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Posted by on Nov 24, 2009 in International, Politics, War | 4 comments

What Afghans say about the war

A group of nongovernmental organizations recently polled 704 randomly-selected Afghans about how decades of conflict has changed their lives. Andrew Sprung has a summary:

1 in 5 say they’ve been tortured, three quarters have been forced to leave their homes at some point in the endless civil war, 43% have had property destroyed. The survey also has what would seem to be some moderately encouraging findings regarding the counterinsurgency: 70% see unemployment and poverty as a key driver of civil war; 48% blame the government’s weakness and corruption; 36% point to the Taliban; 25% to interference by neighboring countries; just 18% to the presence of international forces; another 18% to al Qaeda– and another 17% to the lack of support from the international community. After 30 years of civil war, only 3% named the current conflict as the most harmful period (though the report cautions that areas where the current fighting is worst are underrepresented).

The emphasis is mine. Notice the factors that the U.S. policy makers seem to identify as priorities—the Taliban, al Qaeda, and corruption in the government—are dwarfed by unemployment and poverty in the eyes of Afghans. That disconnect is revealing. The general consensus from the respondents was, if people are employed, the fighting will end. Here’s a quote from a woman in Kabul:

“We thank God that the fighting we saw during Taliban does not exist now, even though still they do suicide attacks. The main harm of the current conflict is poverty and unemployment. If there are employment opportunities for the people, there won’t be killings.”

That’s a point I’ve been trying to make on my own blog for some time. It’s not that rooting out the Taliban and cleaning up the government aren’t important, but they will ultimately be futile efforts without some serious attempts to improve the fundamentals of Afghanistan’s economy. Among its recommendations, the report calls for the international community to “commit and deliver not just more aid, but more effective aid for humanitarian, reconstruction and development activities throughout the country.”

The international community has been reluctant to follow through with promises of aid since back when the Soviets left, and the American public is understandably skeptical of nation building. But we’re already spending money in Afghanistan. We can either keep wasting it on a largely ineffective military solution, or we can try to fix this mess once and for all.

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