Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spending cash in increase safety in Afghanistan

The US military is spending over $500,000 every ten days on on one rural community in Afghanistan. The money goes to grants, road improvements and employing young men with militia jobs.

The US says that they spend this money to prevent people from joining the Taliban out of despair over their poverty. However, development experts say that this practice does not do much to develop the economy but instead buys influence for the military.

From the Economist, we read more about how the military doles out the money.

HAD Patrick Lavoie strolled down the main bazaar in Marja a year ago, locals would have greeted him with sniper fire and roadside bombs. Today the American marine captain only has to step out of his base to be overwhelmed by turbaned men anxious to be his best friend.

All along the main road they try to catch his eye and beg him for money to spruce up their shops. As part of his campaign to smarten up the market, which is not especially shabby, Mr Lavoie is happy to oblige. But they must follow his rules, including putting up signs above their shop. Many are in dodgy English, in a town where few can even read Pushtu. One ten-minute conversation with some vegetable-sellers ends with Mr Lavoie agreeing to give them over $8,000 to fix up their stalls. “I’m like Santa Claus!” he says.

With their programme of small grants, goodies such as a surfaced road and street lighting, and a policy of putting many of the district’s “fighting-age” males on the payroll of a rash of new defence militias, the marines are spending $500,000 every ten days in a poor rural community of 250,000. The people have known only predatory government or Taliban rule.

It is the sort of splurge that horrifies development experts. They say it distorts the local economy and undermines longstanding if less lavish efforts to create a workable local government. Meanwhile, cynics who have seen this kind of thing before repeat the old saw that you can rent an Afghan, but you can’t buy him.

Yet nothing seems to get in the way of America’s big-money, industrial-strength counterinsurgency effort under way in Marja. The district, in a farm belt in the south-central province of Helmand, has become a test for the United States since President Barack Obama’s approval of a troop “surge” in Afghanistan. A year ago, when the launch of Operation Moshtarak marked the start of a new strategy against the Taliban, American generals ramped up expectations of a swift victory in Marja, followed by the installation of a “government in a box”. Neither happened. Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, soon fretted that the place had become his “bleeding ulcer”.

Marines insist things are looking up at last. A senior officer claims that Marja is now “safer than Detroit”. The new, go-ahead district governor says he can drive all the way back to his family home in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah in an unarmoured car. In another encouraging sign, 1,100 residents turned up to register for a district council election of sorts which a British provincial-reconstruction team is promoting.

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