by Patrick Cockburn
Vast sums of money are being lavished by Western aid agencies on their own
officials in Afghanistan at a time when extreme poverty is driving young
Afghans to fight for the Taliban. The going rate paid by the Taliban for an
attack on a police checkpoint in the west of the country is $4, but foreign
consultants in Kabul, who are paid out of overseas aids budgets, can command
salaries of $250,000 to $500,000 a year.
The high expenditure on paying, protecting and accommodating Western aid
officials in palatial style helps to explain why Afghanistan ranks 174th out
of 178th on a UN ranking of countries' wealth. This is despite a vigorous
international aid effort with the US alone spending $31bn since 2002 up to
the end of last year.
The high degree of wastage of aid money in Afghanistan has long been an open
secret. In 2006, Jean Mazurelle, the then country director of the World
Bank, calculated that between 35 per cent and 40 per cent of aid was "badly
spent". "The wastage of aid is sky-high," he said. "There is real looting
going on, mainly by private enterprises. It is a scandal."
The dysfunctional reputation of the US aid effort in Afghanistan is
politically crucial because Barack Obama, with strong support from Gordon
Brown, has promised that a "civilian surge" of non-military experts will be
sent to Afghanistan to strengthen its government and turn the tide against
the Taliban. These would number up to 600, including agronomists, economists
and legal experts, though Washington admitted this week that it was having
difficulty recruiting enough people of the right calibre.
Whole districts of Kabul have already been taken over or rebuilt to
accommodate Westerners working for aid agencies or embassies. "I have just
rented out this building for $30,000 a month to an aid organisation," said
Torialai Bahadery, the director of Property Consulting Afghanistan, which
specialises in renting to foreigners. "It was so expensive because it has 24
rooms with en-suite bathrooms as well as armoured doors and bullet-proof
windows," he explained, pointing to a picture of a cavernous mansion.
Though 77 per cent of Afghans lack access to clean water, Mr Bahadery said
that aid agencies and the foreign contractors who work for them insist that
every bedroom should have an en-suite bathroom and this often doubles the
cost of accommodation. . . .
Declan Walsh and Richard Norton Taylor, "Afghanistan Mission Close to
Failing," Guardian, February 29, 2008
Ewen MacAskill, "Barack Obama's War: Focus
on Taliban, al-Qaida," Guardian, March 28, 2008
Patrick Cockburn, "Afghans riot over air-strike atrocity:
Witnesses say deaths of 147 people in three villages came after a sustained
bombardment by American aircraft," Independent, May 8, 2009
Ann Scott Tyson, "Pentagon Budget Devotes More To Afghanistan War
Than to Iraq," Washington Post, May 8, 2009
[The choice of McChrystal certainly appears to signal the administration's
readiness to continue Special Operations forces raids and airstrikes that is
generating growing opposition by Afghans to the U.S. military
presence.--Gareth Porter, "Drone Strikes Will
Continue," Washington Post, May 13, 2009]