americans.
In context they clearly want to send a signal to President Hamid Karzai. The message to Karzai is they consider him politically irrelevant, a stooge of the foreign powers. They recognize that he is in his final term and cannot be re-elected.
If they are looking forward to post-2014 then they are looking forward perhaps politically to where they have a bigger stake in the future of the country.
How does this play into regional relations?
Afghanistan is intrinsically linked to Pakistan. Pakistan wants to have influence and a voice.
What appears to be happening is that the U.S. is not waiting for Pakistan to decide how it wants to proceed. The U.S. is essentially sidelining Pakistan and moving ahead on its own, though possibly still with a little Pakistan support.
And the Taliban is showing some political acumen. If they deal with Karzai it empowers him in the future. By cutting him out now, it cuts out a political rival.
We are seeing the Taliban's political strategy emerge and it's the first time we have seen that.
Whether or not the U.S. will go along with that -- and they have said peace talks must be an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process -- remains to be seen.
What are both sides hoping for?
Both Mullah Omar and President Barack Obama have authorized their representatives to meet and talk.
The United States wants an honorable way out of Afghanistan; to show some stability as they draw down troops, which they will do almost regardless of conditions, and there will be a changeover to Afghan-led security.
It also recognizes from the U.S point of view that they consider Afghanistan to be a strategic base for the future where they would look to maintain airstrips and possibly some special forces capability.
Unless they can deal with the Taliban they will always be fighting a rearguard action against it and it will be very difficult to maintain those bases.
From the Taliban perspective they recognize they probably cannot gain on the battlefield everything they gained in the past when they had more than 90 percent of the country.
That was won with money from Pakistan and Mullah Omar is no longer trusted by Pakistan and he won't get that kind of funding again.
The northern political groups in Afghanistan -- the Taliban's ethnic enemies -- are also now in a different position. They are much better armed, equipped, trained and richer than they were when the Taliban was fighting them and winning.
That's because the U.S., when it entered Afghanistan, went in with the help of those northern groups and those groups benefited financially and militarily.
The bottom line for the Taliban is they may have realized they can get more by making a deal at the negotiating table than they can by waiting for U.S. forces to leave and then trying to take ground militarily.

Hamid Karzai to push for access to Taliban in Pakistan
By Hamid Shalizi | Reuters – Tue, Feb 14, 2012
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai will press Pakistan to provide access to senior Afghan Taliban leaders when he visits Islamabad this week in a bid to advance a nascent peace process with the militant group, senior Afghan officials said on Tuesday.
Pakistan is seen as critical to efforts to reach a settlement to Afghanistan's conflict, now in its eleventh year, and is believed to have influence over Afghan insurgent groups.
"We hope that Pakistan will arrange a purposeful meeting between us and so that we find a solution to our own problems," said one Afghan official, emphasising hopes of direct talks with Taliban leaders belonging so the so-called Quetta Shura, named after the Pakistani city where it is said to be based.
"Pakistan has paid little attention to our concerns and the level is cooperation has not been sincere or honest so far."
Pakistan has consistently denied giving sanctuary to insurgents and denies the existence of any Quetta Shura, or leadership council.
But Afghans have long been suspicious that Pakistan uses militant groups like the Afghan Taliban as proxies in Afghanistan to counter the growing influence of rival India.
Ties between Pakistan and Afghanistan were strained for months after the assassination in September of Afghan peace envoy and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Afghan officials blamed Pakistan's intelligence agency, allegations angrily denied by Islamabad.
But Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said after a recent trip to Kabul that a lot of the ill will between the neighbours had faded, and she said Pakistan would encourage Afghan militant groups to pursue peace if asked by Kabul.
Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi said while relations between the neighbours in recent months had seen "ups and downs", the trip was aimed at consolidating a recent improvement.
Karzai is expected to meet Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari during his visit which starts on Thursday.
They are also due to hold talks on counter-terrorism and trade in a trilateral summit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Afghan Taliban announced last month it would open a political office in Qatar, suggesting the group may be willing to engage in negotiations that could likely give it government positions or official control over much of its historical southern heartland.
While Afghanistan supports any talks that the Taliban may have with American officials in Qatar, it also wants countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to play a role so that the process is comprehensive, analysts say.
Karzai will meet Pakistani religious leaders and opposition figures in a bid to broaden support for fledgling talks with the Taliban, the senior Afghan officials said.
(Writing by Rob Taylor; Editing by Michael Georgy and Robert Birsel)

Taliban are Terrorists and the Murderers of Afghan People: Spanta Monday, 13 February 2012
National Security Advisor to President Karzai, in an Exclusive Interview with TOLOnews, said that Taliban are the murderers of Afghan people and are servants of foreigners.
Mr Spanta said one should not expect humane behaviour from the Taliban.
He said if government tries to bring Taliban to power, he will feel ashamed to being part of it.
Killing is the art of the Taliban and if anyone calls Taliban leaders as "heroes", will be a traitor and enemy of Afghanistan, Mr Spanta continued.
Taliban's aim is to impose medieval culture on contemporary era.
"If government tries to bring Taliban into power and ignore our achievements, I want to say from now that I am feel ashamed before history," Mr Spanta said.
He emphasised that Afghan government should not lose the war it's winning, with Taliban's propaganda.
Mr Spanta believes that the Taliban can be considered the main problem for Afghanistan in the last 10 years.
He called Hezbe Islami an easy party to talk to, but said that government should talk with main players of the Afghan crisis.
He called Taliban's Qatar office only an address to the militant group, and not a political office.
"This office is only an address for talking to the Taliban, and it can in no way be seen as recognition of the Taliban," he added.
He called corruption a major challenge ahead of the Afghan government. Existence of corruption has paved the way for the enemies of Afghanistan to misuse it.
He once again emphasised on Afghan-owned Peace process and said Afghanistan will not sacrifice the past achievements.
The statements come as Afghan government recently agreed to establishment of Taliban's Qatar office.
The Taliban group has also shown its readiness for talks with the US government and it's Western allies.
Release of Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay prison has been Taliban main pre-condition for talks.
Recently Afghan government expressed it's agreement to transfer of Taliban prisoners to Qatar to join their families.
It came as Pakistani media reported that the talks between the US and the Taliban have ended without result.

Pakistan allows NATO to ship food to Afghanistan
By ZARAR KHAN | Associated Press – Tue, Feb 14, 2012
ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan announced Tuesday that it has temporarily allowed NATO to ship perishable food to its troops in Afghanistan, a sign of thawing tensions following American airstrikes last year that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
Pakistan closed its Afghan border to NATO supplies in response to the deadly Nov. 26 attack on two of its border posts. The closure has been a headache for coalition forces, who have had to spend much more money to get goods to Afghanistan using alternative routes.
Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar said the government would only allow NATO to ship perishable items for a limited time and has asked the coalition not to order any more. He did not indicate when the approval was given.
The U.S. and Pakistan still disagree over who should be blamed for the November attack, but there have been growing signs that relations are improving.
There was a temporary hiccup in that process Tuesday when Pakistani police briefly detained a U.S. Embassy employee after bullets were found in his luggage at an airport in the country's northwest. But the man was handed over to American officials after a couple hours.
The move to allow food items to enter Afghanistan could be a precursor to opening the border altogether.
Pakistan's parliament is expected to vote on a revised framework for relations with the U.S. this week that could pave the way for the government to reopen the supply line.
Also, senior Pakistani officials have said in recent days that the government should fully reopen its border to NATO supplies as long as it can negotiate better fees from the coalition.
Pakistan security forces met with their NATO and Afghan counterparts Tuesday to discuss improving security for the upcoming coalition convoys, said spokesman for the paramilitary Frontier Corps Saeed Ahmed. They met in the city of Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province, one of Pakistan's two Afghan border crossings.
For most of the 10-year war in Afghanistan, 90 percent of supplies shipped to coalition forces came through Pakistan, via the port of Karachi. But over the past three years, NATO has increased its road and rail shipments through an alternate route that runs through Russia and Central Asia. The northern route was longer and more expensive, but provided a hedge against the riskier Pakistan route.
Before the accidental American airstrikes on Nov. 26, about 30 percent of non-lethal supplies for U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan traveled through Pakistan.
The U.S. has since increased the amount of supplies running through the northern route, but this has cost it a lot more money. Pentagon figures provided to the AP in January showed that the alternative transport was costing about $104 million per month, $87 million more per month than when the cargo moved through Pakistan.
The U.S. Embassy employee detained at an airport in the city of Peshawar had 13 bullets in his luggage, said police officer Dost Mohammad Khan. It was unclear why the bullets were there. The man was scheduled to fly to Islamabad.
A U.S. official said the man was an embassy employee and had diplomatic immunity. He said the U.S. Embassy was in contact with the Pakistani authorities "about the details of the case."
The U.S. official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by Washington to be named in the media.
There is a large U.S. consulate in Peshawar, which is close to the Afghan border.
The presence of American diplomats inside Pakistan emerged as a sensitive issue after a CIA contractor killed two Pakistani men in the eastern city of Lahore a year ago. U.S. officials insisted the shooter had diplomatic immunity, but Pakistan held him in jail for around two months, causing severe strain in U.S-Pakistan ties.
The unilateral American-raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani army town in May last year also led to a fresh wave of suspicion against Western diplomats by the Pakistani security establishment, which was apparently stung by the realization that the CIA agents were operating in the country without its knowledge.
Associated Press writer Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, Matiullah Achakzai in Chaman, Pakistan, and Chris Brummitt in Islamabad contributed to this report.

Afghan Report Blames NATO for Airstrike That Killed Children
New York Times By ALISSA J. RUBIN and SHARIFULLAH SAHAK February 13, 2012
KABUL, Afghanistan - Seven children and a young adult were killed in a NATO airstrike last week as they grazed their sheep and goats in a snowy area of eastern Afghanistan, according to Afghan government officials who announced the findings of their investigation into the strike on Monday.
The strike occurred after a dawn clearing operation by NATO troops in a nearby village on Feb. 8, said Mohammed Tahir Safi, an adviser to President Hamid Karzai, who led the committee that investigated the civilian casualties.
“I call on human rights community and the world community: Who will speak up for the rights of these children?” he said. “Will you take the rights of these children?”
Mr. Safi held up photographs of what he said were the victims. Most looked like boys between the ages of 11 and 15. Their faces were bloodied and in at least one case the eye and side of the face was partially gone from the blast. The boys all appeared to be lying on white sheets. He said that one of the victims was between 18 and 20 years old, but that the rest were much younger.
The investigating committee, which traveled with NATO officers to the site of the attack in a remote, snowbound area, included representatives of the Afghan security forces as well as local elders and politicians.
NATO is investigating the deaths but has not yet determined whether it was responsible or who was killed, and how the strike came about, said Lt. Col. Jimmie E. Cummings, a NATO spokesman.
“We were engaging a group of armed men that we observed engaging in unusual behavior,” said Colonel Cummings.
The attack was “in accordance with our tactical directives,” he added, referring to the rules of engagement used by NATO troops.
“Afterwards additional casualties were discovered,” he said. “We have a thorough assessment going to discover how those casualties came about.”
Unlike many civilian casualties that are caused by NATO troops and occur at night, this one appears to have happened during daylight hours, according to local villagers. It is unclear whether there were Taliban in the area or other insurgents. Local government officials have said that there are gun runners in the district, but not Taliban.
One of the villagers, who works as a police chief in a nearby district, lost his 12-year-old son, Ajmal, and two nephews, ages 9 and 11. The police officer, Abdul Zahid, described the area as deeply poor with almost no services of any kind.
“We don’t have paved roads, school or a clinic in Gayawa,” he said. “There’s almost one meter snow here in our village and we send our children to take care of the goats and sheep and feed them and collect firewood from the trees nearby and bring it home so we can heat our homes.”
On Feb. 8 when the bombing happened, the children had gone as usual to the grazing area outside the village. They had just finished letting the animals graze and had made a small fire to keep warm when they were bombed, he said.
“Suddenly some airplanes came and dropped bombs on the children and killed my son, my two nephews and some other children from our village,” said Mr. Zahid. “When we went there we saw the children in pieces, some missing legs, some missing arms, only the heads and face could be recognized, nothing else.”
Both Mr. Safi and Mr. Zahid said that British, French and Americans had come to the village and apologized for the deaths. NATO officials did not comment on whether its officers had apologized. The area is under the control of French troops.
Mr. Zahid said that he was comforted when he received a phone call from President Hamid Karzai after his son’s death. “I could not even imagine that the president would call and talk to a poor person from a rural village,” he said. “But when I heard his voice it gave me more hopes that our government is strong and they will avoid such incidents in the future and will bring the murderers to justice.”

Can the Afghan army take the lead in battle?
BBC News By Quentin Sommerville 13 February 2012
Northern Helmand, Afghanistan - On a chilly winter morning just before daybreak, in northern Helmand, hundreds of Afghan soldiers are on the move.
The Afghan National Army is in the lead. Around 900 Afghan soldiers and police have flooded into this dusty corner of Helmand, just south of Highway One. They are searching for Taliban fighters; the Afghans outnumber their British advisors, nine to one.
The man in charge is Brig Gen Sheren Shah. He stands on the battlefield, brimming with self-confidence.
"Our foreign friends are in the back giving us support, but we know this place better, we know the language and only we can search the people and houses, not the foreigners," he said.
Earlier, in a briefing room, Afghan officers plotted the operation on a mud and rock map on the floor. Ramshackle affair
British officers might be looking over their shoulders, but for the first time this is an operation that is Afghan-conceived and executed. With most British troops leaving at the end of 2014, this is the shape of things to come.
"We used to lead and they would follow. Now it's the other way around. Even if they make mistakes, it's better they do it while we are here, not after we left," one British officer explained.
On the ground, the general and his Warriors, the official name for Afghan soldiers, get off to a flying start. They are helped by the fact that many of the Taliban in the area are lying low for the winter.
In the past the Afghan army was a ramshackle affair, but these soldiers are better equipped and more organised than before. They are wearing full body armour and form orderly lines as they spread out across the area.
But in the background, sitting in armoured vehicles, are British soldiers.
They are here as advisors, but they are doing much more than just advising. They are making sure the operation does not fall apart, and are determined to pass control to Afghans as soon as possible. It is an acceleration of the handover, perhaps a hasty one.
The Afghans find 14 improvised explosives devices (IEDs) planted by the Taliban. But it is British vehicles, clearing the route for an Afghan push, that sustain damage when a number of the homemade bombs detonate.
Lt Col Bill Wright, of the Brigade Advisory Group, is pleased with progress, but still sees big gaps in Afghan readiness.
"At the lowest tactical level they are very good, it's the bigger pieces now, ensuring that they've got the capability to service all their vehicles, and get the spares systems up and running, the logistics up and running, to keep what is a huge army on the road and in the fight," he said.
As the operation draws to a close, it is clear that British and American troops are still the powers behind the fight in Helmand.
Most foreign troops do not leave for another couple of years, but the limitations of the Afghan army to stand alone, and face a determined insurgency, are still plain to see.

Valentine's Day comes into light in Afghanistan
by Farid Behbud, Yangtze Yan
KABUL, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- Although the conservative Afghanistan majority are unaware of the Valentine's Day, some youngsters do celebrate the day by sending flowers to their beloved ones and by sending messages via cell phone or the Internet.
"Today is the Valentine's Day, it is a nice day for the young community, because this day gives lovers a chance to get in touch with each others to prove their affections," a lady named Palwasha Saboori told Xinhua on Tuesday.
"I hope everyone present a red flower or a postcard with a message of love to their dearest and that further tighten their love affairs," said 27-year-old Saboori at a flower shop in downtown Kabul.
Saboori, the director of a non-governmental organization for Afghan women training and development, said that in her country the majority of people have no idea about the Valentine's Day. Nevertheless, she noted, "We have very well-known lovers in our wealthy literature and rich history like Laili and Majnoon as well as Shirin and Farhad."
Speaking with a sorrow feeling, a young man named Belal said that "people mark the Valentine's Day worldwide, but we do not have a chance to celebrate the day here openly."
"It is true and it is the life of Afghan people, but we are happy because no blasts or bombings happened today. We wish our people could live in security," Belal said.
Saboori and Belal were interviewed by Xinhua in Kabul's popular Flower Street. Famous for serving customers with precious flowers and built about half a century ago, the small but well-known bazaar matches its name as bunches of variety of flowers are seen placed in front or inside the shops, attracting the flower-loving people particularly the youths.
"Many Kabulis also come to buy flower in special days like the Mother's Day, the Teacher's Day and the New Year's Day as well as the Valentine's Day and the Women's Day." said a flower seller, Farid Sangar.
Sangar said that several flower shops had been shut down by the Taliban, adding that many Taliban fighters did not like shopkeepers to sell flowers during the Taliban reign, which collapsed by the U.S.-led military campaign in late 2001.
"Today is the Valentine's Day, the young generation in this day comes to flower shops and buy flowers for their girlfriends. Today I also came here to buy some flowers for my girlfriend and show my love to her," Zakrya, 20, told Xinhua in the Flower Street.
"Lovers choose gifts to present for their sweethearts on the Valentine's Day but Afghan youths have only one easy approach to send them an SMS or an email," said Zakrya.
In Afghanistan, the tradition is that having open relations between boys and girls is a taboo. Love marriage and court marriage seldom happen in the Muslim Afghan society as the families prefer arranged marriage for their sons and daughters in accordance with Sharia or Islamic laws.
To slam the promotion of the Valentine's Day culture in the conservative Afghan society, an Afghan internet user has disapproved the western originated love culture by posting "No to Valentine's Day, I am a Muslim" on his facebook wall.
But a message posted by another Internet user said "Happy Valentine's Day to all lovers."

Investigation Launched Over $42m Hospital Embezzlement By Wali Arian Monday, 13 February 2012
High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption Strategy said on Monday that investigation about embezzlement of $42 million at Sardar Mohammad Dawood Khan Hospital has been launched.
A delegation comprised of Isaf and Afghan government officials has been assigned to investigate about the embezzlement, Director of High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption Strategy said.
"The delegation will try to find out what has been paid, to whom and when," Mr Ludin said.
Previously, Nato officials had said that 42 million US dollars had been embezzled by officials at Sardar Mohammad Dawood Khan Hospital.
After the claim, several hospital officials were sacked.
Mr Ludin also criticised establishment of a similar office to fight corruption and said that the Joint Commission of Oversight on Implementation of International Projects in Afghanistan were in vain.
Fight against corruption has been one of the major government plans in the past years.
Despite establishment of several institutions to fight corruption, it is believed that efforts have failed.

Leaving Afghan Development in the Wrong Hands
Why Relying on Locals Isn't the Answer
Foreign Affairs By Matiullah Amin February 13, 2012
As the date for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches, neither Washington nor Kabul is paying enough attention to long-term development. The lack of a strategy for the day after troops depart will leave Afghanistan unable to sustain itself -- a scenario that is not good for the Afghan people or for the donor population.
The international community, to the extent that it has considered the development question, has hung virtually all its hopes on the Afghan government's National Solidarity Program, which relies on rural citizens to carry out development projects. According to many think tanks, the NSP offers the best way forward, because, in the words of the Center for a New American Security, it "generates institutions at the local level that are crucial to any vision of a self-sustaining Afghan state."
But some major and unavoidable contradictions are built into the NSP framework, keeping the program from realizing its potential. Namely, by relying on unskilled local populations, the program dooms itself to inefficiency. Meanwhile, the NSP's too-short project timelines mean that there is hardly time to transfer any skills to locals, so gains are fleeting, if ever achieved at all. Unless its weaknesses are addressed, the NSP will prove unsustainable and could end up further undermining the Afghan people's confidence in their government -- the exact opposite of what the program was once hoped to deliver.
The NSP was created in 2003 by the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development after Ashraf Ghani, the country's finance minister at the time, advocated for a community-led development program. He had closely followed the work of Scott Guggenheim, his friend from graduate school, who had successfully used the community-driven approach in Indonesia in the late 1990s. The NSP today consists of 28,884 Community Development Councils, which are elected to consult with locals to establish a list of development priorities. The projects they select together are meant to benefit a broad public, not just specific groups. While executing projects, the NSP emphasizes partnership between the government and local populations by integrating local preferences and ideas.
The NSP structure was intended to embody the notion of "participatory development," which has become something of a slogan within the development community. Today, the program is almost a poster child for the concept. Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for example, touts it as giving communities the opportunity to create a new civic infrastructure -- an essential component of any successful counterinsurgency campaign. Some also believe that it strengthens the sense of local ownership in projects and ensures that the gains are sustained over the long term. After a visit to an NSP-built primary school near Bagram, for example, Levin noted that villagers were "prepared to defend [the school] with their lives against the Taliban."
Despite its good intentions, the NSP has fallen well short of expectations. Put simply, it is not very efficient: its wholehearted focus on giving communities everything they want diminishes its ability to deliver what they need. The NSP glorifies the processes at the expense of providing substantive outcomes.
To begin with, rural Afghans have low tolerance for social risk. Local consensus generally favors non-controversial programs, which, in turn, leads to a complete denial of important projects. One striking example is girls' education: a mere 4.34 percent of the total budget disbursed through the NSP since 2003 was directed toward education, and those funds are usually spent on the construction and refurbishment of schools. Only 30 percent of the schools built by the NSP are for girls.
Meanwhile, the NSP is plagued by a lack of expertise among its local staff. The Afghan civil war of the 1990s, and the years of Taliban rule that followed, brought the level of infrastructure and human capital in the country to near zero. Afghan villagers simply lack the skills needed to efficiently implement projects. For example, in 2010, villagers in Tatar Khil spent approximately $55,000 on a school that the NSP later declared "failed" due to inadequate quality. Yet another example is a school that the NSP built in Kapisa province that did not meet the quality standards set by the provincial Department of Education. In Baghlan province, locals received funds from the NSP to build hydroelectric power plants, water supply and irrigation networks, and sanitation facilities. But the necessary skills and equipment to complete such ambitious projects were in short supply and many of them were halted before they were finished -- or didn't work once they were.
Beyond NSP's regular two- to three-year commitment, some communities become eligible for what is called the Cycle III phase, formerly known as Cycle II+, which provides an additional 12 months of need-based support. The extra funds are meant to help communities successfully finish projects that they have already started. But not every villiage and town is assured of this extra help. Without it, the NSP's projects are simply too quick and too short-lived. What Afghanistan needs most is a population with technical skills. Those take longer to develop than two or three years.
Finally, since participatory development projects are planned and carried out at the local level, they are vulnerable to local "elite capture," or embezzlement by program officials. That is especially true for the NSP, given Afghanistan's tribal dynamics and the prominence local commanders gained during the anti-Soviet jihad. In Parwan province, one NSP council member, who was not elected but imposed on the program because of his powerful father was accused of siphoning off program money. He was never held responsible because he claimed to be protected by the police and a member of parliament. Donor representatives believe that local council members regularly hire relatives or friends from other villages for infrastructure projects; this raises their suspicions that they are not reliable partners and hold programs back from being efficient (on the other hand, some members might just trust family members to be more reliable).
The NSP will not put Afghanistan on the path to prosperity. What the country needs is a new program -- one that would overcome the current one's problems. For starters, such a program should reduce the maximum allotment of aid from $60,000 per community in phase one to $30,000. This would minimize the incentive for elites to steal and would allow rural communities to test out specific projects with smaller sums. A new NSP would also arrange for councils to work with communities for five to ten years, in order to transfer professional skills and give social norms a chance to change. (The two modifications would offset each other: increased commitment time would be made possible by a fifty percent cut in the first round of funding. The NSP currently promises $60,000 over two to three years; the new program would total that over five to ten.) A new and improved NSP would also require more community financial contribution to each project. The program would start off asking for a 10 percent payment, as the NSP cur
rently does, but it would increase that ask by 10 to 15 percent every year to reduce dependency. By the time a project was completed, ownership and management would have completely transferred to locals.
The executive director of NSP, Mohammad Ismati, has set the goal of the organization "attaining the landmark of full national coverage" in the next four years. Instead, Afghans must strive for substantive outcomes in each and every community. Quality matters. If designed and implemented correctly, a smarter development strategy could provide for a sustainable transition beyond 2014; otherwise, Afghanistan is doomed to depending on others. And that would lead to a vicious cycle of instability and reduced donor commitment; Afghans, and the rest of the world, would have to start again from scratch. (