Afghanistan: Canadians and Kandaharis Differ on Security and Development

The Taliban's ongoing violent attacks are greatly impeding humanitarian and development efforts in Afghanistan's volatile southern provinces. (Abdullah Shaheen/IRIN)

Insecurity in southern Afghanistan, particularly in the volatile province of Kandahar, is a major obstacle for humanitarian and development work in the area, aid workers and officials say. But opinions differ widely on the extent of the insecurity problem in Kandahar and the effectiveness of Canadian work there.

In August 2005, the Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Team took over responsibility from the United States for Kandahar's reconstruction as part of NATO's plan to extend its presence throughout Afghanistan. The American presence there was subsequently reduced to counterinsurgency operations only.

Resurging Taliban rebels have since killed at least 60 Canadian soldiers and have largely impeded the Canadian International Development Agency's humanitarian and development efforts in the province.

When Canada took over, medical workers were able to treat patients in 15 of Kandahar's 17 districts. Now, they have access to only 12 districts.

"We have access to only 12 of Kandahar's 17 districts—there are no public health services available in five districts," said Abdul Qayum Pokhla, head of the public health department in Kandahar.

The only health facility in Kandahar's Ghorak district was closed down in July after unidentified gunmen attacked the clinic and tried to kidnap its medical staff, according to local residents.

Different Opinions

"Development projects and humanitarian operations are impossible in the absence of security," said Ahmad Shah Peerali, head of the provincial department for rural rehabilitation and development. "How can engineers, doctors and aid workers work in a place where they are under imminent threat of abduction, killing, and sabotage?"

In the volatile southern provinces of Afghanistan—Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, and Farah—violent incidents such as bombings, firefights, and suicide explosions have increased by 20 percent in 2007 compared to the same period in 2006, The New York Times reported recently, citing a United Nations source.

However, Canadian officials say security is improving and that now is the time to "redouble" efforts to reconstruct Kandahar.

"I see definite improvement in the security situation and as we are securing more territory we are actually becoming able to do more development and reconstruction work," said Arif Lalani, the Ambassador of Canada in Kabul.

In addition to its $1 billion commitment to the rebuilding of Afghanistan until 2011, in August Canada approved an extra $45 million for several development and humanitarian projects to be implemented in 2007.

"We are actually doing things on the ground; we are building bridges, forming development councils, vaccinating kids, making sure that six million kids are back at schools and providing food assistance on a large scale," said Lalani from his office in the heavily fortified Canadian Embassy, in the vicinity of President Hamid Karzai's palace in Kabul.

Post-conflict Rebuilding

After military operations in the Panjwai and Zherai districts of Kandahar in October 2006, Canada promised that it would help rebuild hundreds of houses damaged in clashes with Taliban insurgents.

"The citizens of Kandahar deserve a better quality of life," said Josée Verner, a Canadian minister of international cooperation, after Canadian forces drove the Taliban out of Panjwai and Zherai.

However, residents of both districts say their lives have not improved since. "We have only received promises of aid," said Fayezullah, a resident of Safid Rawan village in Panjwai.

Haji Agha Lalai, the representative of Panjwai district in the Provincial Council, confirmed that the owners of hundreds of houses damaged in fighting have not received any assistance for rebuilding.

Lalai said that of the estimated 2,000 houses damaged, only 180 houses in Panjwai and Zherai were to get Canadian assistance for rebuilding. Provincial officials acknowledged, however, that surveys for a number of rebuilding and development projects in Kandahar's war-battered districts had been completed but that work would only start when security in the area improves.

Aid Effectiveness

In a report released on Aug. 29, the Senlis Council—a Britain-based security and development think tank— sharply criticized the Canadian International Development Agency's work in Kandahar and questioned the effectiveness of millions of dollars spent on projects there.

"The suffering of the Afghan people in Kandahar not only neglects our humanitarian obligations to our allies in Kandahar, it creates a climate that fuels the insurgency and undermines the already dangerous work of Canada's military in this hostile war zone," read the council's report, titled "Unanswered Questions."

Unlike some NATO member countries, which disburse development and humanitarian aid for a single province through their Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Canada channels its aid money into the national budget of the Afghan government, which then uses funds according to its priorities countrywide.

"Our development assistance is designed to help economic development and the strengthening of governance and institutions in this country," Lalani said. © IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

From Integrated Regional Information Networks.