Development Issues

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1 Afghan woman in 11 will die during childbirth

FACTBOX-Why are maternal deaths so high in Afghanistan?

12 Dec 2011 10:01, Source: Reuters // Reuters

An Afghan midwife puts a newborn baby next to its mother at the Razai Foundation Maternity Hospital in Herat province November 30, 2011. Mohammad Shoib

KABUL, Dec 12 (Reuters) – Afghanistan has the worst rate of maternal mortality in the world, the latest World Health Organization data shows, with a toxic mix of inaccessibility, poverty and cultural barriers to women’s healthcare conspiring against expectant mothers.

One Afghan woman in 11 will die of causes related to pregnancy and birth during her childbearing years, the WHO says. In neighbouring Tajikistan, that figure is one in 430, while in Austria, it is one in 14,300.

WHY DO SO MANY WOMEN DIE IN PREGNANCY AND BIRTH?   Read full story

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Saving Yemen

Is Counterterrorism Enough?
Foreign Affairs, by Marisa L. Porges, November 16, 2010

Yemen rose to the forefront of U.S. counterterrorism efforts in December 2009, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was trained in Yemen by al Qaeda, attempted to bomb an airliner bound for Detroit. Since then, Washington has become concerned about the growing influence of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its spokesman, the U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. When two bombs were sent on cargo from Yemen to the United States last month, public attention again focused on U.S. strategies to combat AQAP.

So far, however, these efforts have been complicated by the current state of Yemen itself, which faces a multitude of internal problems that are pushing it to the brink of failure. Interconnected threats from the Houthi rebellion in the north, an increasingly active secessionist movement in the south, and a host of growing socioeconomic problems make Yemen a priority for experts in both counterterrorism and development. Yemen’s potential collapse concerns U.S. officials not just because of al Qaeda but also because such an event could threaten U.S. access to Bab el-Mandab (the narrow strait into the Red Sea through which millions of barrels of oil and countless military vessels pass each day), as well as create the prospect of a vast Yemeni humanitarian crisis that could send millions of refugees into oil-rich Saudi Arabia and beyond.

As months pass with little clear progress, and as anxiety about AQAP grows, Western governments and Yemenis themselves are increasingly asking: Is it too late to save the country? Fortunately, there remains a small but rapidly closing window of opportunity to rescue Yemen and, in the process, address pressing security concerns.

Yemen is the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest state and more closely resembles many sub-Saharan countries than any of its Gulf neighbors. The country faces recurring food security issues, and Sana’a is projected to be the first capital city in the world to run out of water by 2025. Of Yemen’s nearly 24 million citizens, 43 percent live on two dollars a day, while approximately 40 percent are unemployed. Half of adult Yemenis are uneducated. This precarious situation is further exacerbated by the fact that Yemen’s population is expected to double in the next 15 years. This swelling demographic of young, unemployed Yemenis represents a significant socioeconomic concern and a potential target for radicalization and recruitment by terrorist organizations. Moreover, the country’s oil reserves, sales from which account for more than 70 percent of the government’s budget, are expected to run out within ten years. Given Yemen’s undiversified economy, the country will run out of money alongside oil.

The West’s overriding interest in halting terrorism has largely allowed Yemen’s leadership to skirt responsibility for its own failures.
What makes this dire situation all the more tragic is that Yemen was lauded as a model emerging democracy only a few years ago. The country’s first competitive presidential race, in 2006, suggested slow but ongoing progress. After Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s chief rival received 22 percent of the vote, the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to democracy promotion, declared that the election was not a typical Middle Eastern “showpiece.” The group further praised Yemen as a leader in political reform compared with its neighbors and applauded the country for its tolerance of opposition parties, extension of voting rights to women, and attempts to decentralize power. Meanwhile, Yemeni citizens have created a patchwork of political parties, nongovernmental organizations, charities, and social movements. These groups, which numbered almost 7,000 in 2009, advocate for a wide range of issues, including anticorruption programs, election monitoring, and initiatives to empower women and youth. Recently, one organization trained banks to counter money laundering and terrorist financing — an initiative that U.S. officials consider a key tool for combating terrorism in the region.

Yet since 2007, political reform has effectively stalled. Facing significant security and socioeconomic pressures, the Yemeni government became less concerned with supporting long-term reform initiatives and began instead to focus on short-term efforts to consolidate control. The southern secessionist movement grew increasingly aggressive in its efforts to raise issues of southern political, economic, and social marginalization since unification. In the north, Houthi Shiites had waged an intermittent insurrection against the government since 2004 and again drew Saleh’s attention when a new round of fighting began in January 2007. Al Qaeda also became increasingly active, attacking tourists and Western interests in the country. With threats on all sides, the regime moved to curtail political freedoms and civil liberties and began relying more heavily on tribes and patronage to hold the country together, fueling growing resentment among Yemeni citizens.

However, given past reform efforts and a history of effective consensus building, Yemen’s future is not necessarily destined for failure. To “save” Yemen — and in the process, help it meet its own security objectives — Washington must balance near-term counterterrorism efforts with political reform and development initiatives, and make difficult decisions about how to prioritize and sequence response efforts.

Developing a coherent, coordinated, and most important, feasible strategy has been challenging. In the wake of the failed bombing attempt last December, U.S. policymakers publicly pledged to combine security assistance to Yemen with programs to enhance development, humanitarian aid, and economic and political reform. Similarly, the Friends of Yemen, a group of 22 countries formed after the attempted Christmas Day attack to develop a multilateral response to Yemen’s problems, includes committees responsible for assisting Yemen with its economy, governance, and rule of law. Public statements after its most recent meeting in September announced a laundry list of objectives, from reconstruction efforts in the northern region of Sa’dah to establishing yet another donors fund for Yemen.

Yet implementing these reform and development plans has proven difficult, and international efforts to date have largely been fragmented and inconsistent. Many Yemenis contend that efforts have had little impact thus far and doubt the ability of Western donors to help. To achieve measurable success, Washington and the international community must more directly address the Yemeni government’s falling legitimacy at home. The West’s overriding interest in halting terrorism has largely allowed Yemen’s leadership to skirt responsibility for its own failures — especially with regard to its pervasive corruption. Transparency International recently ranked Yemen 146 out of 178 countries on their 2010 corruption perception index, ahead of only Iraq, Somalia, and Sudan in the region. U.S officials have, for the most part, been willing to overlook such tremendous corruption and related misgovernance as long as Saleh met Washington’s demands for increased pressure on al Qaeda.

Although the U.S. Congress allocated nearly $50 million in development aid to Yemen this year, that amount hardly compares to the $170 million in military and security-related funds that Washington provided the country the same year — and if a recent request from the Department of Defense is approved, that number may soon rise to as much as $250 million. Washington’s prioritization of counterterrorism ultimately undermines its long-term objectives by convincing Yemenis that the United States is merely interested in propping up a regime that, in the words of Yemen expert April Alley, relies on “co-optation, divide-and-rule tactics, corruption, the distribution of patronage, and the manipulation of weak democratic institutions” to maintain political domination. As a result, many Yemeni citizens distrust both their own government and the U.S. officials supporting it. Many even doubt that AQAP was behind the recent plot to ship explosives to the United States, instead considering it another attempt by the Yemeni government to cement political power and use terrorism to increase international support.

To rebuild trust, the United States must encourage Saleh to advance the political reform agenda that Yemenis began after unification nearly 20 years ago to reconcile formerly separate political systems in the northern Yemen Arab Republic and the southern People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. Early achievements included the codification of freedom of expression and political association and the approval of a new constitution. The current program — which includes efforts to reform electoral laws, improve distribution of power, and increase political representation — has been under discussion between the regime and opposition parties for years and enjoys broad support. But the process has lost momentum due to the scale and complexity of current discussions and diminishing political will. Frustration with the lack of progress has reached a boiling point and threatens to undermine the country’s stability even further, especially in the south, where citizens have been fighting political, economic, and social marginalization since unification.

The United States and the international community must move quickly to place consistent, coordinated pressure on Saleh to advance the reform agenda and should consider making further assistance contingent on progress. It must insist that he fulfill promises to advance a broadly inclusive national dialogue that brings together the opposition party alliance, tribal sheikhs, the southern secessionist movement, and other relevant actors to resolve longstanding electoral and constitutional reform issues. Although Yemenis themselves must define the parameters of expanded political reform initiatives, central elements will likely include redefining the role of central state institutions to give more power to local authorities, increasing transparency and aggressively combating corruption, and reestablishing civil control over the country’s security and military institutions. In order to make concrete progress, the dialogue must advance to actual negotiation and may require a neutral Gulf neighbor to facilitate discussions. Qatar recently mediated talks between the Yemeni government and the Houthis; Oman may be able to play a similar role in conducting a national dialogue and to help hold its participants accountable for taking concrete steps forward. Furthermore, Western nations must train and empower civil society organizations that provide grassroots support for these reform efforts and encourage their more formal role in future discussions. Such assistance may help solidify these groups and provide a homegrown base for long-term development.

A focus on political reform does not imply that security-oriented support, development and humanitarian aid, and economic improvement are unimportant. All are elements of long-term plans for Yemen. Diversifying the country’s economy, addressing its unemployment crisis, and improving its vocational training are critical to its future. Yet Washington and the international community must place greater emphasis on sequencing efforts. Small but concrete progress on even a few political reform initiatives will most significantly address Yemeni concerns for the regime’s illegitimacy, a core problem for all response efforts in Yemen, including attempts to combat AQAP.

Some U.S. leaders are still reluctant to get heavily involved in Yemen — no doubt reflecting donor weariness toward the country and a reluctance to pour more money into the region. But Yemen is not Afghanistan or Iraq. U.S. support for Yemen will not, and should not, involve military intervention and state building on that scale. But a narrow counterterrorism approach will not defeat al Qaeda there and risks Yemen’s ultimate failure, a long-term strategic liability. Only by teaming counterterrorism with long-term development and more aggressive, near-term political reform can Washington and the international community ensure that Yemen avoids complete collapse and becomes a stable, reliable partner in the fight against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

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The Binds That Tie Us

Overcoming the Obstacles to Peace in Afghanistan
Foreign Affairs, by Greg Mills and David Richards, November 24, 2010

Following the 9/11 attacks, Washington opted for a troop-lite approach to removing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Over the next four years, the civilian and military components of the international presence in Afghanistan grew, even though the strategic focus of the United States and the United Kingdom shifted to Iraq. During this time, the remnants of the Taliban slowly regrouped and began preparations to launch a large-scale insurgency, which erupted in 2006. Since then, the number of international forces in Afghanistan has increased each year, as the 47-nation International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has attempted to tame the Pashtun-dominated south, the Taliban’s heartland. The U.S. troop surge in 2010 heralded a further evolution in the West’s strategy.

Yet peace will remain elusive unless the international community can deal with the five binds that have proven difficult to escape in Afghanistan.

The first is the country’s overall strategic, political dilemma: Should ISAF focus its activities solely on countering terrorism and leave Afghans to run the economy and politics as they want? Or, as Mao would have it, should the international community attempt to transform the swamp in which the Taliban swim — that is, affect major political and socioeconomic change in the country? Inevitably, this will mean incorporating some of the Taliban and their mostly Pashtun supporters into the political fold. Although there is a danger of extrapolating too much from the Iraq experience, the manner in which the U.S. military brought the Sunni minority on board — through assiduous tribal cooptation and the harnessing of tribal antipathy toward foreign fighters — is instructive. But unlike Sunnis in Iraq, the Pashtun and the Taliban represent the majority of Afghans, at least in the south. They have to be converted en masse.

Progress will to an extent hinge on managing the second bind: finding a way for ISAF to work more productively with the Afghan government. Many Afghan warlords have transformed themselves into businessmen, and many of them are well connected in the political world. Curbing the excesses of these powerbrokers is essential. At the same time, however, the stability that they and their private militias offer can be utilized for the good of Afghanistan.

The international community’s first priority is to find the means to make aid more than just a feeding trough for local warlords. For example, the border town of Spin Boldak, located south of Kandahar, serves as the gateway to and from northern Pakistan. It is controlled by its own generalissimo, Abdul Razziq. The thirty-something de facto commander of the 3,500-strong border police is said to earn an estimated $5 million-$6 million per month from his various border businesses. But he also contributes to stability, not only in the border region but in Kandahar City itself, as his positive military contribution in the Afghan-led Malajat operation in August illustrated. Following the failure of an earlier operation hastily organized by the regional governor, Razziq’s forces quickly swooped down on the area, arresting Taliban and seizing explosives.

Whether Western leaders like it or not, powerbrokers such as Razziq have a positive role to play in developing Afghanistan. But that role can only be fulfilled if the government can stop them from perniciously distorting the country’s economy. To date, the government has been focused on ensuring security and distributing profits by concentrating on foreign diplomacy (for obtaining continued aid) and local patronage (to maintain control). Consequently, the economic system is characterized by widening inequality, fueling grievances and greed. Afghanistan is now the third-most unequal society in the world after Angola and Equatorial Guinea. The Asia Foundation’s 2010 public opinion survey shows that just under half of Afghans believe their country is moving in the right direction. High levels of insecurity, corruption, poor government, and unemployment are cited as the main reasons for pessimism.

The third bind concerns the effectiveness of aid. By 2010, the international community was spending more than $100 billion annually on in-kind military and other assistance in Afghanistan. This includes over $10 billion in development aid annually, amounting to $333 per Afghan per year. Yet given the lack of development impact — as measured by the existence of an economy independent of donor money — it may have been better (and considerably more efficient) if the international community had simply airdropped bundles of money throughout the country.

Afghanistan has not one but three economies: the aid economy, the largest one; a second illicit economy centered on drugs and smuggling; and a tiny licit economy, both formal and informal. There is very little industry (a traditional route for export-led development in low-wage countries), virtually no mining (despite considerable potential), and only an embryonic service sector. The relatively glitzy world of Kabul contrasts starkly with the grinding poverty of the rural areas.

Aid not only disincentivizes normal entrepreneurial activity and distorts key economic factors, such as overvaluing the currency due to large donor inflows, but also offers local politicians convenient means to externalize their choices, problems, and failures. The Afghan state’s shortcomings when it comes to service delivery are commonly blamed on a lack of external aid or on Pakistan, and the solutions are generally expected to come from outside as well. If nothing else, recent revelations over Iranian “soft aid” (cash flowing directly to the Afghan government) illustrate the limits of the political influence that can be achieved simply by sending prodigious sums of Western aid.

The fourth bind is regional dependency; peace in Afghanistan depends on stability in neighboring Pakistan. Yet Pakistan needs its own state-building project and to address the dynamics of its relationship with India. And Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan is complicated by Kabul’s refusal to recognize the border that separates them and bisects the Pashtun; three million Afghans and 20 million of their largely Pashtun relatives live inside Pakistan. A regional solution also necessitates finding a formula in Pakistan and Afghanistan for two societies — one a centralized, Western-styled democracy; the other localized and tribal-based — to coexist, while ensuring sufficient economic growth.

The final bind is that of time. From Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the window in which foreigners can make a notable difference in peace-building missions is generally assumed to be approximately one decade, after which voters at home tend to grow weary as other priorities take over, and locals view foreign aid less as welcome assistance than undue outside interference. As the Taliban saying has it: they have the time, and the rest of the world has the watches.

The international community’s first priority is to find the means to make aid more than just a feeding trough for local warlords. It could be much more productively used to assist entrepreneurs in turning good ideas into businesses. One of the few available approaches to creating jobs is to add value to Afghan agriculture, especially in the conflict-ridden south. Kandahar, for example, produces more than 70 percent of the country’s annual 80,000-ton pomegranate crop, and the Arghandab region to the north of Kandahar City produces 80 percent of that figure. The return for pomegranate farmers exceeds $6,000 per hectare, compared to just $2,000 for poppy farmers. If the lower-grade pomegranates could be turned into juice for the burgeoning international market, even more value could be added. Establishing what is described in contemporary consultant-speak as a pomegranate “value chain” offers one of the few opportunities to spur job growth in Afghanistan.

Second, ISAF must play a role in setting the conditions for reconciliation between the Taliban and other Afghans, but it must also encourage the Karzai administration to focus on the affairs of the provinces. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s executive style of governance has led Kabul to deal with the provinces primarily through proxy powerbrokers. This “representation deficit” is exacerbated by the current system of rotating governors and the appointment (rather than election) of district-level representatives. For all of the international community’s attempts to instill a structure of democratic governance, the one system that has endured Afghanistan’s political ebbs and flows is the one controlled by tribal elders. It must remain a force for stability.

Third, working with Kabul also means choosing when to get tough with local partners. It demands getting more out of aid programs, setting scorecards for evaluating their positive impact on job creation, improving policy, developing infrastructure, and encouraging more efficient and responsive government. It means simplifying governance procedures, identifying where local capacity exists, and working with local actors to prioritize resources and build their capacity to govern. The fact that there is no Afghan school of public administration eight years after the Karzai government took office speaks volumes about missed opportunities. Afghans themselves must make economic reform a priority.

Fourth, a regional solution will require working closely with the Pakistani government to keep it onside and assist it with its own fraught path to development and good governance. It will also entail addressing regional insecurities by enabling rapprochement between India and Pakistan — not least a resolution in Kashmir. It is no small order, but it is a crucial issue that is closely linked to the duration of international commitment to Afghanistan.

A culture of impunity gave rise to the Taliban in the 1990s and continues to feed the organization today.
Much has been achieved in improving Afghan-Pakistani trade, which has increased from $40 million to $1 billion in a decade, but much more can be done. Incentives for smuggling, notably the external tariff differential between Afghanistan and Pakistan — which encourages cheap entry of goods into Afghanistan and then smuggling back into Pakistan — must be reduced or eliminated. At the same time, there must be a greater focus on creating opportunities for trade through, for example, instituting regularized exchanges between chambers of commerce and curtailing transloading requirements, whereby goods are reloaded at the borders because Afghan and Pakistani trucks are not allowed to drive in each other’s territory.

In addition, the international community must tackle corruption within the Afghan government, or the counterinsurgency effort will be doomed. A culture of impunity gave rise to the Taliban in the 1990s and continues to feed the organization today.

Changing how ISAF contracts are granted could be a key means of demonstrating a different way of doing business while bringing about a modicum of power for the international community. It may not cut the powerbrokers out altogether — not least since they control the only companies capable of carrying out many essential tasks — but it could change their behavior. One mechanism for achieving this would be to establish a contractual scorecard for ISAF contracts to ensure that contractors are not only seen to be complying with governance requirements but are made to think about the need to spread their wealth around. Such a scorecard would include rankings on local ownership and procurement, female participation in management and ownership, records of tax payments, and employee equity.

Increasing the responsibility of the powerbrokers by elevating them from informal to official positions would check their authority by appealing to their reputations and transforming their concerns over image and honor into key ISAF weapons.

The final need is for the international community to express its commitment to long-term state reconstruction. Failing such a commitment, space will open for other actors, including Iran, to fill. Moreover, recent work by the World Bank shows that the probability of success for development projects (most notably in promoting the private sector) increases as peace becomes durable.

The principal obstacle to peace in Afghanistan is not a cultural phenomenon or the country’s martial traditions. Rather, Afghans have reacted in an entirely logical and rational way to a set of incentives and circumstances. Stability demands changing these conditions and ending the powerbrokers’ culture of impunity while moving Afghanistan off its addiction to foreign assistance and drug money.

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Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-first Century

By Hillary Rodham Clinton, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2010

Summary: To meet the range of challenges facing the United States and the world, Washington will have to strengthen and amplify its civilian power abroad. Diplomacy and development must work in tandem, offering countries the support to craft their own solutions.

Today’s world is a crucible of challenges testing American leadership. Global problems, from violent extremism to worldwide recession to climate change to poverty, demand collective solutions, even as power in the world becomes more diffuse. They require effective international cooperation, even as that becomes harder to achieve. And they cannot be solved unless a nation is willing to accept the responsibility of mobilizing action. The United States is that nation.

I began my tenure as U.S. Secretary of State by stressing the need to elevate diplomacy and development alongside defense — a “smart power” approach to solving global problems. To make that approach succeed, however, U.S. civilian power must be strengthened and amplified. It must, as U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has argued in these pages, be brought into better balance with U.S. military power. In a speech last August, Gates said, “There has to be a change in attitude in the recognition of the critical role that agencies like [the] State [Department] and AID [the U.S. Agency for International Development] play . . . for them to play the leading role that I think they need to play.”

This effort is under way. Congress has already appropriated funds for 1,108 new Foreign Service and Civil Service officers to strengthen the State Department’s capacity to pursue American interests and advance American values. USAID is in the process of doubling its development staff, hiring 1,200 new Foreign Service officers with the specific skills and experience required for evolving development challenges, and is making better use of local hires at our overseas missions, who have deep knowledge of their countries. The Obama administration has begun rebuilding USAID to make it the world’s premier development organization, one that fosters long-term growth and democratic governance, includes its own research arm, shapes policy and innovation, and uses metrics to ensure that our investments are cost-effective and sound.

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Microlending in a War Zone

Wednesday 03 November 2010
by: David Smith-Ferri, t r u t h o u t | Report

In a small storage shed at the edge of town, we watched as 14-year-old Sayed Qarim signed a simple contract agreeing to borrow and repay a no-interest, 25,000 afghani loan (roughly $555). Daniel from the Zenda Company, the loan originator, counted out the crisp bills and handed them to Qarim, who smiled broadly and shook hands. Qarim, whose family farms potatoes and wheat, plans to use the funds to purchase a cow and her calf. “There are great benefits of owning a cow,” Qarim explains. “Our family gets to use the milk and we can sell the calf for a good profit.”

No one walking by outside on the narrow dirt road would have known an important business transaction had just occurred, one that could in fact help a young man and his family gain economic traction and greater security. The transaction didn’t take place in a bank. No village leaders were present. Only a 14-year-old boy, the representative of a private business company and a witness. And while the signed agreement constitutes a business relationship, the Zenda Company sees it as primarily personal.

Qarim was recommended for a loan by Faiz and Mohammad Jan, two other young men who live in his village and who have themselves recently received and repaid loans. Following this recommendation, Zenda spent much time getting to know Qarim, meeting with him, assessing his knowledge, his resources (such as access to grazing land) and his character, answering his questions and describing to him his responsibilities as a borrower.

Now that the transaction is complete, Qarim is required to send a picture of the cow and her calf as “proof” that the money was used as agreed. In addition, Hakim, another Zenda Company representative living in Bamiyan, who is fluent in Dari, the local language, will visit Qarim periodically. Along with Faiz and Mohammad Jan, he will try to provide whatever support Qarim needs to succeed.

Eighteen months ago, Mohammad Jan borrowed funds to purchase a cow and her calf. Three times in the intervening months, he has fattened the cow, raised the calf, sold them and used the money from their sale to purchase another cow and calf. He has repaid the loan in full and netted a profit thus far of nearly 7,000 afghanis. Faiz has been equally successful, using borrowed funds to purchase lambs; he repaid his loan, took out another and now owns ten sheep and two goats, prized locally both for their meat and for their fleece.

Zenda Company’s small business loan program has evolved gradually through trial and error in Bamiyan and Hakim, a Singaporean medical doctor and ex-pat living now in an outlying village, is central to its success. Hakim (a name given to him by local people which means “learned one”) originally came from Singapore to Quetta, Pakistan, on the Afghanistan border, where he worked for two years with Afghan refugees. “I essentially lived within a refugee settlement and I was treated as a local.”

While there, however, Hakim wanted to do more than treat the symptoms of war. Six years ago, he came to Bamiyan as a development worker with an international Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). Today in Afghanistan, NGOs involved in development work are as thick as wheat stalks in a field and their presence and operation has a significant impact in the country. But Hakim found that “the NGOs, too, have problems. They hold all the aid power, because they have all the money.” Because of this, says Hakim, despite their intentions, despite their mission, despite even their best efforts, international NGOs in Afghanistan often have a colonial relationship with Afghan communities, encouraging dependence rather than local initiative and sovereignty.

And then there is the intractable question of results. As one Afghan person told us, “The world says it is helping us. Where is this help? None of it reaches the people who need it. Here in Afghanistan it has been going on so long that we have to joke and laugh in order to manage our anger and disappointment.”

Seven months ago, Hakim left his position with the NGO. When he first arrived in Bamiyan, he was invited to visit and later to move into a small village. “The villages are very conservative. The only way to enter the community, even for a visit, is to be invited.”

Hakim has been in the community now for six years, living as people in the village do, eating only what people in the village have to eat. Like a member of the family, he participates in work. “I help in the fields, too,” he says with a self-effacing laugh, “but I’m not very good at it. I cannot work nearly as long or as fast as others.

“With time,” he says, “I’m realizing what it takes to practice what a young Afghan boy once told me, that without peace, life is impossible.” As he sees it, “morality, democracy and intellectual honesty are dying. Here we have forty-three countries [in the ISAF] trying to solve the problem of violence in Afghanistan. How can we allow these countries to say that more violence will solve the problems of violence, without asking them for evidence, for results? Where is intellectual inquiry? Moral skepticism? Why is war always the next solution? Why not reconciliatory talks; who dictates that talks are impossible for human beings? Why are we so willing to accept that violence and terror are the norm? If ordinary people don’t question this, academics at least should, but they don’t. A local shepherd boy knows this is not normal.”

In a country where villagers typically do not farm enough land to actually subsist, where malnutrition and stunted growth are in fact the norm and where the situation is worsening as land is divided and passed on to children, Hakim began to realize that peace cannot be pursued separately from economic security and food security. With this in mind, Hakim took his current position with the Zenda Company.

Through Zenda’s revolving loan fund, dozens of Afghan individuals have borrowed money for business start-up. These businesses include not only loans to villagers for livestock purchase, but also loans to shop owners and a number of loans to existing street vendors, who might, for example, benefit from having the funds to purchase a cart as well as additional inventory. The repayment terms on these loans are simple: one half due at the end of one year and the full amount due at two years. People interested in applying for a loan do so by supplying a simple handwritten proposal. At present, Zenda has received requests for loans totaling far more than it has funds to lend.

According to the United Nations, during the period 2005-2010 in Afghanistan, life expectancy at birth was less than 44 years. Child mortality (before the age of five) is the highest in the world and mortality for women in childbirth is among the highest. Eight hundred and fifty children die daily in Afghanistan. According to UNICEF, in the 2003-2008 period, an astounding 59 percent of Afghan children under the age of five are considered “stunted,” and for 9 percent of Afghan children under five, malnutrition is so severe it is considered wasting. “Is this normal?” Hakim asks.

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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