Flirting With Disaster in Afghanistan, and a Glimmer of Hope

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Sen. John Kerry has a hand in the crafting of foreign policy second only to the President and the Secretary of State.  The following is a letter sent to him urging a course correction in Afghanistan, which he has the power to effect.

Dear Senator Kerry,

The war in Afghanistan is about to enter a new phase, and we are on the cusp of a new level of violence.  After eight years of occupation, the vast majority of Afghans remain mired in wretched poverty, and offensive operations by the U.S. military have been counter-productive.  The misallocation of aid is well-understood by Afghans, who see the "narco-mansions" and the new SUVs of foreign contractors while most can barely eat.

To say that "nation-building" is outside of the scope of the limited mission is to miss entirely the nature of the insurgency, which is ultimately the result of a failed reconstruction and rampant 40% unemployment.  This places the Taliban in the position of being the employer of last resort, able to pay a young demographic of potential new fighters a wage of $10 per day.

Although the Taliban remains widely unpopular, it is now becoming "less unpopular" than the American presence, which, given the Taliban's reputation for brutality, took some doing. But eight years after the occupation began, 40% of children are underweight, 35% of the population is malnourished, and one in five infants dies before the age of five.  AOL news reports that hunger is Afghanistan's biggest killer.

Allowing people to starve, while spending hundreds of billions on jet fuel contracts, bombs and bullets, is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which outline the responsibilities of an occupying power at Article 55:

"To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate."

Policy-makers are badly miscalculating the nature of Afghan nationalism, and offensive military operations which harm the Afghan people should be abandoned.  It was believed by Afghans that after the US abandonment to starvation and civil war in the 80's, that this time the promises of a reconstruction would be kept.  In Afghan culture, the second betrayal is far worse than the first.  We are on the verge of letting it happen.

This disaster can be averted, as can civil war.  This can be done at a cost to the US of what we spend on military operations in less than one month, or about $5 billion.  The National Solidarity Program (NSP) is an Afghan government program which is already in place, is of proven competence, and which has the capacity to immediately provide employment on a wide scale.

For far less than the cost of one month of military operations a widespread cash-for-work program could be implemented for everyone.

Some Americans will say this is ridiculous when there are not enough jobs right here in the U.S. But Americans don't work for $5 a day, and Afghans are happy to. It's not the $5 billion we spend on a civilian solution in Afghanistan that will break the bank and take away jobs from Americans. It's the $250 billion and counting that we have spent on counterproductive military operations and hardware.

The crucial aspects of the NSP are:

- The election of nearly 30,000 community development councils (CDCs) by each village, which choose from among different project proposals which both generate employment and benefit the communities,

- The selection of the council treasurer by the villagers themselves, who are best-placed to decide who is honest and competent,

- The sense of "buy in," or community ownership by the community, which both drives the communities to defend NSP projects against Taliban attack, and prevents Taliban attack due to the bad "public relations" it incurs.  

-  The existence of thousands of projects already on the drawing board, ready to implement immediately in order to hire many thousands of workers.  These projects lack only funding. The Honorable Ehsan Zia, the architect of the NSP, has been on Capitol Hill many times requesting this funding.

NSP projects tend to be simple: canal clearing, digging irrigation trench, and basic dirt road improvements using gravel and dirt, anything which puts a cash wage of about $7 per day, good money here, in the hands of economically desperate young men.

Please back an appropriation which is a small fraction of yearly military spending for the NSP.  Surely we can divert one month of what we spend on military operations into something that really works.  It is in ordinary, poor Afghans, and tribal society, that we will find our best allies in the "war on terror."  Let us not betray the Afghan people again, Senator.

Please email this post to John Kerry's Chief-of-Staff: Then call to confirm he received it:

(202) 224-2742 - Phone
(202) 224-8525 - Fax


Tags: nsp, national Solidarity Program, ehsan zia, Barack Obama, Afghanistan, John Kerry (all tags)


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