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Winning Hearts and Minds Through Development Aid

Aired December 1, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, U.S. President Obama announces his plan for more troops in Afghanistan. But are boots on the ground alone enough to win Afghan hearts and minds?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

In a few hours, President Obama will unveil his plan for Afghanistan. White House officials are saying that will mean sending in 30,000 new troops, but also concluding the war within three years. How will that timeline go down in the region?

In any event, bullets and bombs won't be enough to win this fight. It'll take books, bread, better livelihoods -- in other words, a civilian surge -- to convince the Afghan people to trust in their own government and not the Taliban for protection and progress.

But development and reconstruction have lagged far behind, despite the fervent hopes of the Afghan people, who are still waiting for the world to deliver on promises made eight years ago. This challenge was evident in my travels through Afghanistan earlier this year.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): ... right here in the middle of nowhere, it's an incredible sight, row upon row of schoolchildren organized into neat outdoor classes.







AMANPOUR: Several thousand students diligently counting in English.



AMANPOUR: Even at this age, they know that they want to communicate with the rest of the world.

(on-screen): I've never seen anything like this, all these children outside, almost like classes open air.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): It's difficult for them to study when their brains are boiling.

AMANPOUR: Haji Azim Khan (ph), the education director, says that in his district alone, 33,000 students are now studying outside in the sun. Amir John (ph) is an Afghan interpreter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have schools, it's very important. Our kids, they can get education in the future. They will understand who is our enemy and who is our friend.


AMANPOUR: We're joined from Lahore, Pakistan, by Ahmed Rashid, author of "Descent Into Chaos" and one of the world's leading experts on the Taliban.

Mr. Rashid, thank you so much for joining us.


AMANPOUR: So everybody is going to be watching and listening to President Obama's speech. What do the Afghan people need to hear from him?

RASHID: I think they will be watching very carefully if President Obama stresses an exit strategy, which is, of course, something that the American people want and people in Congress want, but it's not something that the Afghan people want to hear. I think that will be the most critical element in his speech. How he puts it, that he doesn't stress on it too much, that is something that will be watched both in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, across the region.

AMANPOUR: What do they precisely want to hear? If they don't want to hear him saying we're moving out in a few years, what do they want him to say?

RASHID: Well, I think what they want -- what they really want him to say is how he's going to improve security for ordinary people in the country, especially in the population centers, how this new counterinsurgency strategy is going to world, and, coupled with that, how are the Americans going to help the Afghan government deliver services and development to the people?


RASHID: So the real issue is -- is -- is security and services and -- and I think most importantly, which President Obama stressed in March, that this administration is very keen to restart the Afghan economy.

AMANPOUR: Let me play you what he precisely said about what you're talking about.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: At a time of economic crisis, it's tempting to believe that we can short-change the civilian effort. But make no mistake: Our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don't invest in their future.


AMANPOUR: So that's what he said when he started his Afghan strategy and started to own this war, so to speak. What does he need to do? Because many people are saying that it's going to be hard to win hearts and minds and set that civilian surge into operation. What does he need to do and what is possible to do?

RASHID: Well, I think the real problem is that, first of all, very little has happened since March. The civilian surge has started, but in bits and pieces.


And, of course, the key issue for experts and -- and agronomists and engineers to come out to Afghanistan right now is, how do you provide them security? You don't want to tie up hundreds or thousands of American troops to provide security to civilian experts. That means you have to improve security before you can have the civilian surge, sending experts into the provinces so they can help with agriculture and investment.

But -- so I think, you know, it is very important that the troop surge does come, that these -- some of these population areas are cleared of Taliban. Clearly, one of the first zones for -- for that operation is going to be southern Afghanistan, Helmand and Kandahar, where the first Marines are going to land, probably in January, and we can expect to see an offensive there, and that's where hopefully there will be the first signs of a civilian surge in agriculture, which is desperately needed to combat the poppy and heroin crop.

AMANPOUR: OK. You've also written -- and we've been seeing these messages that have come out from Mullah Omar -- what is Mullah Omar and the Taliban -- what are they looking at? And how are they going to react to Obama's speech and actions?

RASHID: Well, I think, you know, Mullah Omar gave a very comprehensive message just about a week ago in the celebration of the Eid, the Muslim religious festival, in which actually he raised a lot of the points that Obama is expected to talk about.

Now, for example, he -- he absolutely rejected any form of talks or dialogue with the Americans, which is something that President Karzai has talked about and which President Obama is expected to talk about. He -- he -- he urged the Americans not to send more troops, because they would be killed and they would be fought -- they would be opposed by the Taliban.

And he -- he gave reassurances to the neighboring countries that the Taliban were no threat to them. And he seemed to be distancing himself from Al Qaida.

AMANPOUR: Well, let's -- let's take a few of those points. He obviously said what he would say, and that is we don't want foreign troops and we're going to beat them back. But already, there seemed to be tribal leaders, indigenous groups in Afghanistan fighting back against the Taliban there, and the question is, is there a possibility of reconciliation between the so-called $10 a day Taliban? Let's not talk about the hardcore Mullah Omar Taliban.

RASHID: I think -- I think the real -- you know, the name of the game is -- is -- is an attempt by both the Afghan government and NATO and the Americans to divide the Taliban, if you can divide them into field, cause, diversions, or bring people over, either through bribes or jobs or amnesties or -- or whatever the case may be.

But the real problem is that there is still no -- you need a political infrastructure in place. For example, if you want to give an amnesty, everybody has to be onboard. That is the Afghan government, the Americans, the United Nations, the U.N., everyone.

AMANPOUR: And are they onboard?

RASHID: Now you don't have that kind of political infrastructure.

AMANPOUR: Aren't they onboard?

RASHID: Well, I think, you know, verbally they're onboard. But, I mean, there's no guarantee. If -- if a Taliban surrenders tomorrow, you know, some police official from the Afghan government or some American major could, you know, imprison him or kill him. I mean, there is no infrastructure into which the Taliban can come into. Now, that's...

AMANPOUR: So is that a priority?

RASHID: I think -- I think that's an absolute priority. For example, hundreds of Taliban leaders, some of whom already surrendered to the government, are still on the United Nations list of wanted terrorists. Now, that list has to be amended. Now, that's -- you know, through the Security Council.

And I know the -- the State Department has been trying to do that, but they've met opposition from -- from the Russians and from other members of the Security Council.

AMANPOUR: OK. But let me -- let me put up a quote from that speech of -- or, rather, the message from Mullah Omar, which does indicate that they are quite worried. They're worried about civilian casualties. So he's saying to the Taliban on the ground that they should, quote, "be kind to their oppressed people in Afghanistan, respect the elderly, the nobles, consult among themselves" before launching any attacks because the enemies are trying to distort their image and blame them for criminal acts that they are committing.

So Mullah Omar, like the Americans, very concerned about civilian casualties.

RASHID: This is -- you know, this is very strange. If you read General Petraeus' counterinsurgency manual, you will see almost exactly the same words. So Mullah Omar is being very clever here. He's trying to present a mirror image of what the Americans' new counterinsurgency strategy aims to do, that is, you know, win over the people, the elderly, et cetera.


And he's saying that we're doing the same, but the Taliban practice, of course, is just the opposite, because something like three-quarters of the civilians killed this year have been killed by the Taliban in -- in -- in these very indiscriminate suicide attacks and bombings that they carry out.

AMANPOUR: So, Ahmed, as you wait to hear what President Obama is going to say, do you believe that a surge in troops, coupled with economic and political surge, is going to work?

RASHID: I think -- I think it is absolutely essential that before you can seriously develop the economy or you can talk to the Taliban, you have to position yourself in -- in -- in a position of strength. And at the moment, the perception inside Afghanistan amongst many ordinary people is that the Taliban are winning and the Americans are losing. That has to be turned around first. You've got to be able to clear some of these major population areas of the Taliban so you can provide development and then also reach out to some of these $10 a day Taliban and try and bring them into the -- you know, into the Afghan government.

But that has to be done from a position of strength. So I think the sending of the troops for a short period is probably absolutely necessary, but that should be followed up very quickly and very comprehensively with all the rest of what is needed, development and -- and -- and peace feelers.

AMANPOUR: Ahmed Rashid, thank you so much for joining us.

RASHID: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: And this conversation will continue online on our Facebook page, where we have a global discussion brewing in the comments section. Tell us, how should President Obama invest in the future of Afghanistan?

And coming up, it's a dirty word amongst U.S. policymakers, nation- building. But after 30 years of war, that's what Afghanistan needs, a little help to get off the ground.



COL. JOHN M. SPISZER, U.S. ARMY: I think the way you break all of this, this cycle, revenge in the future, fighting in the future, is not through hearts and minds. It's through hope and faith, OK? You have to give these people hope that there's a future, OK? So, you know, what do you do? You build schools. Schools work out short term and long term. Short term, it's a visible presence that somebody is doing something for your kids, for the community. You built a school. Kids are going to school; they weren't going to school before. They see it today.

Twenty years from now, you have an educated populace that can take this country to the next level, that has the capacity to build their own roads, to -- to have good governance, to do all those things that -- that they're held back on right now because 30 years of violence has -- has given them a largely illiterate population, so you fix that in the long term and you fix it with a short term.


AMANPOUR: That was U.S. Army Colonel John Spiszer speaking to me in Afghanistan when I was there earlier this year. So how do you turn around decades of destruction and neglect?

Joining us to discuss this from Washington is Paul O'Brien, vice president of policy and advocacy at Oxfam America, and here in the studio, Andrew Wilder, research director for policy process at Tufts University.

Paul, I want to turn to you, because I saw you nodding all through Colonel Spiszer's interview there. Is that really what people need and want?


PAUL O'BRIEN, OXFAM AMERICA: Pretty much. He's got it mostly right, except there's a couple of problems. We can't do it for them. Soldiers can't do it for them. What they really need are those schools, but they need to be built by their own government so that Afghans can look at their government and say, "There's a future in investing in them." We get that right some of the time, but some of the time we work around them, because we think they just have to get the schools right now.

AMANPOUR: And why can't so-called we do it for them? I mean, that's the whole point of development aid, isn't it?

O'BRIEN: No, it's not. The -- the point of development aid is to help people develop themselves, to help countries develop themselves. That's -- as you said in the lead-in, it's inescapable in Afghanistan. The challenge is that we've been working around the government, we've been working around those indigenous processes.

We'll never have enough development money to build all the schools. We've put 6 million kids back into school in Afghanistan, but there are 6 million more who have no schooling. Half of the kids who are going to school aren't sitting in a classroom like you showed in your -- in your program.

What we need is a government and a Ministry of Education, which, by the way, is not that corrupt and has done some good things, to be able to provide those goods and services over the long term. That's the real exit strategy.

AMANPOUR: OK. All right. Andrew Wilder, you have just done a long study of aid in Afghanistan. You grew up in the region. You've just written a column which is entitled "How Foreign Aid is Killing Afghanistan." Do you mean that?

ANDREW WILDER, TUFTS UNIVERSITY: Well, I mean, my point is, I think - - I've been a development worker most of my life, so I'm a firm believer in the importance of development. And I think there's been some very noticeable development achievements in Afghanistan since 2002 in education sector, in health sector.

But as Paul pointed, we -- pointed out, we've got so many more kids back in school, there have been these improvements in health sector, but my argument is that that is not necessarily having a major stabilization benefit. And a major assumption of our counterinsurgency strategy is that these aid programs are an effective counterinsurgency weapon in -- in winning hearts and minds.

And the research we've been doing in Afghanistan to date suggests that while there have been notable development of achievements, these are not translating into security benefits.

AMANPOUR: So development is good for development's sake...

WILDER: Exactly.

AMANPOUR: ... but not necessarily de facto for securing the area?

WILDER: Yeah, and that's my objection, is that we shouldn't be using -- we don't have much evidence that aid is an effective counterinsurgency weapon, and yet we're pouring more and more of our development aid into achieving security objectives, rather than valuing development as a good in and of itself.

AMANPOUR: All right, valuing development as a good. There is going to be announced, apparently, again, by President Obama some kind of civilian commitment surge of some sort.

This is what I want to show you. The State Department is saying that it's got hundreds there, it's already ramped up, it'll have hopefully 900 by the end of this year. But a former State Department official, Henry Crumpton, who's just come back, told the Times a couple of months ago, look, right now, the overwhelming majority of civilians are in Kabul, and the overwhelming majority never leave their compounds. Our entire system of developing aid is broken, and very little of the aid is getting to the Afghan people.

Isn't that the nub of the problem? I've seen development there that's chaotic at best, that's sporadic at best, that's incoherent at best. What needs to change, Paul?

O'BRIEN: Well, I agree the aid system isn't all it could be. It's being fixed right now in lots of different ways, but perhaps not in time for Afghans, but it would only be telling half the story if we were to say, Afghans outside of Kabul aren't getting anything.

For example, the National Solidarity Program, it's a big program there. We've spent $1 billion on it, and the U.S. is increasing the investing in it. It's getting block grants out to 22,000 villages which have formed their own village committees, and they're deciding, do we need a well? Do we need irrigation? Do we need electric power? That's a lot of money getting out to villages that are trying to make their own minds up. Is our future with this international peace effort or is it with the Taliban who come to us at the nighttime?

So I do think we are making some progress. But if we rely too much on us, on contractors, on our own fears about insecurity, we may find ourselves constrained to Kabul and much less effective than we could be.

AMANPOUR: Andrew, let me turn to you, because in your -- in your column, you talk about some of these issues, particularly the whole notion of contractors and -- and losing money. Look, you quote an article in The Nation which states that U.S. military officials in Kabul estimate that, quote, "a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon's logistic contracts, hundreds of millions of dollars, consists of payments to the insurgents." What on Earth does that mean, direct paying of insurgents?

WILDER: Well, that's the problem, I think. When you treat aid as a weapons system and as the insurgency gets worse and worse, we are spending more and more of our aid money to address that, which often -- and I think spending too much money is the problem, especially in the insecure areas of Afghanistan.


If you put too much money into insecure environment with limited human resource capacity, limited ability to provide oversight for these programs, it ends up fueling corruption. And this corruption, I think, is then de- legitimizing the government and therefore fueling instability.

AMANPOUR: But isn't the instable -- unstable parts of the country the very parts that actually need to see the benefits of development?

WILDER: Well, I would argue that those are the parts where actually it's very difficult to do effective development. I'm not saying you can't do any development...

AMANPOUR: Before it's secure?

WILDER: ... but in some ways, we have these perverse incentives of rewarding insecurity and sending most of our aid to the insecure areas. And Afghans frequently tell me when I'm in the central bit of Afghanistan or the northern bit of Afghanistan, why are we being penalized just because we don't have Taliban? Very little U.S. development resources are programmed in the secure areas. We've provided them to the insecure areas, where it's actually difficult to do effective development, and often that aid ends up fueling corruption.

O'BRIEN: Could I just challenge Andrew a little bit on this? I agree with him in the main that if you're -- if you're taking a short-term perspective and you're using soldiers who are trained for other things to deliver quick wins, you're going to get the kind of results Andrew is talking about.

But we believe that there really is a powerful connection between the long-term development of Afghanistan, real delivery of meaningful services, and the stability of the country in the -- in the long term.

We just finished a survey that went all around Afghanistan, including to some of the insecure parts, 700 people, places like Helmand and Kandahar. They said their top issue in terms of what's driving the insurgency is poverty, followed by the weakness of the Karzai government, the corruption in Kabul.

So what -- I think where we do agree is that nobody in Afghanistan is going to be convinced by cheap hearts and minds projects that are going to look for wins in a matter of months. But I think it's important to recognize that we've made a huge promise to Afghans, to the women and men of Afghanistan, and that they are trying to make their mind up around whether to invest in the future that the international community wants for them or to go with the Taliban, who are threatening them.

And -- and if we do development well and we do it for its own sake, we may end up with a safer Afghanistan, which is in everyone's benefit.

AMANPOUR: Well, it's very interesting. And as we just turn to our map, I've been reading about some of the projects you've been talking about, Paul, and also some of the Abakhan (ph) projects up in the Badakhshan area, where they give smallish grants to individual Afghans to be able to stand all sorts of projects up, and it's working. It's working there.

Let me ask you about Kandahar here, down here, that area, sort of. Obviously, that's going to be the nub of the military effort. We've been - - we've been reading about plans to ring around there with steel -- so- called, the military -- and then to flood into Kandahar with economic and political help. How do you think that will work, given that Kandahar is so important?

WILDER: Well, first of all, just on the NSP, the National Solidarity Program, the small, effective programs, I mean, I think that in a way confirms what I'm saying, is that less is more, in many ways. Small projects, where there's a process that goes along with the program, the evidence shows are much more effective in development terms than where you'd throw lots of money into an environment with little oversight.

And in a way, I fear that's what's going to happen in Kandahar. Now that we've prioritized that, we're going to go in there with lots more road-building programs and construction programs, and -- and thinking that that's a major way to deal with the -- to defeat the insurgency, and yet we've done more road-building and school-building and clinic building in the last eight years than ever before in Afghanistan's history as the security has dramatically deteriorated and as Afghan perceptions of aid and aid actors has also gotten worse and worse.

So the assumption that this is going to have a positive security benefit is what I'm questioning.

AMANPOUR: We're just going to show some pictures of -- of Herat, for instance, which is one of the places which is well developed, because it's so close to Iran. And they've poured a lot of money in and, working with the Afghan people, and have really developed Herat up here in the west.

Let me just quickly, lastly, say, so do you think a Greg Mortenson style, which is small, local investing, providing the money for the tools, but making the Afghans provide the labor and the land, is that the kind of thing that vests the public and that is good investment?

WILDER: I think it's fantastic development work that he's been doing, and I think some -- there's many other things. And, again, I want to emphasize lots of good things have been done in Afghanistan. But I don't think those programs are going to defeat the insurgency.

AMANPOUR: Paul, last word.

O'BRIEN: Those are great projects, but that's not the answer. There's never enough Greg Mortensons. We need a functioning government that's delivering real services, and it's doing it in health care. It's done something in education. But the -- the real answer to the Afghan problem has to be the Afghans themselves, but we can put them in the driver's seat if we do our stuff right. What the security folks can do is create the space for development to happen, and they should focus on what they do well.


AMANPOUR: Thank you very much. And we will be right back after a break.


AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script."

Today is World AIDS Day, and with it comes a clear commitment from a government that until now has wavered in its resolve. South African President Jacob Zuma announced that his government would offer treatment for all HIV-positive infants under the age of 1.

Speaking of a new era, Zuma is reversing the policy of his predecessor, former President Thabo Mbeki, who'd questioned the link between HIV and AIDS. According to the United Nations, 5.7 million South Africans are infected with HIV.

And here in the United States, HIV-AIDS is the number-one killer of African-American women between 25 and 34. The Obama administration announced that it would continue its commitment to treating nearly 4 million people with HIV-AIDS around the globe.

Thank you for joining us. That's it from us here in New York. Stay tuned to CNN.