May 26, 2009

Crisis in Pakistan - Afghanistan border

In the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan, the growing strength of Taliban militants is a serious threat. A research by the BBC News shows that only 38% of the area is under full government control. The number of displaced people in the Swat valley is skyrocketing, the current UNHCR estimate being almost 2.4 millions. Similarly in Afghanistan, casualties among civilians are rising across the country. These are tough times for the region. And, if proper actions are not taken now, things can go nasty and the worst we fear might be possible.

The last thing that Pakistan wants at the moment is the rising influence of the Taliban among people. Sadly this seems to be happening and the irony is that the government is indirectly helping the cause. The government has been highly criticized for the way it has handled the crisis. The government-run camps have below par facilities for displaced people and are substantially inadequate. They can assist only a small fraction of civilians. The result is that it has encouraged the rest to seek help from the very forces the Pakistani army is fighting against. This has jeopardized the prospect of peace and stability as refugee camps have become recruiting grounds for different militant groups.

On the other side of the border in Afghanistan, UN reports that civilian deaths have increased by 39% from last year. In Helmand province, the place with the maximum number of displaced civilians, as long as civilians get security, they don’t care where that is coming from – the Taliban or the government. The situation is critical. The stakes of the government’s failure are high, for the Taliban will try to increase its influence in areas where the government and foreign troops fail.

With the rising Taleban insurgency, children continue to suffer in Afghanistan. Illiteracy has always been a major issue in Afghanistan where more than two-thirds of people over the age of 15 cannot read and write. But in the recent years, the situation has worsened. Schools have been blown away, children have been attacked. Some schools serve as refugee camps to displaced people. Children have haunted memories in attacked schools. Things are unlikely to go better and children are unlikely to get back to schools unless we replace fear with hope.

The going seems tough in the region and in times like these smart decisions need to be taken. The government has an opportunity to win the hearts of people by providing stability and security to people. Any mismanaged funds and foreign troops hereafter would only alienate the population.

May 20, 2009

Spreading terror in the name of fighting terror

During this period of great instability across the globe it is especially critical that while the forces of extremism and intolerance exploit the poverty and suffering of vulnerable communities, we also must challenge the effectiveness of US and allied counter-terror policy. This reflection is a summary of a meeting this morning among our staff of international interns and our director Albert Santoli who just returned from working in the area of conflict in the Southern Philippines. At AAI, we try to make every penny count to make sure that our partner organizations in Afghanistan and the Philippines can provide adequate school facilities for children at risk of a life, of poverty and violence. At the same time, in looking at the headlines of events in Pakistan and Afghanistan, areas of Africa such as Somalia and even in the Philippines, so much American and International funds are not being used as effectively as they could be. Instead the ongoing hopelessness despite hundreds of millions of dollars intended for improving social conditions makes young people more likely to drop out of school and become targets for recruiters of violence. It is ironic that aid intended to fight terror has spread the hopelessness and violence to cause an expansion of those conditions and wrecked more havoc

Pakistan is a classic example of how mismanaged foreign aid and military support can drag a country to a brink of failure. Even since Pakistan’s independence from British India in 1947 and more so in the last ten years, the US government has been pouring a lot of money in this region. Results, as we can see today, are mostly negative. Instead of supporting democratic forces in Pakistan, US military aid supported the military dictatorship, which further alienated the people and radicalized them. The failure of US military aid is clearly evident near the Pakistan-Afghan border where more than 1.45 million civilians have been displaced from in and around north-west Pakistan’s Swat valley (UNHCR, May 19 2009).

Similarly in Africa, the US foreign policy, in some ways, is responsible fro the chaos in Somalia. US backed Ethiopian forces invaded and destroyed any hope for peace and stability. The Ethiopian occupation led to substantial loss of lives and property. It did not help Ethiopia either. The military funding did not lead to democratic empowerment of the Ethiopian people. It merely strengthened the military dictatorship.

These are only a few of the instances where unbalanced US foreign aid has created more problems than it has solved. The Obama administration has pledged to find new ways of spreading democracy and alternative ways to fighting terror. The question is: can the system change? A number of organizations including AAI are promoting comprehensive development based on education and promoting job creation as an effective way to deter mass violence. We are speaking to large foundations and other sources of humanitarian support to see if we can get more funding to further our mission of building hope in impoverished frontline communities. Locally, our intern team is planning to chip in with some fundraisers. Everything helps. At a time when millions are made homeless by the threat of terror, everything helps.