The international community led by the Western countries has been assisting Afghanistan over the past one decade. The U.S. and the European countries such as the U.K., France, Germany, and other European Union member states have doled out more than $30 billion in aid for Afghanistan since 2001. For the U.S. the direct cost for the war in Afghanistan since 2001 has crossed $400 billion as of June 2011. This figure excludes other hidden costs associated with the Afghan war such as long-term medical care and treatment for thousands of wounded American servicemen. Putting together all the costs of the Afghan war, long-term and short-term, direct and indirect, the bill for the U.S. for the war in Afghanistan since 2001 has already crossed 1 trillion dollars! Last year alone, the U.S. spent more than $130 billion excluding the black budgets and all the secret money for secret operations that do not get officially reported. The 1 trillion dollars spent and paid for by American taxpayers as a result of the war in Afghanistan is an astronomical figure. This staggering figure would have been better-spent if only a small fraction of it were invested back in Afghanistan in those projects such as National Solidarity Program (NSP) which has been largely successful in implementing critical community-based projects while creating jobs, reducing poverty and empowering local communities.
The National Solidarity Program was launched in 2003 by the Afghanistan's Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) with the objectives of identifying, funding and implementing useful developmental projects across the country's districts and villages. The program is such that the local Afghan populations are included in the developmental projects through Community Development Councils made up of the village or district's elders and educated persons. These community elders and educated individuals partner with the NSP authorities in identifying the needs of the community and accordingly projects are drawn up. Later, funding is released by the NSP with a measure of financial contribution from the community people themselves. Although fraught with many shortcomings such as an extent of corruption, the NSP has been able to deliver some desperately needed aid and relief to local communities in the country's villages and districts. Interestingly, Taliban usually do not attack those projects which have been implemented with financial contribution from the local people. However, this much useful program has been suffering from shortage of funds. Furthermore, as the U.S. and other Western countries prepare for a military withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014, programs such as the NSP can be very effective in helping the process of transition unfold smoothly.
Since 2001, on one hand you have more than 1 trillion dollars spent by the U.S. on the war in Afghanistan and on the other hand, only $1.5 billion spent on useful national projects such as the NSP. Direct military spending of more than $400 billion since 2001 largely has worked to enrich the Western weapon manufacturing and defense industries while the actual projects that have the potential for bringing durable and lasting in Afghanistan such as NSP have been neglected.
As the deadline of 2014, when the majority of foreign forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan, is drawing closer the need of the hour is a renewed focus on assisting Afghanistan in economic, social and developmental arenas. There are valuable lessons to be learnt from the past one decade. Those projects and programs which have been able to make a real impact on the lives of common Afghans such as NSP need to be pursued with a new zeal and a new commitment by the international community led by the US. There have been inadequacies and shortcomings that have tainted the overall performance of NSP since 2003 such as corruption. However, on the whole and to be fair, the overall performance of NSP has been acceptable. If enough political will and commitment can be mustered within the international community and government of Afghanistan, work can be started to further refine the NSP, reduce shortcomings such as corruption and make NSP into an effective vehicle for delivering development and better governance. These two objectives – development and better governance – by themselves form a strong defense against insurgency by Taliban and other militant groups. When people have their tummies full, nobody from among the community would stand to create trouble. Those who would still want to take arms and fight would not be local people but insurgents who come from outside and sneak into local communities.
The international community along with the government of Afghanistan further need to review the full spectrum of policies and strategies in light of the past mistakes and failures. Rising graph of the insurgency parallel to the plunging security situation, a breakdown of governance and justice disposal system, waning confidence in the ability of the government to protect lives and safeguard interests, all clearly display that many things are in need of change. In the absence of an across-the-board re-thinking of strategies and policies, the situation is poised to deteriorate much further especially after 2014. Before correcting these sets of flawed policies and strategies both the government of Afghanistan and the U.S.-led western countries assisting the country need to change the underlying assumptions, premises and general paradigms that they have adopted, to an extent wrongly, towards Afghanistan. Any course correction needs to be built on a realistic and correct understanding of the nature of the conflict in Afghanistan and the nuances of Afghan society, culture and polity.
As said, in post-2014 Afghanistan and in absence of international coalition forces, Afghanistan might slide back into war and renewed turmoil if effective steps are not taken to address social and economic needs along with security challenges. Therefore, converting the ongoing military extravaganza to an all-out civilian endeavor to address these genuine needs is a desirable strategy. It should be ensured that the international community will not abandon Afghanistan by scaling down their assistance beyond 2014. To be realistic, many more years of international assistance are needed to make Afghanistan stabilized and Afghan State back on its feet. It takes the government in Kabul to show to its international partners that it will be worth investing in the future of Afghanistan and that their investments will not be misplaced. On the other hand, the international community led by the U.S. should also do some introspection and correct the past mistakes.