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One Third of US Drone Victims are Civilians

One Third of US Drone Victims are Civilians

The report, by the Washington-based New America Foundation, will fuel growing criticism of the use of unmanned drones in the fight against al-Qaeda and Taliban militants, who use Pakistan as a base for attacks on Nato forces in Afghanistan. Critics say their use not only takes innocent lives, but amounts to unlawful extra-judicial killing of militants. The report by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann found that 32 per cent of those killed in drone attacks since 2004 were civilians. Their report, The Year of the Drone, studied 114 drone raids in which more than 1200 people were killed. Of those, between 549 and 849 were reliably reported to be militant fighters, while the rest were civilians. ‘The true civilian fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 32 per cent,’ the foundation reported.  Read the full report here:


What Can be Done About Conflict in South Asia?

From End Poverty in South Asia – A blog to promote dialog on development in South Asia


What can be done to reduce conflict in poor regions? A speech given by Indian Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh on Internal Security and Law and Order in 2005, sums up the story of conflict and development: “…development, or rather the lack of it, often has a critical bearing, as do exploitation and iniquitous socio-political circumstances. Inadequate employment opportunities, lack of access to resources, under developed agriculture, artificially depressed wages, geographical isolation, lack of effective land reforms may all impinge significantly on the growth of extremism…Whatever be the cause, it’s difficult to deny that extremism has huge societal costs. Investments are unlikely to fructify, employment is not likely to grow and educational facilities may be impaired. Direct costs would include higher costs of infrastructure creation as contractors build “extortions” into their estimates, consumers may be hurt due to erratic supplies and artificial levies. In all, the society at large and people at large suffer. Delivery systems are often the first casualty. Schools do not run, dispensaries do not open and PDS shops remain closed.”

Reducing conflict and violence is a prerequisite to political stability, which, in turn, is the prerequisite for implementing pro growth policies. Even in a best-case scenario, the presence of low-level conflict constrains the policies governments can implement to promote growth. Policy makers in South Asia have tried various policies to reduce conflict.

Additional to bolstering resources for security forces and conducting negotiations with insurgency groups, economic solutions can be extremely effective in reducing conflict, whereby the government expands welfare programs and reduces poverty in the conflict-affected areas to undercut the support for the insurgency. This approach is consistent with economic backwardness as a cause of conflict. This approach has been tried in some conflicts in South Asia, but it has failed because of poor choices of economic policies and poor implementation in conflict regions.

Policy choices and their implementation are critical in preventing an escalation of conflict and in post-conflict reconstruction. Economic policies should be geared not just to maximize growth, but also to address the distributional or political factors that led to the conflict. Policy choices must be structured to reduce real or perceived inequities. Aid agencies should work through the existing government institutions, be pragmatic in order to create jobs quickly, and in most cases, work on short-term economic goals first and address medium-term and longer-term efficiency considerations later. This approach calls for humanitarian treatment of conflict-affected people, closure of refugee camps, and reintegration of refugees within society.

Many of the internal conflicts in South Asia have cross-border dimensions. The Taliban in Afghanistan obtain significant support from Pakistan’s border areas. The Maoists in Nepal formed close links with the Maoist movements in India. Many separatist groups in India’s northeastern states have training camps and cells in neighboring countries like Bangladesh and Bhutan. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and other Tamil separatist groups in Sri Lanka have traditionally enjoyed support from the Tamil Diaspora in India and other countries. In such a context, regional cross-border cooperation is an essential part of any counterinsurgency strategy. Considerable potential exists for regional cooperation in reducing conflict, but this has been an underutilized strategy in combating terrorism in South Asia.

South Asian governments have taken a variety of different approaches to counter terrorism. Reviewing these approaches in the South Asian and global context, it appears that the armed forces or local militias have not been especially effective in combating terrorism. Strengthening police forces or conducting negotiations to induce insurgents to join the political mainstream appear to be more effective approaches. Social welfare programs rather than just economic incentives hoping to revive growth can be useful complements to this political accommodation approach. Regional cooperation initiatives, which have been underutilized so far, are likely to be important in countering terrorism going forward. The challenge is to balance these different approaches toward countering conflict, as well as the optimal economic policies to be adopted in post-conflict environments.


A Better Strategy for Afghanistan

Huffington Post,  December 14, 2009
Jeffrey Sachs, Economist and Director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University

President Barack Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan does not pass the tests for war that he offered in his Nobel Lecture. Afghanistan is being preyed upon by a limited insurgency that feeds on Afghanistan’s poverty and desperation. Most Afghans do not support the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, but are vulnerable to their pressures. Young unemployed men often join militant factions out of the need to earn a meager income to eat and feed their families. In these circumstances, the fight against poverty should be dominant in the fight against terror and instability. Yet Obama’s policy in Afghanistan almost completely neglects the strategy of economic development, and relies almost entirely on the military.

Fighting poverty would obviate the need for extra US troops, and would pave the way for a drawdown of troops. The US military already vastly outnumbers Al-Qaeda and the Taliban insurgents. The problem is that extreme poverty overwhelms the fragile social fabric of the countryside. Afghanistan will remain unstable and vulnerable until this poverty is addressed. Obama acknowledged such realities in the Nobel Lecture by declaring that “a just peace . . . must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.” Yet the war policy fails to act on this insight.

Obama has hardly mentioned Afghanistan’s poverty in his recent speeches and deliberations. He has not announced or unveiled a development strategy. He has no experts on development among his war counselors, despite the fact that Afghanistan is one of the very poorest countries in the world (ranking 181th out of 182 in the UN’s Human Development Index). Child mortality, at 235 deaths per 1,000 births according to the UN, is staggering, easily one of the highest rates in the world. Has anybody in the Administration focused on these basic realities and their implications for instability?

We will spend around $100 billion in 2010 on the military approach compared with just $2 billion or so on economic development in Afghanistan, a 50-to-1 ratio. If we raised the development budget to even $10 billion, and deployed it thoughtfully and consistently, the benefits for the Afghan people would be so strong that we could avoid the surge altogether, save $40 billion, and could quickly reduce the current level of military spending, saving even more money and lives, Afghan and American. Our existing troops would be more than sufficient to protect the development activities because the communities themselves would also strongly defend themselves and their economic gains. Indeed, with stronger and reinvigorated local communities, we could quickly and safely turn security efforts over to the Afghan people themselves.

So why do we ignore this more peaceful and less expensive path? Our country has relied so heavily on the military for so long – and despite so many failures by now — that the public has completely lost the confidence, spirit, programs, memory and even human interest of fighting poverty as a strategy of consolidating stability and national security. The war industry, a mega-business out of all proportion to the miniscule “peace industry” composed mainly of NGOs, completely dominates the lobbying scene. The public opposes “wasting” a few billion dollars to help impoverished people, yet then supports wasting tens of billions of dollars on a military approach destined to fail.

The extreme skepticism over development is based on often-repeated myths rather than actual experience. There are countless development successes, yet often at modest scale because of the limited funding behind them. These successes are based on local development initiatives that bypass the corruption in Kabul (and the corrupt contractors lobbying in Washington). In rural societies like Afghanistan, development takes places in local villages and towns. That’s where the efforts should be focused, not on illusory “anti-corruption” campaigns in the capital city.

A recent New York Times story reported on such successful efforts in rural Afghanistan, with the right ingredients, but as usual at too small a scale (because of limited funding). Here’s what the New York Times reported.

In the village of Jurm, “People here have taken charge for themselves – using village councils and direct grants as part of an initiative called the National Solidarity Program, introduced by an Afghan ministry in 2003. Before then, this valley had no electricity or clean water, its main crop was poppy and nearly one in 10 women died in childbirth, one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Today, many people have water taps, fields grow wheat and it is no longer considered shameful for a woman to go to a doctor . . . Local residents contend that the councils work because they take development down to its most basic level, with villagers directing the spending to improve their own lives, cutting out middle men, local and foreign, as well as much of the overhead costs and corruption. ‘You don’t steal from yourself,’ was how Ataullah, a farmer in Jurm who uses one name, described it.”

Meaningful economic progress in Afghanistan villages could be achieved at around $100 per villager per year, meaning that the annual cost of stationing one soldier — $1 million — could instead support annual economic development of a community of perhaps 10,000 people. Even at $200 per villager, we’d still reach 5,000 people. That’s right, the approximate trade-off is meaningful help for an entire village versus stationing one more US soldier. Extrapolating, we could easily help all of Afghanistan’s villages with plenty more left over for the big-ticket infrastructure –local roads, highways, power, and connectivity – all for a small fraction of the cost of the surge. Of course, I am presupposing that we adopt a delivery system relying on local services and construction, and not putting the money through the hugely overpriced US mega-contractors.

The truth is that our government is geared to expanded war while disdaining or utterly neglecting the opportunities through non-military approaches. Those are viewed as soft, naïve, and “for them,” while war is viewed as hardheaded and “for us.” The tragedy is that war is breaking our economy and society, while attention to economic development and poverty reduction might just help to solve some deeper crucial problems in the world, including US national security.


Involving Afghans for Success

From: End Poverty in South Asia, A blog to promote dialog on development in South Asia


Current rehabilitation and development rhetoric calls for listening to the Afghans and giving them the lead. Sadly, actions too often defy these wise words. The challenge is to make way for genuine in depth Afghan involvement at a time when the problems inherent in a lackluster government beset with corruption are so complex, and, particularly, when the aid-dispensing agencies so often disregard coordination and cooperation.

Politics within the prevailing environment of conflict imposes a sense of great urgency, no doubt, but many basic development principles are being set aside when they are most needed. Plans that rest on massive projects designed by outsiders lavishing too much money and demanding instant implementation are bound to be ineffective. Quick fixes never have worked. Throwing around money indiscriminately just compounds problems and raises new dilemmas. Sustained development, as has been established for decades, requires patient on the ground interactions over time.

The current swing toward agriculture and its affiliated components is welcome – if it results in better integrated multi-targeted planning linking local producers, processors, small industries, storage facilities and markets. Small dams built and maintained by the people themselves for irrigation and electricity to support small industries processing local produce make sense, for instance. The ultimate aim is to enable people to stay in their own areas enjoying their own social and cultural customs and ideals instead of joining the unhappy disoriented masses now crowding the cities. But this means much coordination and cooperation and sincere community involvement.

Such participatory activities will also avoid contributing to the sense of dependency that is fast undermining the ideals of self-sufficiency and independence that have always been sources of pride for Afghans. Communities traditionally came together to perform tasks for the common good. One example would be the repair of weirs that diverted water from rivers into irrigation channels. Building these weirs was the height of the summer’s excitements greatly enjoyed by each and every man, woman and child up and down the length of the irrigation channels. Thus was community cohesiveness strengthened. Nowadays villages too often wait for outsiders to perform the tasks they once so enjoyed. Similar dependency attitudes threaten to dominate minds in many sectors.

On another level, there are many skilled, talented, creatively motivated and dedicated young men and women in both private and government sectors that ought to be supported in developing decision-making authority. Not just for implementing projects, but in exerting genuine influence over policy, program design and resources. Initially specialists for guidance will be required, but inculcating a sense of ownership will build confidence and with confidence a regard for responsibility. Once a sense of ownership is present, mutual respect and trust will also grow and feelings of alienation will lessen. Deteriorating trust between foreigners and Afghans, Afghans and foreigners, and Afghans and Afghan is now of great concern. Little sustainable development can be accomplished without restoring an environment of trust.

Afghanistan’s youth need to be able to look to the future with confidence and trust. It is said that over half the population is under the age of 25. Their burgeoning pop culture devoted to mod fashions, electronic gadgets and enticing entertainment is exuberantly alive, not only in Kabul but all across the country. These young people thirst for knowledge. Universities and private learning institutions are packed yet jobs are hard to come by. The Ministry of Labor reports that young people account for 70% of Afghanistan’s 3 million unemployed. Neither are jobs available, nor decision-making roles within the still fragile democratic framework. Disillusioned, unemployed youth are a dangerous commodity in any society. All the more so when insurgents sit poised to lure them to their ranks.

Skills training and meaningful job creation related to the nation’s needs therefore become major priorities. Stop gap, short term unsustainable projects that serve merely as facades are not the answer. Expectations and aspirations are high among the youth, but these positive attitudes can easily turn to despair and lead to corruption, crime gangs, and an incipient drug culture, aside from militancy. One study estimates that the average age of suicide bombers is 23 and that 80% of those involved in terrorist activities are unemployed. Efforts to engage these potential leaders of tomorrow in satisfying, constructive nation-building can only strengthen stability and prosperity. A special emphasis on leadership development is crucial.

Now is an ideal time to initiate imaginative people-oriented programs in all sectors. The explosion in communications technology allows information to flow more easily at a time when the population at large is far more open to receive new ideas than they were before the war. Afghans are maximizers and will take to ideas they see as beneficial for themselves and their families. They have shown incredible resilience over these years of turmoil and have themselves devised all manner of coping mechanisms in the midst of conflict. Given access to knowledge that will enhance their livelihoods and give them confidence, they can, and will, by themselves, reach many eagerly sought development goals without needing to become dependent on outsiders. There is an emerging consensus among Afghans as to the need for good governance and a functional national economy buttressed by judicial reforms.

To ignore this new awareness is to court disaster.


U.N. Rejects ‘Militarization’ of Afghan Aid

New York Times, 2/17/10, by ROD NORDLAND

KABUL, Afghanistan — Senior United Nations officials in Afghanistan on Wednesday criticized NATO forces for what one referred to as “the militarization of humanitarian aid,” and said United Nations agencies would not participate in the military’s reconstruction strategy in Marja as part of its current offensive there.

“We are not part of that process, we do not want to be part of it,” said Robert Watkins, the deputy special representative of the secretary general, at a news conference attended by other officials to announce the United Nations’ Humanitarian Action Plan for 2010. “We will not be part of that military strategy.”

The American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has made the rapid delivery of governmental services, including education, health care and job programs, a central part of his strategy in Marja, referring to plans to rapidly deploy what he has referred to as “a government in a box” once Marja is pacified.

Mr. Watkins did not specifically criticize the Marja offensive, saying, “It is not the military that will be delivering the services, they will be clearing the area so the government can deliver those services.”

However, the United Nations would not be participating, he said.

Wael Haj-Ibrahim, head of the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs here, said the military should not be involved in providing health care or schools.

“If that aid is being delivered as part of a military strategy, the counterstrategy is to destroy that aid,” Mr. Haj-Ibrahim said. “Allowing the military to do it is not the best use of resources.” Instead, he said, the military should confine itself to clearing an area of security threats and providing security for humanitarian organizations to deliver services.

“The distribution of aid by the military gives a very difficult impression to the communities and puts the lives of humanitarian workers at risk,” Mr. Watkins said.

Last month, eight leading humanitarian organizations working in Afghanistan, including Oxfam and ActionAid, issued a joint report that was highly critical of the International Security Assistance Force, as the American-led NATO force is known, because of “the international militaries’ use of aid as a ‘nonlethal’ weapon of war.”

They maintained that this violated an agreement between international forces and the United Nations that the military’s primary role should be to provide security and, only when there is no other alternative, to provide limited developmental and humanitarian assistance. The agencies maintain they are able to work in conflict areas of Afghanistan when local residents see them as independent and not connected with the military, and this approach puts that at risk.

“Military-led humanitarian and development activities are driven by donors’ political interests and short-term security objectives and are often ineffective, wasteful and potentially harmful to Afghans,” a statement by Oxfam said.

The United Nations officials expressed the same concern, though more diplomatically, and one official, who did not want to be quoted by name because of the political sensitivity of the issue, said the United Nations had repeatedly raised those concerns with the international forces without success.

The American military refers to its strategy, first enunciated in Iraq in 2006, as “clear, hold and build.” Previously there were insufficient foreign and Afghan troops in Afghanistan to pursue that strategy systematically because they were unable to hold large areas for long periods of time. The offensive in Marja is intended as a showcase where the strategy can work, and the coalition says it has adequate forces now to do that.

“Clear, hold and build, it’s short-sighted for two reasons,” the United Nations official said. “Territory changes hands in a conflict, and if the services are associated with a particular group, it will be destroyed.” That has happened often with projects like schools and clinics around the country.

The officials were particularly critical of NATO’s planned “civilian surge,” bringing in more government-financed aid workers involved in projects like the country’s provincial reconstruction teams, which are located in each province and designed to provide fast-track development and aid services in their areas.

These reconstruction teams are NATO groups run by various allied countries, including Canada in Kandahar, and Britain in Lashkar Gah, and they primarily disburse development and aid money locally in each province.

Many of the reconstruction teams, the official said, see their role as providing services in exchange for intelligence-gathering and political activity directed against the insurgents. He declined to identify any that operate under that premise, although he added that not all did so.

In many parts of the country, only nongovernmental organizations are able to operate safely because of the security situation, and they fill the gap in governmental services.

Because the reconstruction teams are run by foreigners and are associated with their countries’ militaries, they need to go out with heavy security, and aid groups worry that locals begin to associate all aid workers with the military.

Oxfam said the military “was going way beyond its remit” in Afghanistan, citing an American Army counterinsurgency manual that defines humanitarian aid as a “nonlethal weapon.”

A statement issued Wednesday by the international forces emphasized the military’s new, population-centered approach to fighting the insurgents. “The conduct of Operation Moshtarak is visibly demonstrating that the force has changed the way it operates and that it is working with and for the people of Afghanistan,” the statement said, referring to the Marja offensive. It also suggested the military phase of the operation could be protracted.

“The insurgents are tactically adept, have resilience and are cunning, so continued tactical patience on the part of the combined force is important. Mining is significant in areas, and the combined force must be very deliberate in its movement in order to minimize local Afghan and combined force casualties.”

The United Nations’ Humanitarian Action Plan has a proposed budget of $870.5 million, a substantial increase over previous years, because the increased level of NATO military activity has led to increased needs for services in many parts of the country, according the United Nations.


The challenges of development work led by foreign troops

This story is a wonderful example of why indigenous development work, such as the National Solidarity Program, should be the foundation of Afghan economic development rather than foreign troops.

Forces Strain to Hire Afghan Allies

SENJARAY, Afghanistan—Capt. Jeremiah Ellis is a man with a problem: how to spend a million dollars.

TALMONEYAmerican troops under his command moved late last year into this town of 12,000 people, a Taliban stronghold just west of Kandahar. Now, armed with more than $1 million in coalition funds, Capt. Ellis is trying to dent the insurgents’ lingering power by jump-starting development projects.

Yet, the only construction work here so far has been the hammering of U.S. Navy Seabees, or construction troops, erecting a vast American base overlooking Senjaray. The town’s unemployed men prefer to stay home, for fear of Taliban retribution.

“You can have all the money in the world, but no one will pick up a shovel until they feel secure,” says Capt. Ellis, who commands the Dog Company of the 1st Battalion of the U.S. Army’s 12th Infantry Regiment.

Yaroslav Trofimov/The Wall Street Journal
Elders in Senjaray show troops their proposed site, outside town, for a Western-funded irrigation project.


Capt. Ellis’s experiences in Senjaray set the stage for the anticipated coalition campaign in Marjah, in neighboring Helmand province, where the strategy also includes an effort to convince residents it is safe—and beneficial—for them to work with the coalition.

Providing potential insurgents with jobs is a key priority for commanders in recently secured areas of southern Afghanistan, such as Senjaray.

“When these guys will be busy, they will not grab their Kalashnikovs or be influenced by the insurgents,” says Canadian Brig. Gen. Daniel Menard, commander of Task Force Kandahar, a joint American-Canadian force that includes the unit Capt. Ellis commands.

In some parts of Kandahar province, such as areas of Dand and Arghandab districts, these public works—mostly digging irrigation canals—have already begun.

Since arriving in Kandahar province last summer to reinforce embattled Canadian troops, Capt. Ellis’s battalion managed to reassert control of this stretch of the highway, reducing the frequency of roadside bombings from several every day to one every few days. The Canadians built a large, modern school in Senjaray several years ago, but it has been shuttered since the Taliban booby-trapped it in 2006. Virtually no other work has been carried out here since then. “We couldn’t give money away because the people were afraid the Taliban would kill them,” says Canadian Sgt. John Carew, who works here on civil-military cooperation.

Senjaray is considered relatively secure because American troops here can work with a local tribal strongman who’s allied with Kabul, Hajji Abdullah Khan, better known as Hajji Lala.

In town, only the Taliban dare to defy the will of Hajji Lala, who has a personal force of 40 guards assigned by President Hamid Karzai. The guards are paid for by the central government and wear Afghan National Police uniforms.

A recent meeting between Capt. Ellis and the town’s elders to discuss development plans was preceded by a shootout. Three Taliban fighters tried to ambush one of the policeman. The policeman was unhurt, and one of the Taliban was injured and captured.

But as Capt. Ellis rolled into Senjaray’s police compound, Hajji Lala wasn’t celebrating. The injured attacker, he said, was a local kid from a well-known family. “The Taliban are from here, they’re not coming into Senjaray from the outside,” Hajji Lala said. “Half of the village elders and the village people support them. If we start working on projects, people will be killed.”

Sipping on tea, Capt. Ellis countered that waiting for weeks until Afghan army units and additional Afghan policemen are deployed in Senjaray may be an even riskier strategy considering that fighting here reaches its peak around May.

“Every day, more fighters are arriving from Helmand and Pakistan, and if we don’t start soon, my concern is that we won’t be able to start at all,” Capt. Ellis said.

Minutes later, four turbaned, bearded elders walked into the compound, stoically submitting to frisking by young American soldiers. Capt. Ellis’s own dream is to reopen the Senjaray school—but, unless a permanent security force were deployed next to the building, the Taliban would booby-trap it again within days. He agreed with the elders that the first priority should be clearing silted irrigation canals.

“But we don’t need your soldiers—stay away from there. Come by just once a week to see how the work is progressing,” demanded one of the men, Hajji Hani Pia.

As Capt. Ellis agreed, the stickiest point turned out to be how to pay these 300 day laborers. The elders wanted to disburse the money—some $6 a day per worker—warning that any foreign presence would turn the site into a Taliban target. “If you promise me the whole world, I will not accept it,” declared one of the elders, Hajji Jalat.

The Canadian officers quickly interjected, saying their national rules require them to be present on pay day, to make sure the laborers funded by Canadian taxpayers actually exist, and that the money doesn’t end up in the elders’ own pockets—as has usually happened in the past. “I don’t want 300 workers being pissed off with us because they’re getting a fraction of what they’ve been promised,” said Canadian Petty Officer Kelly Webb, the coalition’s district official in charge of civil-military cooperation.

As Hajji Lala, the local chieftain, responded indignantly that he was insulted by such suggestions of corruption, Capt. Ellis offered a quick-witted retort. “I trust the Pashtun people and know that you wouldn’t do anything dishonorable,” he said. “But American or Canadian people would steal the money, and so we have to follow the American and Canadian rules.”

After hours of haggling, the two sides reached a compromise: The workers will be monitored by a concealed video camera on pay day, their receipt of the coalition’s cash documented on tape.

A few minutes later, the American and Canadian convoy rumbled onto the Kandahar-Helmand highway, following the elders to a site where they wanted the work to begin. As the miles added up, Capt. Ellis realized that the Afghans were taking him far outside Senjaray.

Finally stopping outside the gates of his batallion headquarters, the elders led the American to a dry canal bed and perched themselves on the ground—in the safest spot in the district.

Capt. Ellis wondered quietly about who owned the poppy fields around, and expressed his surprise at being so far from Senjaray and its citizens.

The elders ignored his protests. “This is where we will start digging,” said Hajji Hani Pia. “But the workers must not find out that the money is coming from the foreigners. Nobody should tell them.”

Then, he pointed at the poppy fields to the east: “That land there belongs to me,” he said, “that one to Hajji Jalat, and that one over there, to Hajji Lala.”

Work should start soon, says Capt. Ellis.


Military Aid Puts Lives at Risk: Aid Agency Report

A group of aid agencies released a report yesterday giving their perspective on the impact of the military being involved in reconstruction and development in Afghanistan.

Report abstract:  As political pressures to “show results” in troop contributing countries intensify, more and more assistance is being channelled through military actors to “win hearts and minds” while efforts to address the underlying causes of poverty and repair the destruction wrought by three decades of conflict and disorder are being sidelined. Development projects implemented with military money or through military-dominated structures aim to achieve fast results but are often poorly executed, inappropriate and do not have sufficient community involvement to make them sustainable. There is little evidence this approach is generating stability and, in some cases, military involvement in development activities is, paradoxically, putting Afghan lives further at risk as these projects quickly become targeted by anti-government elements.

Read the report: Quick Impact Quick Collapse:_The Dangers of Militarized Aid in Afghanistan


Conversation on Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War

Tuesday, December 15, 6:30-8:30, at Boston University
147 Bay State Road, 2nd floor (corner of Silber Way and Bay State Road)
Ample parking is available on the street – The closest T stop is Kenmore on the Green Line

Michael Sheridan will make a presentation on the film and his recent trip to Afghanistan. His presentation will include excerpts from the film and a discussion about how we can best help Afghans create peace and improve their economy and how the film and public engagement campaign will contribute to this effort.

Please contact us if you would like us to do a presentation for your community, school or institution about the issues, film and campaign.


Endorsement from Rory Stewart

“Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War is an important project because it will focus attention on the urgent need for a long-term commitment to locally led and implemented economic and social development in Afghanistan. This message is essential to win public support for the critically important work of helping Afghans, and the people of other weak and failing states, strengthen their own capacity and stabilize their countries. The film Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War and the public engagement campaign around it will help the public – and policymakers – understand this.”

Rory Stewart, Director of Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard University; Author of The Places in Between an account of his walk across Afghanistan in 2002 and The Prince of the Marshes, describing his experiences as a Deputy Governorate for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq


What lessons can President Obama learn from LBJ

As the nation awaits President Obama’s decision about how to proceed with the war in Afghanistan, I found it very helpful to listen to President Lyndon Johnson deliberate with his advisors in 1964 and in the process acknowledge the power politics behind his decision to send thousands into Vietnam.

Bill Moyers Journal presents an hour of President Johnson’s recorded conversations about Vietnam: LBJ’s Path to War: You can watch the videos, download the podcast from the right column or read the transcript.

Bill Moyer’s presentation suggests that President Obama’s deliberations with advisors likely have tragic parallels to those of LBJ and his advisors.  In both cases, the question is raised as to whether thousands of lives will be risked or lost because of one man and his party’s mission to hold on to power. Repeatedly LBJ acknowledges that the US likely has nothing to win in Vietnam but that he has a lot to lose if he is perceived to be weak.

It becomes clear listening to these conversations that reasoned deliberation is not relevant to the debate about next steps in Afghanistan. The power options presented to Obama are: lose now and lose a second term or lose later when you are a second term lame duck President. The continued destruction of Afghanistan and the misery caused for many families is the horrific price of this maneuvering.

Against the force of such power mongering is it any wonder that some see no avenue but to match violence with violence?  In each case the immorality is defended with arguments about the constraints of realpolitik or the imperatives of national pride, or ethnic, religious and cultural identity.

The only way I can see to stop people from waging war to protect their power is to make their power dependent on alternatives.  This means rallying moderates and conservatives and not just liberals against the war.

As President Franklin Roosevelt famously said to pressure groups that wanted him to do good but seemingly politically untenable things – “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.”  His point: The reformers need to create the political space for the politician to take advantage of.  This means that we must create the pressure that will allow Obama do the right thing and keep his power.


NYT front page article on the work of the National Solidarity Program

The New York Times cover story today is about the work of the National Solidarity Program (NSP).  While in Afghanistan I spent days filming the impact of NSP in the Kapisa province.  The work of NSP is at the center of the story we are highlighting in Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War.

The article does not fully capture the national impact of the NSP.  Many consider the NSP the most effective economic and social development work in Afghanistan. Since 2003 the NSP has funded 46,000 development projects in 27,000 villages. Elected community councils determine the reconstruction work. Ten percent is paid for by local labor and the average grant is $24,000.   The film will show that supporting this kind of slower, more sustainable long-term and locally led development work may be a more successful path to stability in Afghanistan and western security.

I hope you can take a moment to read this important article and to forward it to friends and colleagues as an example of the positive hard work that Afghans and the Afghan government are doing.

New York Times: An Afghan Development Model: Small is Better


Return from Afghanistan

Thank you for your support and concern during my recent trip to Afghanistan. Unlike the 24 US troops who died since the weekend and the many uncounted daily Afghan casualties of war and poverty, I returned safely to Boston on Sunday.

I return with the certainty that the only sustainable approach to stability in Afghanistan is one that involves less foreign military and is locally led.  Yes, this means I am asking you to do everything you can to pressure our government to reduce, but not eliminate, and redirect the mission of foreign troops in Afghanistan. Peace will only come with a decades long commitment to assist an Afghan led struggle to improve governance and economic conditions and to resist extremism. This approach accepts the continuance of the civil war that has been going on for 35 years – but, at least, the aggressive actions of our troops will not be fueling it.

Today I received this letter of resignation from a diplomat who was serving the US mission in Afghanistan.  It speaks for itself and mirrors with much greater depth of experience many of the understandings that I return with.  You can read the letter here: and an article about it here:

I will be posting more about my experiences and the next steps for the development of the film “Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War.”  Thanks again for your letters, calls and encouragement.  Anu conveys her thanks too for all the support she received.  I hope all is well with you and yours.



My chair starts to shake then the floor – bombs or earthquake? There have been a number of planes flying overhead. I got out of the room with a “shit” as I tussled with the door lock and stood near a supporting pillar. The knot in my stomach tightened.

The earthquake struck at 12:20am for about 10 seconds with longer pre and post tremors.  Electricity reported to be out in some parts of Kabul but all appears to be ok here in the Shar-e-Nau area. We are 165 miles from the epicenter in northeastern Afghanistan. Can only imagine the damage in that mountainous, extremely remote and very poor region.


Wedding in Kabul


Embed with US military Kapisa province Provincial Reconstruction Team

Photos of my time with the US military’s Kapisa province Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) are courtesy of Captain Darrick Lee, US Air Force Public Affairs Officer.  I apologize that many of these photos include me in the shot – but they should give you a sense of a PRT operation.  I will write more later.

These photos document:

  • Construction of Bolaghain, Malikar and Omar Shahid High Schools
  • Koh Band to Durnama Road and “9km” road construction
  • Failed attempt to hold women’s training at Al Baruni University
  • Kapisa Province governor, ministers, aids, contractors and farmer’s Community Development Council leaders gather for a monthly meeting with PRT commanders and US Department of State and US Agency for International Development representatives
  • Mission briefs and debriefs
  • Bagram Air Force Base drop off and pickup area, accommodations and bunkers

Guns or development

Just back from three intense and interesting days in a village documenting the work of a Community Development Council setup through the National Solidarity Program of the Afghan government. The story is of a former commander turned Council leader – now finding his power through economic development incentives. I am only briefly in Kabul with internet access on my way to Bagram Air Force base for my embed with a Provincial Reconstruction Team made up of US Soldiers and civilian development specialists. If possible, I will try and write more about my recent experiences when I reach the base. For now, I will attach a few photos from the villages and from the journey to the district which is in the Kapisa province a 1-2 hour drive from Kabul.


Eating dirt on the way to the office


Walk it out

Day 1 afternoon

Couldn’t keep my eyes open on the drive home from meeting at the National Solidarity Program with Jamshed. Pushed my self through till 9. Awake and anxious – mind in turmoil at 2:30am. Up at 4 and busied myself fixing Kevlar helmet and cleaning XLR cables and wondering why I am in a little room in Afghanistan cleaning XLR cables and tearing up foam padding to fix to the inside of a soldier’s helmet. Why? Got myself back on track: what is the role of economic development in war and conflict resolution and who should be doing it. Got it to make sense again. But the how is so stressed at this point in a project like this that you want to explode.

IT is surprising how quickly – in a matter of hours – intense  isolation dominates. The hotel is isolating – a bizarre but needed oasis. The room so small and while two walls are windows with good light one looks at a wall and one the glass covered hallway which means the heavy dank curtains must often be kept closed for privacy. Inside I have to work very hard not to let the closeness, floresentness, the darkness close in on cloud my mental state.

I inisisted on a walk at 6:45. I dressed up in my local garb – Kameez and Salwar- and headed out into the cool air and bright crisply clear morning. It is Friday morning, day of rest in Muslim countries, so the streets were relatively quiet at this time of day. I challenged myself that even if I only felt comfortable walking one block that I had to break out of this safe place. The hotel is built around a central sitting area – completely closed in on itself with heavy gates (the first with a large peace dove on it) double rolling doors, sand bagged guard houses for an entrance on a dirt side road.

The roads are everything one already knows from any other developing world city– at least asian. I could have just as well been walking down a street in Ahmedabad, India or Bandung, Indonesia – except with more ease. The streets are paved, the side streets rubble and dirt – all is very dry and dusty. The air, especially if there is a breeze is full of dust and sand. This morning it was calm and the air clean of dust and pollution. I was blessed to have streets with few people, few open shops and little traffic. I could walk calmly in the warm sun. People might look trying to place me but no one stared or discussed. The bakers were open – with their pit or large circular ovens, rounds of dough thrown onto the sides. One man crouchs around the hole and others work behind and beside crouching on carpets. The front has a window displaying stacks of bread with patterns and different shapes. A few tool shops, kiosks and benzine stores were open but most had the steel gates closed or rolled down. The filthy and dilapidated mall like buildings looked closed up. The walk was uneventful. I got to an opening near one of the several police checkpoints –where a few poorly uniformed and even more poorly shoed scruffy men with automatic riffles stop cars intermittently for pat downs and trunk checks. I can imagine after yesterday’s bombing there is more urgency to the task but it didn’t look it. Behind, the stone and gravel hills rise steeply coated in square buildings that rise up the ridges with black holes for windows. The top is covered with antennas and a control center of some sort. On the way back men streamed into the street with shovels headed to a construction site. At another corner four men got into a heated argument and then a flailing hair pulling kicking and punching fight. No question that the south asian temper and tension must only be exasperated by the decades of war, the current state of crisis and the brutal poverty.



Flight from Dubhai to Kabul: 176 turbaned, caped and hat’d Afghan traders, white guy with two Phillipino girls and me. Won $180 in the lottery on the flight! No food or drink but they do a lottery. First money earned on this project.

I arrived at the hotel sat down to breakfast and the windows blew open in front of me from the bomb blast at the Indian embassy.

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