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.

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