The USG Open Source Center rounds up Afghanistan Development News for November. Critics of the war often allege that only economic improvement will settle the country down, but the US corporate media almost never reports real economic developments in Afghanistan, focusing instead on fundamentalist Islam, ‘great men’ and foreign generals as ways of explaining what is going on.
Highlights: Afghan Reconstruction Issues November 2009
Afghanistan — OSC Summary
Thursday, December 17, 2009 . . .
– Pajhwok Afghan News ran an article that discussed clerics in Helmand calling poppy a prohibited plant and asking farmers in the province not to grow it. The clerics’ call to end poppy production occurred at a large gathering of provincial officials, religious scholars, tribal elders, and farmers in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah. Deputy Governor Abdul Satar Mirzakwal said the clergy’s role was crucial in eradicating poppy, with Helmand’s Ulema Council head, Maulvi Khuda Nazar adding that poppy was haram and asking locals in the province to stop growing the plant. The United States signed an agreement giving 38.7 million dollars to 27 Afghan provinces that eliminated or significantly reduced opium production, and the Afghan counter-narcotics ministry can disperse the cash to finance development or alternative crops. General Khodaidad, the counter-narcotics minister said: “This money will benefit 20 provinces (out of 34) which are poppy-free and seven provinces where poppy cultivation has significantly decreased over the last year. We expect that in 2010, four to five more provinces will be poppy free. We hope in the future all of Afghanistan will be poppy-free” (Pajhwok Afghan News – independent news agency). . .
Afghan Media Comment Editorial Praises Chinese Investment in Afghanistan, Bilateral Trade
– A November editorial in Outlook Afghanistan called China “the most attractive country regarding trade for Afghan businessmen,” citing the “huge” amount of small- and medium-scale trade between Kabul and Urumqi. The commentary said Chinese investment and products played a “vital” role in the Afghan economy, and highlighted that direct road connections between China and Afghanistan would help increase trade between the two countries once the roads were completed. The article then mentioned the large-scale investment Chinese companies were making in Afghan infrastructure – from the 3.5 billion dollar investment in the Aynak copper mine to the 500 million dollars pegged for the construction of an electrical plant and a railway track from Tajikistan to Pakistan as part of the copper project – as moves that would encourage foreign investment and create employment opportunities for over 10,000 Afghans. The article also enumerated the other Chinese companies investing in Afghanistan and agreements with the Chinese Government on agriculture, trade, border-control, terrorism, and drugs, before calling Afghanistan “a strategic market for Chinese production and companies” (Outlook Afghanistan). . .
Afghan Daily Says Economic Relations with Pakistan Deteriorating
– Rah-e Nejat ran an article on 14 November that discussed the increase in Afghanistan’s agricultural production and the greater potential for Afghanistan to export its goods, but noted that export procedures for trade through Pakistan had worsened over the past few years. The author laid part of the blame on Pakistani officials, noting that Pakistan had blocked transit roads and increased customs tariffs on Afghan products and that because of “historical problems between Afghanistan and Pakistan… political stances have taken priority over economic cooperation.” The article discussed the 50 percent decrease in trade between Afghanistan and India due to Pakistani transit and tariff hurdles before suggesting that “The only way to resolve the current economic and transit problems with Pakistan is to adopt a rigid stance against Pakistan’s violations…(,) increase customs tariffs on some Pakistani products…(,) conclude a new economic agreement with Pakistan… (,) and replace Pakistani transit routes…” (Rah-e Nejat ).
Cont’d (click below or on “comments”)
Paper Says Hydroelectric Dam To Create Jobs, Boost Economy in Afghan West
– State-owned Etefaq-e Eslam on 2 November carried a commentary on the Selma Dam project in Herat Province that said timely completion of the dam would “open a new chapter in the economic growth of Herat Province.” The author noted that the dam, which is located in Chesht-e Sharif District, “created (jobs) for the locals ” and had engendered hope that the province could become self-sufficient in electricity production. The author praised the “serious efforts” of the provincial government to accelerate the reconstruction of the dam, including efforts to combat insurgents who threatened and attacked the dam site. Once completed, the dam was expected to generate more than 40 megawatts of electricity; store millions of cubic meters of water; and irrigate tens of thousands of hectares of arable land in several of Herat’s districts (Etefaq-e Eslam – state-owned). . .
Japan Set To Release Five Billion Dollars in Aid to Afghanistan, Paper Lauds Move
– Outlook Afghanistan reported that the government of Japan was set to release five billion dollars in civilian aid to Afghanistan over five years starting in fiscal year 2010; the Japanese Government formalized the aid plan at a cabinet meeting in early November. The aid replaced the current refueling mission by Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels – which expires in January 2010 – and was set to be funneled through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the UN Development Program. The aid included assistance for paid vocational training for former Taliban fighters; the dispatching of more JICA experts to urban and rural areas to develop farmland; and a project to construct a new city north of Kabul through the building of roads, utilities, and other infrastructure. The package also included money for Afghan National Police salaries, police training in Indonesia and other Muslim countries, teacher training, and school construction. State-owned Hewad on 14 November carried an article praising the Japanese pledge of assistance, calling Japan Afghanistan’s “Asian friend” and asserting that Japan had “always generously assisted us in ensuring peace, stability and development.” The article suggested that the aid would “undoubtedly leave a positive impact on the country’s development” if utilized properly (Outlook Afghanistan in English – Quetta, Pakistan-based website; Hewad – state-owned).
Other Reconstruction News Challenges Facing Food Aid Delivery Ahead of Winter –
Outlook Afghanistan noted that the World Food Program (WFP) had released a report about the challenges it faced in delivering food before the onset of winter. According to WFP sources, approximately 840,000 dollars worth of food aid was lost so far this year in several attacks. From January to mid-November, 25 recorded armed attacks against UN food conveys resulted in the loss of about 870 tons of food, with another 610 tons lost en route to Afghanistan from Pakistan. Surging food prices, continued drought, unemployment, poverty, and the early onset of winter in some remote provinces had left almost nine million Afghans in danger of starvation and created a humanitarian crisis, according to the report; poor security also complicated assistance efforts. “Not only in the south and southwestern regions where the situation has been continuously deteriorating, now some eastern and central provinces are also affected by increasing insecurity which hinders and can delay WFP’s food movement,” the WFP statement said (Outlook Afghanistan ).
Finance Ministry Uncovers Major Customs Corruption Network
– Outlook Afghanistan reported on 2 November that the Afghan Ministry of Finance supported by the High Office of Oversight and the Ministry of Interior arrested two customs brokers thought to be part of a group operating at Kabul International Airport that had been defrauding the government of customs revenues approaching an estimated 30 million dollars a year. The announcement came at the end of a major investigation into the systematic falsification of customs documents. Minister of Finance Dr Omar Zakhilwal said: “We do not know the full extent of the alleged fraud, but believe the two are a key part of a highly organized criminal ring that may have been operating at Kabul International Airport for several years… (Their arrest) will result in a large increase in government revenue and it sends a clear message to corrupt officials that no one is above the law. We will continue our investigations and… bring charges against all customs officials proven to have cooperated with the group.” The detained customs brokers were accused of falsifying reports on the value of products, while pocketing the duty collected on their true value (Outlook Afghanistan ).
US Pledges 72 Million Dollars in Aid for Health Sector
– A report on Tolo TV on 5 November discussed a 72 million dollar aid package the US provided to the public health and finance ministries. Ten NGOs also signed the agreement, which aimed to improve medical services in twelve provinces across the country in the next two years. The public health minister said much of the aid would be used to combat infant mortality, while the finance minister said he would try to ensure that the funds were used “in a transparent… ∧ effective way” (Tolo TV – independent).
Turkey To Establish University in Afghanistan
– Outlook Afghanistan noted on 5 November that Ankara-based Gazi University had begun work on establishing a university in Afghanistan in cooperation with Middle Eastern Technical, Hacettepe, and Ankara Universities at the request of President Karzai, who wanted Turkey to help improve Afghanistan’s education system. The new university would be named after Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, a Sufi poet and scholar born in the Afghan city of Balkh who later migrated to Anatolia. Gazi University Rector Riza Ayhan said the process of establishing a university in Afghanistan began last year, and students of the new university would have the opportunity to continue their education at Gazi University (Outlook Afghanistan ).
German Minister Lays Foundation Stone for New Police Academy in Balkh
– On 20 November, Aina TV aired coverage of German foreign affairs minister Guido Westerwelle laying the foundation stone for a police academy in Mazar-e Sharif, capital of Balkh Province. During the ceremony, Minister Westerwelle said one of the main tasks of the German Government was to train Afghan police with the goal of gradually handing over security responsibilities to Afghan security forces. The new police academy, which would cost the German Government 6.6 million euros, would play a key role in training those Afghan forces. Minister Westerwelle noted that 3,000 police officers had been trained at the police academies in Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif in 2009 – double the figure for 2007 – and that with the construction of the new training center, 500 police officers and sergeants would be trained under the German police. Minister Westerwelle also announced that the German Government would increase the number of its mentors in the Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif police academies from 3,000 to 4,000 trainers by 2010. Mohammad Zahir Wahdat, the acting Balkh governor, said casualties among foreign forces in Afghanistan “will come to an end when the size and quality of the national army and police are increased” (Afghan Aina TV – privately-owned).
Construction of UAE-funded Commuter Road Continuing in Northern Kabul
– On 23 November, National TV aired a program on the progress of a 5.6-kilometer commuter road for the northern suburbs of Kabul. Locals praised the four-lane road project – funded by the government of the United Arab Emirates – for cutting transportation times and reducing traffic. An official in the Kabul Municipality Office said work on the road was progressing “satisfactorily” and expressed hope that it would be completed by the end of the year. Local residents also praised other road projects in the area, saying that the asphalted roads helped ease local traffic and improved sanitary conditions “a great deal” (Kabul National TV Afghanistan in Dari).
Farmers in Paktia Province Call on Government to Provide More Assistance
– A story aired on National TV on 24 November interviewed apple farmers in Paktia who called on the government to help them so they would not have to grow poppy or cannabis. One apple orchard owner said that helping them was “the best way (for the government) to ensure that people do not grow marijuana or opium” as apple orchards pay “good dividends.” Other farmers and orchard owners said they had a bumper crop this year and promised not to allow narcotics in the province if the government would help them, which it had failed to do up to that point. The farmers called on the Afghan Government to facilitate trade links with foreign markets, purchase apples from Paktia farmers for consumption by various government agencies, and prod the Ministry of Agriculture to use its development budget to provide pesticides and storage facilities (Kabul National TV Afghanistan in Pashto). . .
Afghan Minister Welcomes Beginning of Fruit Exports to India
– Rah-e Nejat on 14 November carried an article that discussed Afghanistan’s first apple shipments to India. During a press conference, the minister of agriculture, irrigation and livestock said: “This is a historic press conference, because we succeeded to open a new door for Afghanistan’s business, and exported the first international standard shipment to India legally.” Minister Rahimi added that Afghanistan will send 75 tons of apples to India each week until the end of the growing season in December. The minister expressed appreciation for US financial support and the work of Indian officials; thanked the Turkish Government for building greenhouses in Wardak Province; and also thanked officials in the Afghan agriculture ministry for their commitment and support (Rah-e Nejat – privately-owned).
Balkh Officials Detail Effort To Reduce Province’s Air Pollution
– On 25 November, National TV aired a program focused on the efforts in Balkh Province to combat air pollution. Kateb Shams, head of Balkh’s agriculture department cited statistics that indicated that around 50-60 percent of the “green environment” in Balkh had been destroyed during years of conflict and neglect but noted that over the past seven years, the provincial government’s initiatives had resulted in securing land and distributing some 2.5 million trees for planting. The government asphalted almost all of the roads in Mazar-e Sharif, the provincial capital, which helped reduce dust and air pollution. The government also held community meetings to find ways to resolve urban sewage problems, and convinced local business owners to stop burning smoke-generating materials such as rubber tires and tubes in their facilities. As a result of these measures, air pollution had been reduced in Balkh Province, according to the provincial government’s claims, but officials recognized the need to do much more (Kabul National TV in Dari).