Involving Afghans for Success


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Current rehabilitation and development rhetoric calls for listening to the Afghans and giving them the lead. Sadly, actions too often defy these wise words. The challenge is to make way for genuine in depth Afghan involvement at a time when the problems inherent in a lackluster government beset with corruption are so complex, and, particularly, when the aid-dispensing agencies so often disregard coordination and cooperation.

Politics within the prevailing environment of conflict imposes a sense of great urgency, no doubt, but many basic development principles are being set aside when they are most needed. Plans that rest on massive projects designed by outsiders lavishing too much money and demanding instant implementation are bound to be ineffective. Quick fixes never have worked. Throwing around money indiscriminately just compounds problems and raises new dilemmas. Sustained development, as has been established for decades, requires patient on the ground interactions over time.

The current swing toward agriculture and its affiliated components is welcome – if it results in better integrated multi-targeted planning linking local producers, processors, small industries, storage facilities and markets. Small dams built and maintained by the people themselves for irrigation and electricity to support small industries processing local produce make sense, for instance. The ultimate aim is to enable people to stay in their own areas enjoying their own social and cultural customs and ideals instead of joining the unhappy disoriented masses now crowding the cities. But this means much coordination and cooperation and sincere community involvement.

Such participatory activities will also avoid contributing to the sense of dependency that is fast undermining the ideals of self-sufficiency and independence that have always been sources of pride for Afghans. Communities traditionally came together to perform tasks for the common good. One example would be the repair of weirs that diverted water from rivers into irrigation channels. Building these weirs was the height of the summer’s excitements greatly enjoyed by each and every man, woman and child up and down the length of the irrigation channels. Thus was community cohesiveness strengthened. Nowadays villages too often wait for outsiders to perform the tasks they once so enjoyed. Similar dependency attitudes threaten to dominate minds in many sectors.

On another level, there are many skilled, talented, creatively motivated and dedicated young men and women in both private and government sectors that ought to be supported in developing decision-making authority. Not just for implementing projects, but in exerting genuine influence over policy, program design and resources. Initially specialists for guidance will be required, but inculcating a sense of ownership will build confidence and with confidence a regard for responsibility. Once a sense of ownership is present, mutual respect and trust will also grow and feelings of alienation will lessen. Deteriorating trust between foreigners and Afghans, Afghans and foreigners, and Afghans and Afghan is now of great concern. Little sustainable development can be accomplished without restoring an environment of trust.

Afghanistan’s youth need to be able to look to the future with confidence and trust. It is said that over half the population is under the age of 25. Their burgeoning pop culture devoted to mod fashions, electronic gadgets and enticing entertainment is exuberantly alive, not only in Kabul but all across the country. These young people thirst for knowledge. Universities and private learning institutions are packed yet jobs are hard to come by. The Ministry of Labor reports that young people account for 70% of Afghanistan’s 3 million unemployed. Neither are jobs available, nor decision-making roles within the still fragile democratic framework. Disillusioned, unemployed youth are a dangerous commodity in any society. All the more so when insurgents sit poised to lure them to their ranks.

Skills training and meaningful job creation related to the nation’s needs therefore become major priorities. Stop gap, short term unsustainable projects that serve merely as facades are not the answer. Expectations and aspirations are high among the youth, but these positive attitudes can easily turn to despair and lead to corruption, crime gangs, and an incipient drug culture, aside from militancy. One study estimates that the average age of suicide bombers is 23 and that 80% of those involved in terrorist activities are unemployed. Efforts to engage these potential leaders of tomorrow in satisfying, constructive nation-building can only strengthen stability and prosperity. A special emphasis on leadership development is crucial.

Now is an ideal time to initiate imaginative people-oriented programs in all sectors. The explosion in communications technology allows information to flow more easily at a time when the population at large is far more open to receive new ideas than they were before the war. Afghans are maximizers and will take to ideas they see as beneficial for themselves and their families. They have shown incredible resilience over these years of turmoil and have themselves devised all manner of coping mechanisms in the midst of conflict. Given access to knowledge that will enhance their livelihoods and give them confidence, they can, and will, by themselves, reach many eagerly sought development goals without needing to become dependent on outsiders. There is an emerging consensus among Afghans as to the need for good governance and a functional national economy buttressed by judicial reforms.

To ignore this new awareness is to court disaster.


Nancy Dupree

Malalai Medal Recipient

Join the Conversation

March 01, 2010

Ms. Dupree,

Congratulations on the Malalai Medal. I would also like to wish you a very good luck on you continued effort in Afghanistan. Also, I would like to thank you for this insightful article; we normally don't get this sort of information through the "mainstream media".

I bet it must be really frustrating sometimes when you hit the wall of corruption and incompetent government, especially when you genuinely are trying to help. Either it is Afghans or the Palestine; lack of job opportunity and economic growth is leading these youths to do stuff that they normally wouldn't do.

I thought the recent agriculture effort was concentrated more towards getting people off the poppy farm, than the economic growth, correct me if I am wrong.

Given what the Afghans had to endure over these last few decades, I really hope everything gets back to normal for them; not "normal" by their standards but "normal" as in rest of the world. They deserve it.

March 03, 2010

Thank you for your submission Nancy! You are a real inspiration to all of us.

tahira hyder
March 04, 2010

I enjoyed reading your article, I am working in Pakistan in an economic growth project, where we are trying to rush things, expect quick results - what r we heading for - raising expectations, following Donors agenda is really what is happening here

Habibullah Wajdi
March 07, 2010

Dear Nancy,
First of all I thank you for your honest and sincere understanding of Afghanistan, as well as for your honest judgments that have always portrayed real picture and sense of Afghanistan and Afghans. Afghans will not endorse any changes until they don't understand them. When they understand them they will own them and internalize them. This is the process of sustainment and ownership which as you point out have been lost in the weak coordination and cooperation of involved stakeholders. I hope the future development efforts will be strategically aligned with the demands and aspirations of ordinary Afghans who are the majority and the real agents of change. It requires, as you mention, " participatory activities". For lasting change, ordinary afghans have to be in the driving seat of change, and their voices heard in all development policies, programs, and projects.

Habibullah Wajdi

Ahmad Bilal
November 19, 2011

Why not Asians First and Lead?

There are many reasons why Asians first and lead. Human history has shown the fact and is a concrete evidence that human race has been originated in Asia. Asians are the most powerful human character in all terms compared competitively with other continents population. Asia has been the largest inhabitant of human kind from very beginning up to now. The human kind is distributed to other parts of the world from Asia. If we see in terms of population only the number of people live in India is greater than the overall population live in Europe and USA.

The intellectual property which India poses is incredible. The human resources of the Europe and USA are being supplied by Indians. The largest provider is again Asia in particular china and Japan is exporting the products and services to all over the world. The natural resources are again supplied by Russia to whole Europe and to USA from Middle East countries.

The economically viable and vibrant countries like Japan, China, Russia, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and several other Asian states can come together and establish a union to speak their voice as a single voice in community of nations to protect their common interests for their own individual national interests.

Weak debate, poor power of dialogue, feeble diplomacy and dim politics all together have adversely affected the Asian countries to suffer and lose unquantifiable amount of growth rate in the last centuries and incurring much more in the upcoming decades.

The quality of living standard which is bestowed to the Asians due to their frictions among themselves has made them to migrate to other parts of the global village and seeking better livelihood. The light which is lighting others home has turned them to live in darkness.

Main capital resources similar to natural, intellectual, goods and services which are exported by Asians and utilized at the optimum level by other continents have enabled them to lead us in reverse order.

Rule and Divide formula is an old phenomena but it’s a never ending tool which is used to strengthen the dividers to drive and rule back the dividends. It’s an unethical tool since it delivers back the expected outcomes with scare resources within the set timetable. Therefore, it is being used by rich nations to remain rich for coming centuries. Asians never let your wisdom go away from you, if so, you are loser, but resistance chance and power is there for you. If you really think and try to unite Asian nations.

This unity doesn’t only bring harmony but it also brings many competitive economical, Social and political advantages to Asian’s continent. Hey, Asians Why not you, from you, for you. Take the lead and give it a go, results will chase you all wherever you are.