Aid agencies sound the alarm on the militarization of aid in Afghanistan

As Foreign Ministers gather in London for a major conference on Afghanistan, leading aid agencies warn that the international militaries' use of aid as a “non-lethal” weapon of war may even be putting Afghans at greater risk.

A US army manual for commanders in Afghanistan and in Iraq defines aid as a non-lethal weapon designed “to win the hearts and minds of the indigenous population to facilitate defeating the insurgents”. The Afghan government estimates international forces have already spent $1.7 billion on “aid” in Afghanistan. The US military alone has budgeted an additional $1 billion for the coming year – more than Afghanistan’s state budget for agriculture, health and education combined.

In their new report, "Quick Impact, Quick Collapse", the eight international agencies show their concern that the militarization of aid is putting ordinary people on the frontlines of the conflict. Afghans say that the military places them at greater risk when they build schools and clinics which then become targets of armed opposition groups.

The agencies say that “quick impact” projects provide a quick fix rather than sustainable development. Military-led humanitarian and development activities are driven by donors’ political interests and short-term security objectives and are often ineffective, wasteful and potentially harmful to Afghans.

“There are no 'quick fixes' in Afghanistan”

International guidelines agreed by ISAF and the UN state that “the military is primarily responsible for providing security, and if necessary, basic infrastructure and urgent reconstruction assistance limited to gap-filling measures until civilian organizations are able to take over.”

The agencies say that the international forces are going way beyond their remit. Ashley Jackson, head of policy for Oxfam International in Afghanistan, says: “There are no 'quick fixes' in Afghanistan and nobody should be cutting corners - the people here deserve better. Afghan people have coped with decades of grinding poverty, conflict and disorder and need real, long-term solutions.”

The agencies call on the 70 countries participating in tomorrow’s London Conference to rethink the militarized approach to aid and shift their focus towards a long-term aid strategy based on meeting the real needs of Afghans. The agencies say that the distribution of aid is heavily biased in favor of areas where the troop presence is strongest rather than distributed according to need. The needs of people in more secure areas and vulnerable populations, particularly Afghans displaced by the conflict and other factors as well as returnees are being overlooked.

Excessive influence of short-term military goals

“Development is incredibly complex here. You don’t achieve development, let alone security, by simply digging a well or building a school. You can’t fix the country in 18 months just by injecting it with more money,” says G.B. Adhikari, country director of ActionAid.

The agencies say that over the last eight years there have been many places where significant progress has been made in health, education and rural infrastructure, but these have been driven by Afghans’ needs, carefully planned by development experts and implemented in partnership with communities and local government.

The excessive influence of short-term military goals over aid policy is part of a larger flaw in the US-led strategy. “Troop-contributing countries overemphasize military issues and sideline the critical challenge of promoting genuine development and good governance,” says Farhana Faruqi-Stocker, managing director of Afghanaid. “This imbalance matters, not only because of the resulting human cost, but also because poverty and weak, corrupt government are key drivers of conflict, and must be effectively addressed if there is to be sustainable peace and development.”

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Download the report: Quick Impact, Quick Collapse: The dangers of militarized aid in Afghanistan

Oxfam's emergency work in Afghanistan

Notes to editors

  1. The title of the paper is “Quick Impact, Quick Collapse: The Dangers of Militarized Aid in Afghanistan.” The signatories to this paper are: Action Aid, Afghanaid, CARE, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam and Trocaire. Author of the paper is Ashley Jackson, Head of Policy and Advocacy, Oxfam International.
  2. The US Army Manual referenced is “Commanders’ Guide to Money as a Weapons System”.

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