Doctor, heal thyself

I’m taking a class with someone currently working with ISAF and in one of our discussion threads he/she shared the content from a couple of PowerPoint slides with us demonstrating where relatively current (I’m not sure of the date on these) thinking is regarding the ‘nation building’ component of our effort is.  After confirming with him/her that these slides were releasable to the general public, I’m presenting them here.  I think there are some interesting (and infrequently reported) angles on the participation/effects of the international community’s efforts.  My comments will be in [italicized brackets]:

International Community has:

  1. Paid too much and too little in salaries [My guess is too much to outsiders and too little to Afghans]
  2. Favored efficiency and right now delivery / spending over careful pricing
  3. Competed for material, driving up prices  [This was a point made in the recent al-Jazeera documentary I wrote about.  One of the aid workers referred to one of the problems being ‘Projects over process’, meaning there was such a desire to go out and do something there was little to no cooperation or thought about fitting the various aid/improvement projects into a coherent whole.]


  1. Corruption in government leaders [Not a surprise.  This was clearly evident at least as far back as 2003 and we totally made a bad problem worse by enabling government/local leaders in their corruption in order to achieve our short term aims]
  2. Association of ISAF with corruption
  3. Failure to build AFG capacity [It’s not only about the number of troops in country.  Unfortunately, the complexity of Afghanistan doesn’t get reported on here and so explaining how salaries and aid programs result in inefficient security and governance capabilities is too hard a sell.  Better to just say ‘We need a surge!’]
  4. Empowerment of the wrong people [Major problem that was totally foreseeable.  This, and most of these points, apply not just to ISAF but to the American effort, when it was more separate, as well.  On a local level, I can’t tell you how many of the ‘wrong’ people were empowered (IMO) just so that a commander could get through his tour without having any major problems.  It was rife in the area surrounding Bagram in ’03/’04.]
  5. Money in a few hands
  6. 100% cost of living increase since Jan 07 [Just amazing to think about what a money pit Afghanistan is becoming and how little we’ve seen for it.]

Understanding the Issue:

  1. Baseline Facts In some assistance activities 80% of money flows out of regional local economy [I’m not sure how this stacks up with other international assistance programs but I know they face similar problems.  Still, how much improvement can you expect when 80% of your development funds head right back out to the developed world in order to pay for contractors and outside technology?]
  2. Decision-making not supported with activity expenditure cost data or market cost data; data is Everywhere and Nowhere [This isn’t a good sign.  It’s great they’ve identified the problem but they still don’t have a fix for how to coordinate non-military activities?]
  3. Efficiency, fiscal year spending requirements, and right-now requirements war with “Afghan First”
  4. Government and popular technical and management capacity limited – supply and demand forces inevitably in effect [I know it’s quickly becoming passe to keep kicking the ghost of George W. but really, had we had a reconstruction plan in place in ’01, we needed be facing such a critical shortage of indigenous technical and management skills.  I’m not sure if there’s a plan in place now to develop that capability.]
  5. Afghans believe that 40% of all aid is lost to corruption [I wonder what the real number is. Could this be the wisdom of crowds at work?]

U.S. impact:

  • 10-15% of R&D aid directed through PRTs
  • USAID puts more money than all other donors together
  • By one account DoD and NATO contracts comprise >40% of Afghan GDP [Wow…think about that.  And what happens when you pull 40+% of a country’s GDP out?  Regardless of how well we do over the next 18 months, if someone isn’t planning how to cushion that blow, any positive gains we make might be lost.]
  • In 2001, there were 240,000 civil servants. Most have been recruited from front line positions to support positions in UN agencies, NGOs, and other parts of IC [Again, very common in areas with large international assistance presence.  You can find all sorts of stories about trained doctors who take jobs as drivers because the UN, or other agency pay more than their regular salary.  International organizations need to find a way to not compete with the government they’re trying to support.]
  • In Afghanistan, USAID has about 250 personnel, out of 350 authorized, overseeing approx. 10,000 implementers
  • Contracts are starting to include locality and Afghan First clauses [See that?  Starting.  Nine years into this and they’re only now starting to try to build up a skilled workforce.  More here.]

There slides point to the fact that there’s a lot more that needs to be done than just more patrolling or training more security personnel.  The good news is that someone has at least identified some of the problems.  Now let’s just hope someone is working on finding solutions for them.


2 responses to “Doctor, heal thyself

  1. Pingback: Kabul’s world and fame at last « Duncandj in Kabul

  2. “By one account DoD and NATO contracts comprise >40% of Afghan GDP”

    Vanda Felbab-Brown at Georgetown U./Brookings asserts that 50% of Afghan GDP is derived from narcotics trafficking, 50% from foreign aid. My meager math skills therefore lead me to infer that <10% of Afghan GDP comes from non-DoD/NATO aid sources.

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