Sunday, December 19, 2010

Expert rejects Australian priorities in Afghanistan

MUCH of the billions of dollars of international aid dedicated to Afghanistan is ending up in the pockets of the Taliban and fuelling the insurgency, a Defence counter-insurgency expert says.

Cutting poverty and building infrastructure were also counterproductive, undermining efforts to bring peace to the country, David Matthews said.

Dr Matthews, the head of the counter-insurgency studies team at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, briefed coalition officials at Australia's base at Tarin Kowt. The overall coalition commander in Oruzgan province, Colonel Jim Creighton from the US, and the Australian commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Darren Huxley, were present.

Nine years after the invasion of Afghanistan, the coalition had fallen into the trap of trying to impose a framework of centralised governance on a country which had no real history of strong central government, Dr Matthews said.

He pointed out that some of the most peaceful provinces were also the poorest.
''There was a belief that if you come in and build roads, schools or paint a governor's compound, all of a sudden everyone's going to be happy. In my personal view, it's spectacularly failed in Afghanistan,'' Dr Matthews said.

''Poverty is rarely a driver of conflict,'' he said. ''Pure development should be pursued for development's sake.

''Inadequate infrastructure is rarely a driver of poverty … Building a road or providing education is not necessarily going to generate goodwill.''

The Taliban had siphoned off much of the development aid funnelled into Afghanistan - about $40 billion since 2001, he said.

And practices the West considered fair and transparent, such as tendering, were entrenching inequality. Decades of war had produced ''winners and losers'' and the winners were in far better positions to get contracts.

Instead, the most effective way of stabilising the country was for the occupying forces to understand and tackle the causes of local conflict, such as tribalism, through providing security and access to justice.

''Insecurity is a massive driver of conflict and if we can create security, it often goes a long way. A lot of people are not dyed-in-the-wool, ideological insurgents. The local guys are making guesses based on risks and rewards.''

More Afghans were turning to Taliban judges for legal rulings on inheritance and debt.
''Even if there are justice mechanisms there at a local level, justice is available to the highest bidder in the main. This is at the top of the list everywhere we go.
''The Taliban are out-governing us in the justice sector, and that is a massive problem.''

Colonel Huxley said the military was not trained to deal with localised conflicts and that its role was not to navigate power politics at a district level.
''How can you expect the military to enter a foreign country, a fragile state, and automatically be able to do this?'' he said.

''This is an alien culture to the military that's fighting here . .. The people who own the power in this country are not the military. The power players are out in the civilian world, and we do not understand what their goals are in their communities.''
Sydney Morning Herald

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