Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Failing Afghanistan's Children

While Peter MacKay and Bev Oda are busy telling happy war stories in committee today, what they will predictably leave out are real indicators of the failed efforts over the past 6 years in Afghanistan.

As IRIN notes, the focus on military expenditures is basically handing poor, young Afghan men and children to the Taliban:

"In our district many young guys join Taliban ranks for pocket money, a mobile phone or other financial incentives," said Safiullah, a resident of Sangeen District in Helmand.

They don't want much, yet they are being deprived by the mishandling of foreign aid and so-called development funds. And they are willing to risk their very lives to get what they need.

High levels of rural poverty or unemployment are probably helping to drive young people like Malik to join the Taliban.

Due to insecurity in the southern provinces there are no available unemployment figures. However, a report by Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission on the social and economic rights of Afghans estimated that in some parts of the country the unemployment rate was as high as 60 percent.

Another reason why there are so many rural poor is the fact that agriculture, which employs over 60 percent of the estimated 26.6 population, has received only US$300-400 million of the over US$15 billion of international development aid given to Afghanistan since 2002, Oxfam International reported in January.

But, whenever US and Canadian government officials comment about Afghanistan's agricultural problems, their focus is on the issue of opium production, which has skyrocketed. The solution, they claim, is to eradicate the crops and offer legal substitutes to farmers in bed with the warlords and the Taliban. However, when such a minimal amount of foreign aid money is actually directed to such efforts, the farmers are cut off at the knees. They have no choice if they want to survive and feed their families.

US spending in Afghanistan amounts to approximately $65,000 per minute. In Iraq, that number is $250,000. Military spending in both countries far exceeds the amounts required to reach the stated goals of creating and sustaining anything nearing a civil society, while corrupt government institutions and officials also stand in the way of progress for the average Afghan.

So what are the children to do? Especially when they're also victims of domestic abuse who are expected to help out in any way they can - including contributing to the family's income? Obviously, joining the insurgency looks attractive as a quick way to accomplish that responsibility, especially considering that only "32 per cent of boys complete primary school while only 13 per cent of girls do so". (The next time you hear government officials boast about the fact that 6 million children are now attending school, remember those percentages).

And, as far as Canada's so-called contributions are concerned, the Senlis Council was highly critical of CIDA in 2007.

The failure to demonstrably address the extreme poverty, widespread hunger and appalling child and maternal mortality rates in Afghanistan — let alone boost economic development — is decreasing local Afghan support for Canada’s mission and increasing support for the insurgency."

Norine MacDonald, of the Senlis Council, said the problem is a structural issue because the money the agency does have is not ending up on the ground.

"When you're on the ground in Kandahar, it's sad to say, despite good intentions, CIDA's efforts are non-existent," MacDonald said.

"We are confronted every day by people without food, without water, without shelter, without medical aid. So our efforts are so minimal as to be non-existent."

Tuesday's Conservative government budget boasted that aid to Afghanistan would be increased by $100 million but, when you read the fine print, the majority of that money will go towards "security initiatives, such as training police, [and the] army". As Brian Hutchinson wrote in the National Post this week, you'd be hard-pressed to find any CIDA officials on the ground in places like Kandahar. Bev Oda, the minister now responsible for CIDA has come under attack recently by Senator Colin Kenny, who claimed that CIDA had no idea where its' aid money was ending up. CIDA officials countered that they have a solid trail, but note this reality:

"Last year, Canada spent $179 million in aid in Afghanistan, one-third of which flows through multilateral partners like the United Nations and World Food Program, with the remaining two-thirds given to the Afghan government.

The corrupt Afghanistan government:

Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, former commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, says the greatest threat to success in Afghanistan is not the resurgence of the Taliban but "the potential irretrievable loss of legitimacy of the government of Afghanistan."
President Hamid Karzai has admitted there is a problem.

"All politicians in this system have acquired everything – money, lots of money. God knows it is beyond the limit. The banks of the world are full of the money of our statesmen," Mr. Karzai said in November.

As noted in that article, and according to Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board, Afghanistan's government rates as one the most corrupt in the world. Obviously, CIDA's defence that it knows where its' aid money is actually going is specious at best, and blatantly dishonest on its face. So, while Conservatives like MacKay and Oda are once again busy trying to sell this war, going after the hearts and minds of the Canadian people by insisting that they only have the best interests of the Afghan people in mind, the facts state otherwise. And the idea that the Liberal party would support an extension of this failed, misguided and completely mismanaged mission only adds further insult to far too many injuries.

The Afghanistan people need help, but the current NATO-structured mission plan has failed. Just ask the Afghan children who would sacrifice their fate for "pocket money" from the Taliban.

No comments:

Post a Comment