My friend Benjamin Gilmour, film-maker and writer, is in Afghanistan. Here are some of his reflections (which match much of what I heard during my recent visit):
How can we bring development to Afghanistan if we don’t have security? It is still the question put to us by backers of our longest war, and we buy it. How indeed, can aid convoys get through if they are being fired upon? First battle the enemy, then build.
But the argument is flawed. Since 2006 Afghanistan has had 27 PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) and each of these are military led. They have a commander and between eighty to a hundred-and-fifty army personnel and only three or four civilian advisors. This is the development we are sending in. Soldiers. What does the Afghan see coming? Soldiers. What does the Afghan hate most? Soldiers.
As I walk around Afghanistan this past two weeks, unarmed, dressed like a local, the same comment keeps coming up. ‘If you want to help us, we will die for you. If you come with guns and shoot us, we will fight to the last man.’ While this Afghan war is undoubtedly complex, with various powerful players bearing their own agendas, for an ordinary Afghan it is also very simple. If you want to help, don’t destroy. If you want peace, then talk to the enemy. Instead we are making the Afghan people swallow the pill of progress at gunpoint, which they will not do. PRTs in southern Afghanistan are still too busy defending themsleves to actually build anything.
Staying in Herat, the safest place in Afghanistan, with only one security incident or so a month, I have come to ask myself what ‘aid’ has followed ‘security’ here.