Tag Archives: security

Andrew Wilder: Winning Hearts and Minds?

Andrew Wilder, Research Director at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University in Boston, spoke March 30 at Yale. Wilder has been a leading critic of development aid deployed as a tool of counterinsurgency.

Andrew Wilder was born in Pakistan and has spent more than 35 years living, studying and working in Pakistan and Afghanistan.From January 2002 through April 2005, Wilder established and served as the first Director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, Afghanistan’s leading independent policy research institution. Between 1986 and 2001 he worked for several different international NGOs managing humanitarian and development programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including as the Pakistan/Afghanistan Director of Save the Children (US) from 1996 to 2001. His recent publications include an analysis of police reform efforts in Afghanistan and a study on perceptions of the Pakistan earthquake response. He has an interesting Boston Globe op-ed here: “A Weapons System Based on Wishful Thinking” For the past year he has been leading a two-year study on the assumed relationship between foreign aid and stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Horn of Africa.


Wilder began by explaining the assumption that increased development aid leads to stabilization. This has become a centerpiece of American counter-insurgency strategy. “Where the road ends, the Taliban begins,” said General Eikenberry in 2005, and Vice President Biden declared in 2008: “How do you spell hope in Pashto and Dari? A-S-P-H-A-L-T.” Development actors have also embraced the idea that poverty breeds radicalism. Since 9/11 the money for development has grown dramatically, and much of those funds has been directed to peace building activities. At the same time, the role of the military and Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) has become dominant in aid work.The logic for these developments is that poverty causes conflict, therefore reconstruction assistance will lead to economic development, and then stability. Also assumed is “aid wins hearts and minds” and that more government presence means more stability.

However, this reasoning ignores much that has been learned about the potential for negative outcomes of aid. Projects frequently generate grievances, losers as well as winners. Modernization in Afghanistan has often had destabilizing effects, in the 20s under King Amanullah, and during the American/Soviet competition over infrastructure projects in the 70s. The Army Counter-Insurgency Manual calls aid a weapons system. Doesn’t it make sense, Wilder argued, for a weapons system to be tested before we assume it works?

Wilder stressed that development is certainly worthwhile for its own sake, and has had some success for health, education, infrastructure etc. The point he wished to make was that development does not correlate with security, and is not a useful tool in counter-insurgency.

What Afghans Think

Wilder presented research to back up this claim. In interviews with Afghans in five provinces (Helmand, Paktia, Orozgan, Farah, and Balkh) he asked three questions: What are the drivers of instability, what do you think about development actors, and does development help with insecurity?

The government’s role in insecurity was by far the biggest concern.

The most common causes were:
1. bad government, corruption, predatory police
2. disrespect for culture/religion among the foreign forces
3. neighboring counties
4. unemployment
5. ethnic/tribal disputes

Perceptions of aid actors were mostly negative, with little distinction between NGOs, the military, and government ministries. The common complaints were unmet expectations and broken promises, unfair distributions, corruption, inappropriate or shoddy projects, and lack of consultation. For example, building a road angered those who it bypassed, while the haste and lack of oversight in the construction might mean that it is already crumbling, while the PRT that built it has already transfered out of the country.

The only development project with a positive reputation was the National Solidarity Program (NSP), which gave 70% of villages a choice of the small project that they wanted. People liked the equality and local involvement. This shows that the process of development is at least as important as the outcome.

Aid not only doesn’t lead to stability, it actually can be destabilizing. It can create conflicts between perceived winners and losers. Above all, the corruption involved in aid projects destroys much of their benefit. There has been a mafiazation of the construction business. In order to do a project in a violent area, the contractor must pay the Taliban or a local militia to provide security. Wilder cited a recent article in The Nation which estimated that Western money is the number 2 source of funding for the Taliban, and as much as 10% of development money ends up in Taliban coffers.

Wilder also pointed out that part of the reason development is seen as so important is that it is good for our hearts and minds. It is good for troop morale, and is the major justification for European involvement in Afghanistan. This pressure to be doing something leads to measuring projects by dollars spent, rather than by the effects of that money. The securitization of development has other long term risks, including a possible backlash against development work when it is realized that it didn’t bring peace. We should have a ten or fifteen year commitment to gradual development, not the current frantic push.

What to Do

Wilder’s recommendation was to spend as much money on development objectives as can be accounted for, and no more; to value quality over quantity. We have to look at our capacity in an area, as well as its need, or else get further into a vicious cycle of funding insecurity by throwing money at the places with the least ability to spend it well. This requires a return to the “First, do no harm” principles of development.

We have to recognize that political legitimacy in Afghanistan hasn’t historically been based on providing services, but on protection and justice. One way to help improve the government is to focus on the appointments mechanisms. Good individuals can change the face of a ministry. In fact, in the cases when a development project was viewed favorably, the credit was usually given to the individual in charge.

It is also important to realize that the Afghan government has become as much the problem as the solution, and that their interests do not always match ours. There are segments of the government who benefit from the status quo. The current efforts to bring a “government in a box” to districts like Marja are setting ourselves up to fail. It is unrealistic to think that good government will be easy in the provinces when it has failed in Kabul, and people fear the coming of the police more than the coming of the Taliban. The biggest problem we face in Afghanistan, in the end, isn’t military or development strategy, but our lack of a political strategy for Kabul.

The Yale Afghan Forum thanks Professor Wilder, the Gattis Smith Lecture Series, The Council on South Asian Studies, and everyone who attended the talk.


Reaction to Obama’s speech…

Op-Ed in the Yale Daily News:

On Tuesday night, for the first time since President Obama’s election, we sat down in a college TV room and watched him give a speech in real time, from beginning to end. Before an audience of cadets at West Point, Obama outlined his plans for Afghanistan: 30,000 more troops sent over, starting within weeks, and a troop drawdown beginning in July 2011. CNN pulled out its countdown timers and color-coded map backdrops for the occasion, recycling the paraphernalia from “Decision 2008.” This time, though, the red and blue maps showed degree of Taliban control rather than vote percentages. And this time, the students watching with us didn’t break into swing-dancing and victory cheers when time ran out.

The Yale Afghanistan Forum wasn’t exactly Obama’s intended audience. We expected a speech about Afghanistan — and instead, heard a speech about America. It was a solid and somber speech, reminding Americans of our role in history as the underwriters of global security and emphasizing the threat posed by violent extremism. We learned our troops will start to return in 18 months; we didn’t hear much about what Obama expects Afghanistan to look like when they do.

It’s easy to understand why Obama took this approach. A nationally televised speech is not the place to detail counterinsurgency and development strategy. But that strategy had better exist. On balance, we think Obama is taking the right approach by sending more troops and setting a drawdown date — but these decisions alone do not amount to a comprehensive plan.

To evaluate Obama’s plan, we need him to explain it in greater detail.

First, how will the United States deal with the Afghan government? Obama’s speech skirted the issue of Hamid Karzai’s fraud-plagued reelection and spoke of corruption as a problem the government faces, rather than one of its faults. At the same time, Obama said the days of “blank checks” for Karzai’s government are over. So how will Karzai’s government be held accountable? If Afghanistan’s security is critical for our own, can we really afford to punish Karzai — by withdrawing, say — if he behaves badly? Some officials, like Secretary of State Clinton, have floated the idea of bypassing the worst parts of the central government by channeling aid to local governments or by aiding only high-performing ministries. Can this be accomplished without undermining Kabul’s authority in the eyes of Afghan citizens?

Second, what form will our expanded civilian effort take? The concept of a “civilian surge” isn’t new — it was a component of General McChrystal’s report earlier this year — but the surge hasn’t materialized. Aid workers are not forcibly deployed into a hostile environment like soldiers, and the recent attack on the United Nations headquarters in Kabul further weakened the Western civilian corps in Afghanistan. Does the administration have a plan to turn this situation around?

Finally, and most importantly, what chain of events does the administration see leading to a reasonably stable Afghanistan? Supporters of the troop increase emphasize the cascade of positive effects it might bring: if security improves, development becomes possible, swaying Afghans who hadn’t seen an alternative to the Taliban’s destructive shadow government. Critics of the buildup, however, would counter that our presence could distort local power dynamics, creating more disgruntled elites with an incentive to undermine the U.S.-backed regime.

For the 18-month timeframe to be more than a convenient sound bite, the administration must have a plan for the way these dominoes will fall. They need to have a clear idea about how our actions will shape the strategic decisions of Pakistani generals, Kandahari tribal elders and warlords in Jalalabad.

Next week, Obama’s announcement will be old news and the cable networks will have moved on. But troop levels are only one component of a strategy, and we’ve yet to hear the rest. Obama’s speech on Tuesday was about America; we’re still waiting for the part about Afghanistan.

Andrew Mayersohn and Mari Oye are juniors in Pierson and Timothy Dwight colleges, respectively. They are members of the Yale Afghanistan Forum./

Thanks to Anna for her help on this too! And thanks to Parwiz, Eric, and Brian for their commentary.

Human Rights and Afghanistan

On Tuesday, 10/27, Habib Rahiab joined us as the first outside guest in YAF’s fall speaker series. Mr. Rahiab is a human rights activist who was forced to flee Afghanistan because of his work documenting human rights abuses and advocating that Afghan warlords implicated in past war crimes be brought to justice. He led Human Rights Watch projects to interview victims and prepare reports drawing attention to these issues (his report “Killing You Is a Very Easy Thing For Us To Do” is here), and he now works with the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center in New Haven.

Mr, Rahiab spoke about his personal struggles growing up in Afghanistan, witnessing the atrocities committed by the Communist regime, the mujahideen and the Taliban, and how these experiences influenced him to become a human rights activist.

After the fall of the Taliban, some of his early work involved gathering testimony from Afghan and Pakistani ex-detainees from Guantanamo, Bagram and black-site prisons. He described the terrible psychological state of these men, and his disbelief upon first hearing stories of sexual abuse.

Peace Before Justice?

Mr. Rahiab described how the international coalition’s choice to have a “light footprint” in Afghanistan influenced the developments of the last eight years. The overall presence was small, compared to post-conflict situations such as Bosnia and East Timor, and responsibilities were divided among many nations. The decision was made to focus on peace rather than justice, overlooking past atrocities in the interests of security and a quick withdrawal.

Along with the failure to build state institutions came the failure to create economic development. Mr Rahiab recounted how, when expectations were high, Iranians joked that they would have to migrate to Afghanistan for jobs, instead of the other way around. However, people now find it easier to make a living by joining the Taliban. The insurgency can promise money in this life, and heaven in the next, while the government can promise neither.

On Security Forces:

Asked whether he was concerned about abuses in the Afghan security forces, he said that, while corruption and incapacity are widespread, there is respect for the official forces, and that they do not pose the human rights issues that private militias do.

The use of private security by international groups is also a serious problem. It undermines structures of accountability and creates inequality in protection. It is fundamentally unjust when private contractors turn a blind eye to robberies taking place around them because only foreigners can pay to guard their property.

On the Current Decisions to Be Made:

Mr. Rabiab supports holding the run-off election. The election is important not for Karzai’s legitimacy, but the legitimacy of the democratic project. Something must be done to restore faith in elections as a system after the fraudulent first round of voting.

His suggestion for today is to focus the most money on the provinces that are stable enough for it to do some good. If Kabul were a model of order and prosperity, it would demonstrate an incentive to stop fighting the government. As it is, people in the north and center of the country feel like they should set off bombs in order to get attention and development.

On the Shia Family Law

The question period ended with a discussion of the Shia family law, which came under fire last year for legalizing marital rape. According to Mr. Rabiab, the law must be seen in the context of the political maneuvering surrounding the election. It was drafted by the most conservative clerics, and is not representative of the actual lived rights of Shia women. However, it enjoys broad support because for the first time the law establishes Shia as an official religion. Hazara generally defend the government because they have the most to gain from the new system.

Our deep thanks to Mr. Rahiab, and to everyone who attended.

Afghanistan at CFR

The Council on Foreign Relations has several new pieces on Afghanistan.

In an interview, Stephen Biddle argues that the US needs to focus more on governance.

From Foreign Affairs, Michael Semple and Fontini Christia discuss “flipping” the Taliban.

They also have a good backgrounder on the Afghan Security Forces. This isn’t new, but it is interesting.