So inaccurate as to border on dishonest.I got a more detailed comment from Ana Pejcinova, a Macedonian national who used to work for the USAID-funded Alternative Livelihoods Program in Helmand Province. She writes:
In reference to the CIC report “Counter-narcotics to Stabilize Afghanistan: the false promise of crop eradication” and from the perspective of recent field experience in Helmand, I'd like to add a few comments in line with and in support of your recommendations:
Firstly, I find my self agreeing with every item of the strategy you outline in the Executive Summary. For my part, I can only emphasize the need for improvement in the developmental model as practiced in Afghanistan, which so far has not been very effective in providing alternative livelihoods. Perhaps you’d agree that effective developmental practice is as important as the removal/blockade of the top of the triple power-marriage between politics, militancy and narcotics, to which you refer.
Much of this is known to you, and I can only add a voice to the choir of engaged professionals who have had the privilege to witness the far reaching effects of strategies designed in remote offices.
1. Insecurity causes movement toward poppy growing. Yes. However, this causation, in my opinion, can be specified as "Economic insecurity primarily, and physical (military) insecurity secondarily, causes movement toward poppy." So many farmers have clearly stated that they'd grow licit crops if they paid better.
Governmental and international organizations refrain from working in areas of physical insecurity. Establishing physical security is, naturally, often beyond their means and scope of work. "We cannot go there" becomes a rationale for "we cannot do anything." This is not true.
To establish economic security is a different matter and is actually doable. Difficult, but achievable. Regional and international market connections, started at grassroots level by Afghan traders and technically supported by international agents, are considerably less vulnerable to physical insecurity. These can be established within physically insecure environments. Imperfect, fluctuating, but real - with actual benefits for Afghans.
That forced eradication fosters local disgruntlement and poverty, and thus motivates insurgency, is an observable phenomenon in Helmand. So is the phenomenon that locally-owned value chains (starting from farmers, moving to traders, and so on) widely increase well being and incentives for security, thus decreasing motivation for insurgency.
It is interesting to note that the Afghan traders' field practices and strategies do not differ much for licit and illicit goods. Trade routes are already established and somehow find ways to function in a middle of a war zone. They can be and are utilized for licit trade as well. Simple and cheap value adding activities can provide incentives for movement toward licit crops trade. (For example, funding drying mats (60c each) for raisins enables producers not to lay them to dry on the dusty ground. This simple value adding activity enables them to realize 20% more on the price for their raisins.)
If traders have incentives to buy/sell licit crops at higher price, farmers will have better incentives to grow them. The whole must be driven for realistic market demand for what is produced. Poppy is grown simply because there is a real market demand for it. Expatriate involvement can drive demand for licit Afghan products on the regional and global market, thus increasing their end value and increasing incentives for growing/trading in licit goods. This is all rather obvious and has been stated in a far better way by more competent authorities.
2. Estimating income per household. This method is indeed appropriate for Afghanistan. Also, the variation between different household incomes is extreme: its range should be regularly added to income or "richness" estimates; one can expect pyramids whose apexes pull the average income to unrealistic levels. Different strategies are necessary for programs targeting the apex and the bottom of the pyramid. As you suggest, forceful eradication/interdiction for the apex, and alternative development programs for the densely populated bottom.
A note: In the South, moreover, where the number of IDPs is already high and likely to increase, squatters and people moving in with relatives cause drastically fluctuating number of households and household members. Migrant labors form a widening category, where migrant workers may follow crops, and even Cash-for-Work activities managed by development agencies.
3. USAID's and other development agencies' measurement of success. This is a troublesome theme. Of course, to measure impact by the indicator "funds assigned to a geopolitical area" requires a very high leap of faith.
It would help independent researchers greatly if they can gain insight into specific operational budgets. Unfortunately, USAID protects this data. I hope you already are in possession of similar estimates: what percentage of budget goes into provision of physical security, what into expatriate staff and support, and what into actual projects. The last item is small.
Development agencies are not keen on measuring their impact, but their input and implementation at the best. Impact indicators are complex, they require professional researchers and more funds. Moreover, they require a great deal of courage and willingness to face the real outcome of lauded operations and budgets. But there are some positive changes here as well: the new impact indicators required by USAID are value of performed sales and number of jobs created. A good start.
4. "The state in Afghanistan can be built only by reserving scarce coercive resources for targeting political opponents at the high end of the value chain" - CIC Report. Yes. In addition, measures do not have to be always coercive: there are individuals in Helmand who allegedly "transport their money by truckloads," at least the portion that is not kept in Dubai or elsewhere abroad. However, some of them are interested in investing their cash in opportune businesses at home - they only need/lack the economic security and the know-how. They want the credibility international agencies can bring. Bringing them into the game of economic development is a classical scenario and, again, it is achievable:
Development agencies can promote public-private partnerships for building large job-generating and income-generating projects, where former drug barons can invest their capital (by which they have incentives to provide physical security of the projects), and can be monitored, checked and balanced within management boards composed of local, national and international stakeholders, representatives of public and private entities.
One such project is in progress in Helmand, the Agroindustrial Park - let's wish them luck (Paul Bell, DCoP and Head of Technical Program at ADP/S, designed this program and is now implementing it. He can say much more on the subject of business development in Afghanistan). Such projects release development budgets and increase local incentives for proactive engagement in building the economy.
Greater coordination between military and relief operations is needed: there is no perceivable planning of post-kinetic activities on the part of the Coalition Forces. For example, Musa Qala, on Christmas, was left to ad hoc emergency aid coming from UNHCR and USAID's ADP/S - with no reconstruction plan and certainly no assigned budget.
A part of the emergency aid was seed distribution - at the end of the planting season. It was an ill timed operation, and the seed must have been useless for this 100% agricultural area. If performed a month earlier and if military decision makers were informed about developmental factors, kinetic and post-kinetic activities could have been seamlessly connected into a functional alternative development program including prevention of poppy planting.
Perhaps I've missed it, but I have found no estimate of real cost of damage inflicted by kinetic activities, which goes beyond destroyed houses, roads and irrigation infrastructure - it may turn out that the funds devoted to post-kinetic activities are a tiny fraction of them.
Coordination between development/relief agencies would come as a welcome surprise - so little of it is practiced on the ground. However, many national agencies, as well as several international ones, have incentives to be outside coordination networks, as a number of outsourced development programs happen mostly on paper. Accountability and anti-corruption management models are under-represented or absent.
6. Public Information Campaign: "Launch a public information campaign stating that the purpose of counter-narcotics is to enhance the livelihoods of the people of Afghanistan." Great, but not limited to PI only. The response of Afghans to more governmental and "Western" PI messages is deeply and, to a large degree, justly skeptical: far more promises have been broken than kept. And in Pashtunwali, a person is as good as his/her word.
PI should be preceded with a consistent delivery of earlier promises, and messages should be based on evidence of delivery. Otherwise any PI campaign will be taken as "again, lies."
New promises should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timed) - and kept. And SMART/ER (Equitable, Relevant to the actual lives of Afghans). People who deliver promises should be directly accountable for keeping them. This is rarely the case.
7. Cynics, Planners and Searchers: The problem of delivery and accountability in international settings often goes in favor of William Easterly's White Man's Burden. Too many internationals are interested in keeping their jobs by delivering neat reports and measuring their achievements by input and process, and not by impact. Others are merely Planners, raising hopes and failing to fulfill their word.
However, there is a potential for change in the field practice of development: a visible line of Searchers appears, who utilize the laws of the global market to develop local economies. And these, for now just a few, programs have actually delivered (like the Kandahar Orchards Story - the multimillion export of pomegranates to Dubai, Delhi and Mumbai.
This is being developed in an entirely new paradigm, which turns the post-WWII developmental paradigm upside down. Applied business models in service of development is a strategy that I am hoping USAID and other development agencies will be taking up increasingly.
It is often a sad and frustrating experience to witness intense human processes from close and to be able to merely touch them, but very little to help or alleviate them. It is sad and frustrating to see interventions that do not work, but then, seeing interventions that do, as rarely as it happens, is an exciting privilege. I can only hope that the major actors in Afghanistan would appreciate and appropriate the strategy you suggest.
Ana Pejcinova, PhD
Former Communications Specialist for Alternative Development Program – South (ADP/S), Helmand