Measuring Stability

by Joshua Foust on 3/25/2008 · 1 comment

According to Jane’s, Iraq is more stable than Afghanistan. While normally I’m all about anything to draw attention to the place, this just feels wrong: while Afghanistan very well might be in the academic sense more chaotic, in the sense of having a national government that can extend its power to all corners of the country, I fail to see how it’s less stable… especially given the uprising in Basra today.

Admiral Ackbar, pleaseI couldn’t find the report on their website, so I can’t comment on their metrics. Without seeing the study itself, which is the first of its kind, there’s really no way of judging how they were ranking each country.

But Afghanistan’s condition is nevertheless dire. ACBAR—the Agency Coordinating Body For Afghan Relief—has just issued a rather alarming report that claims upwards of $10 billion in promised aid money has simply not arrived. The RFE/RL piece goes further:

The study, “Falling Short,” also finds that a “staggering” 40 percent of the Western funds that are spent on aid projects are returned to the donor countries through fees to contractors and salaries to employees from those countries.

Ramazan Bashardost, an Afghan parliament member and former planning minister, tells RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that a lot of the aid money is being wasted.

“In the United States, Britain, and other countries, people work and taxpayers pay money that goes to help Afghanistan to build roads, dams, and electricity lines,” Bashardost says. “But when the money comes to Afghanistan, it’s spent for those people who have cars costing $60,000 and who live in houses with a $15,000 monthly rent. This money goes to these expenses — 90 percent logistics and administration.”

This is of a piece with my previous complaints about the aid regime there. Not only is the overhead cost so staggering that a vast five-star hotel is profitable down the road from the some of the world’s most grinding poverty, but it has created such institutional failures that there is a separate “foreigner” economy working right alongside the regular one Afghans can access.

Still, the disparity can’t be ignored. Buried in this DW report on the study is the alarming tidbit that well over 90% of the money spent in Afghanistan is on security (though that report tries to absolve European countries while blaming the whole thing on corruption—which is its own topic). This shouldn’t be any surprise: legitimate development projects are so few and far between Afghanistan’s own ambassador can barely remember them when asked about them. So does anyone really have the right to be surprised, even outraged, that the country is ever-so-slowly falling to pieces?

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

Michael Hancock March 26, 2008 at 10:49 pm

Mixing Star Wars references with the horrible disparity of relief workers with those they are “relieving” is probably what drew me to this realm of professional interest in the first place. I don’t suppose ACBAR is looking for a new logo? Because I’m sure the Calimari wouldn’t mind lending their likeness.

I am afraid of the day when my cynicism/education will be complete and I’ll just say to every bad news story like this one, “Well, what did you expect? Foreign Aid is a business, not a charity.” It makes me think of that Simpson’s episode where Homer makes an IT company, hoping that Bill Gates will buy him out, only to have Bill Gates’ thugs break up his ‘office.’ Bill Gates’ priceless explanation, “I didn’t become the world’s richest man by signing checks, Homer.”

Same goes for the US, I suppose, and other wealthy, developed countries. They didn’t get there by signing billion-dollar development plans for foreign economies.

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