Monday, February 11, 2008


When weepy Pete says,

"Development and security go hand in hand," MacKay told the crowd in his home province. "Without security, there can be no humanitarian aid or assistance, no reconstruction, no democratic development.

"To suggest, as some have, that we can do one without the other is nothing short of pure folly and, in fact, it's dangerous."

He is being simplistic and doesn't quite get the nuances of security and development. Ana Pejcinova, in an excellent letter to Barnett Rubin does:

1. Insecurity causes movement toward poppy growing. Yes. However, this causation, in my opinion, can be specified as "Economic insecurity primarily, and physical (military) insecurity secondarily, causes movement toward poppy." So many farmers have clearly stated that they'd grow licit crops if they paid better.

Governmental and international organizations refrain from working in areas of physical insecurity. Establishing physical security is, naturally, often beyond their means and scope of work. "We cannot go there" becomes a rationale for "we cannot do anything." This is not true.

To establish economic security is a different matter and is actually doable. Difficult, but achievable. Regional and international market connections, started at grassroots level by Afghan traders and technically supported by international agents, are considerably less vulnerable to physical insecurity. These can be established within physically insecure environments. Imperfect, fluctuating, but real - with actual benefits for Afghans.

That forced eradication fosters local disgruntlement and poverty, and thus motivates insurgency, is an observable phenomenon in Helmand. So is the phenomenon that locally-owned value chains (starting from farmers, moving to traders, and so on) widely increase well being and incentives for security, thus decreasing motivation for insurgency.

It is interesting to note that the Afghan traders' field practices and strategies do not differ much for licit and illicit goods. Trade routes are already established and somehow find ways to function in a middle of a war zone. They can be and are utilized for licit trade as well. Simple and cheap value adding activities can provide incentives for movement toward licit crops trade. (For example, funding drying mats (60c each) for raisins enables producers not to lay them to dry on the dusty ground. This simple value adding activity enables them to realize 20% more on the price for their raisins.)

If traders have incentives to buy/sell licit crops at higher price, farmers will have better incentives to grow them. The whole must be driven for realistic market demand for what is produced. Poppy is grown simply because there is a real market demand for it. Expatriate involvement can drive demand for licit Afghan products on the regional and global market, thus increasing their end value and increasing incentives for growing/trading in licit goods. This is all rather obvious and has been stated in a far better way by more competent authorities.
What Mr. Peter really means is that there is no security for westerners and western aid and development efforts. A big part of the reason for that is the fact that a belligerent western military force is part of the insecurity equation, not a solution to it. The Afghans have their game figured out. They've been trading for thousands of years, through wars, occupations, and all manor of government. Providing the existing economic infrastructure with more resources might be a simple, effective way of really improving the lot of rural Afghans that does not involve fire-fights in their paddocks and villages.

The problem is of course that fighting the Taleban is why we're in Afghanistan in the first place. We've also paradoxically and counterintuitively tied the development equation to the warfighting bit - war is destructive, development is not.* Five or six years on with the Taleban (disgruntled farmers included!) active in more provinces now than since they were booted out of Kabul means some changes in approach are needed - the plan is not working. Sadly, this seems to be outside the conceptual or egotisitical grasp of our collective leadership, right Pete?

*ADDED: Well, development is not meant to be, but when it is thrown together as an ad hoc arrangement of big bilateral donors who don't give a lot of credit to local capacity and iniative, it tends to get dysfunctional (note how the Soviets managed to get the electricity running regularly!). More harm than good. (h/t John Robb)

[I have a much more in depth post in the works exploring some of these themes, but that'll have to wait a bit while I clear some other work.]

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