Scratched records

Reading yet another report on civil-military relations in Afghanistan is a depressing experience. The same things have been said over and over again as each year passes. Nothing changes, and the record keeps skipping.

‘Aid and Civil-Military Relations in Afghanistan’ is a briefing paper from BAAG and ENNA. It doesn’t say anything new but it’s still worth a look, as is the original research it draws on if you’ve got the time. From the summary:

Governance and Security: The military emphasis on using aid to ‘win hearts and minds’ and promote security as part of their stabilisation strategy is misplaced and even counter-productive in some instances. Ending the violence in Afghanistan requires a much greater focus on the political challenges related to the country’s ‘rule of impunity’ and conflict between power-holders at national and local levels.

Involvement by the military in development places beneficiaries, projects and implementors at risk: Inappropriate associations between the military and some NGOs create security risks for the wider NGO community and local beneficiaries. Military forces should stop instrumentalising NGOs to deliver on their short-term ‘hearts and minds’ objectives; and take greater steps to minimise risks incurred through their interactions with civilian agencies.

Effective development outcomes versus military ‘quick impact’ projects: Afghan communities want long-term development assistance based on transparency, accountability and local ownership. Such approaches are not compatible with the short-term imperatives which drive the military’s stabilisation strategy. The military’s use of often costly, ineffective and unaccountable implementing partners is also highly problematic. Donors should invest in civilian-led and sustainable programmes, with a focus on
building local capacities.

Afghanisation: Policy and practice of both military and civilian agencies needs to be more informed about and inclusive of Afghan perspectives. Military operations are inadequately sensitive to Afghan social and cultural norms which define notions of an individual or community’s security and dignity. Donors and humanitarian agencies need to invest more in cross-cultural translation of the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence, as well as focusing on access negotiations with all parties in the conflict.

It continues:

that a simplistic ‘development brings stability and security’ thesis is misplaced and even misses the point. Afghan respondents saw the development-security linkage as artificial and contrived. The deteriorating violence in Afghanistan does not primarily result from poverty, nor will economic incentives buy support for an opposed military presence or government. Following a long history of aid and military intervention, including during the Soviet occupation, Afghans are familiar with and suspicious of ‘hearts and minds’ strategies. Furthermore, aid represents a small component of most Afghans’ coping strategies in times of conflict and transition. Predominant strategies include communal cooperation on rehabilitation and remittances.

And it continues (though the reports brevity is to be welcomed; maybe some folks might actually read it). It doesn’t get round to pointing out the many failings of NGOs (apart from the really dodgy ones), but there are other records that do that. God damn it, that’s a whole musical genre complete with its own specialist annual awards ceremony. But really, it’s time the military crooning about ‘hearts and minds’ put a sock in it.

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