Murphy's Law: All Your Ass Belongs To Us

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February 17, 2012: The Afghan government is forcing all private security companies (except for a few working for embassies) to shut down by the end of March. After that, the Interior Ministry will arrange for all special security needed by aid organizations or local companies, via its APPF (Afghan Public Protection Force). Foreign aid groups are not happy with this. There are two problems. First of all there's security. When you hire a private security firm you can fire them if they do not do the job to your satisfaction. You cannot fire the APPF. You can, however, offer bribes to your local APPF commander to encourage your guards to do their job. That brings up the second problem. Afghanistan is one of the most corrupt countries on the planet. Everything is for sale, or requires a bribe, in addition to the stated price. So the arrival of the APPF means everyone will pay more money for less security. The greedy bastards in the Interior Ministry love it.

Despite many efforts to halt the corruption, the Afghans have been very adroit at keeping the bribes coming. The only anti-corruption measures that work are the most draconian. For example, the Afghan government is not happy with the fact that of over $40 billion provided by foreign nations for reconstruction in the last decade only about a fifth of it was under the control of the government. The Afghans have made control of the aid money a matter of national pride and personal gain. But when pressed for details on what is done with aid they have already received, officials either refuse to cooperate or provide details that show most of the money is disappearing. No one believes that the government will eliminate corruption any time soon but the Afghans have to if they ever expect to climb out of poverty. Most Afghan officials are more concerned with getting rich today than in making Afghanistan wealthy in the future.

Money given to the government tends to get stolen. More than a third of it disappears into the pockets of government officials, their kin, and friends. But even money that is not stolen often doesn't get spent because Afghanistan has a major shortage of trained and educated personnel. There are not a lot of engineers, construction specialists, and planners in Afghanistan. Thus there is a problem with setting up and administering projects, especially when you have to be constantly on the lookout for thieving contractors.

There are some other problems that have nothing to do with Afghanistan. Letting the donors and NGOs (Non-governmental organizations, like the Red Cross) handle the money also sees about the same portion lost or wasted. This is because these donations often come with requirements that much of the money be spent on goods and services from the donor nation. This particularly bothers the Afghans as it means a lot of highly (especially by Afghan standards) paid Western aid workers are supervising whatever is done in Afghanistan. The higher NGO pay levels are very visible because the Westerners tend to live much better than Afghans. The Westerners are also accused of not understanding the needs of Afghans, but the NGOs are also less prone to giving most of the money to the tribes or senior government officials. The Afghans would like to gain control of all the aid money, or at least get more of it spent inside Afghanistan, but have not had much success so far. But the Afghans make much of what little progress they have made and promise more.

One of the more popular ways of getting aid projects going, and completed, is to get the foreign troops involved. This has also proved difficult. That's because Afghanistan is the poorest and least developed nation in Eurasia. Most of the population lives in the barren (of economic development) countryside. No roads, no railroads, no electricity, and not much of anything. People out there live from harvest to harvest or move herds around the countryside in search of water and grass.

The lack of skills means a lot of money gets spent on projects that simply did not work. Just building a dirt road can be a major undertaking for the locals. With no railroads and few navigable rivers, bringing anything in from the outside (usually by truck via Pakistan) is expensive and time consuming. Thus is should be no surprise that about 40 percent of the aid money is spent by military commanders. The U.S. quickly realized (and were reminded by the U.S. Army Special Forces) that commanders of combat units could use development money very effectively, both for the economy and military situation. This led to the development of PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) who put much of the remaining aid money to work, along with some of the money local American military commanders have.

About half this development money is spent on security items (mainly the police and army). Rural development (especially roads and agriculture) got about a fifth, education got 9-10 percent, health got 5-6 percent, and a bunch of other stuff got the rest. Most of the money was spent where the Taliban was not (the central and northern provinces).

Because of all these problems a lot of foreign aid does not help Afghanistan much but does make a lot of individual Afghans wealthy. It's this stolen money that finances many of those Afghan refugees that spend thousands (often tens of thousands) of dollars per person to get smuggled into a Western nation. For most Afghans the best form of foreign aid is a ticket out of Afghanistan.  

 

 


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