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Afghan hearts, Afghan minds

‘Hearts and minds’ strategy in Afghanistan failing to address causes of violence, report says.

The military strategy of trying to win ‘hearts and minds’ in Afghanistan by building schools and health clinics is failing to address the root causes of violence in the country, a report by a group of European and Canadian aid agencies said Wednesday.

Download the report (3mb PDF)

As donors gather for a major conference in Paris, research by the European Network of NGOs on Afghanistan (ENNA) – of which Christian Aid is a member - shows quick-fix aid projects by the military in Afghanistan will not win the support of communities in the absence of effective government or the rule of law. The research also found that Afghans value more highly projects which have a long term development impact.

The report Afghan Hearts, Afghan Minds says contracting methods used by the military to build schools and health clinics means they cost more and have raised concerns over quality. Limited community involvement and poor co-ordination with the government have resulted in projects that do not always tally with people’s real needs.

Donors – including the US and UK governments - are not respecting United Nations rules which state that military assets should only be used to deliver aid as a last resort.  Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) - which are run by the military but use civilian organisations to provide aid - are breaking this rule even in relatively safer provinces of Afghanistan.

Aid agency staff and offices are being increasingly targeted by insurgents who accuse them of collaboration with the military and government, the report says.

The common practice by donor countries of targeting more aid to provinces where their troops are stationed has also heightened the belief that aid-giving is a partisan act. Using aid to advance political and military objectives is one of the reasons why attacks on aid workers have escalated since 2004, the report says. In 2007, 15 aid workers were killed and 88 kidnapped in Afghanistan.

‘We believe that donor countries must stop using aid for short-term military and political goals, and channel funds directly to local government, UN agencies and non-governmental organisations,’ said Ben Hobbs, Christian Aid’s Asia policy officer. ‘The PRTs should focus their work on training the Afghan police and army and improving security.’

The report, which examined the current state of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, and in particular Afghan views on the relationship between the civilian and military in this process, also found that military operations are insensitive to the importance of social and cultural values, such as ‘namus’ (honour), leading to further resentment of troops.

The report drew on research carried out with aid agency staff, government employees, religious and tribal leaders, military personnel, diplomats and academics in Kabul and in the two southern provinces of Uruzgan and Paktia, where the ongoing insurgency and criminal activities pose a major threat to aid delivery.

ENNA is the umbrella organisation for the European non-governmental aid agencies working in Afghanistan.