NATIONAL

NEW TARGETS

Rebuilding efforts have lagged the military push, with dire results

JOHN GEDDES July 24 2006
NATIONAL

NEW TARGETS

Rebuilding efforts have lagged the military push, with dire results

JOHN GEDDES July 24 2006

NEW TARGETS

Rebuilding efforts have lagged the military push, with dire results

NATIONAL

JOHN GEDDES

Perhaps the only real surprise about the death of Cpl. Anthony Boneca this week—he was the 13th Canadian soldier to be killed since Canada’s forces moved south in February to Kandahar—was in the description of the place where he fell. The 21-year-old reservist from Thunder Bay, Ont., was shot in the middle of a thriving vineyard, called “lush” in one account, “beautiful” in another. Green places don’t figure often in stories from Afghanistan, where any foliage found in the images of a bleak landscape is usually mere background for the red of opium poppies.

So, bitterly ironic though it may be, the spot where Boneca was shot represents the hope of international aid groups as they struggle to back up the punishing military campaign with help for Afghanistan’s desperately poor people. In fact, restoring the vineyards and orchards that Kandahar was once famous for is a new key goal for the Canadian International Development Agency, as it retargets the $100 million a year Ottawa has committed to Afghanistan through 2010-11.

Making aid spending pay off in Afghanistan has emerged as a challenge no less daunting—though far less deadly—than the military campaign to suppress the Taliban insurgency. Critics complain that the international development effort started too slowly

after the fall of the Taliban government, and still isn’t accomplishing enough to win hearts and minds. A source familiar with the Conservative government’s Afghanistan strategy said political pressure is being put on CIDA, along with Foreign Affairs, to step up work that would show how the high-risk job Canadian troops are doing in Kandahar can pave the way to better lives for ordinary Afghans.

A CIDA official said the agency’s Afghanistan program is being streamlined, partly to make stabilizing Kandahar a top priority. One key component of the strategy: an $18.5-million Canadian-funded pilot pro-

THERE’S A LOT OF SURPRISE IT TOOK SO LONG TO GET THERE -AN OPPORTUNITY WAS LOST’

ject to give farmers alternatives to growing poppies for the illicit drug trade. “Kandahar’s orchards were largely destroyed during the Soviet period,” said the official, referring to the way Russian forces denuded the countryside to deny cover to the mujahedeen fighters, who ultimately defeated the former superpower in the gruelling 1979-89 war. “Now we’re in a rebuilding phase.”

Whether troops can make the region safe enough to allow sustained development work

remains a big question. “There’s a lot of surprise that it took so long to get down there—an opportunity was lost,” says Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies president David Rudd, who recendy returned from the country. “There has been a political and economic development vacuum in the south.”

Linking development workers with troops in so-called provincial reconstruction teams is supposed to let aid work start before fighting stops. But the PRTs have earned at best mixed reviews. “We’ve had marginal success with the PRTs on the development side,” said Marvin Weinbaum, scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute in

Washington, and a former U.S. State Department Afghanistan analyst. He described PRTs as too often turning into “Fort Apaches,” where aid specialists end up hunkering down with soldiers and foreign service officials in guarded compounds out of fear of being targeted by the Taliban, and rarely interact with Afghans.

The CIDA official denied Canada’s PRT in Kandahar has been ineffective. But he noted that it is now being beefed up. The lone CIDA worker attached to the PRT is slated to be joined by two more over the summer. As well, CIDA recently sent a special adviser to work with Gen. David Fraser, the Canadian who commands all coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, with the aim of better coordinating development work and military action. Meanwhile, along with its sharpened focus on Kandahar, CIDA continues to pump millions into the Kabul government’s efforts to build a sense of national cohesion, including the widely praised National Solidarity Program, which funds simple village projects chosen and run by local leaders.

For CIDA, Afghanistan is a huge test at a critical moment. The agency was recently slammed in a C.D. Howe Institute report as overly centralized and inefficient in delivering aid compared to similar agencies in other countries. The Tories’ view of CIDA is still forming. Chalking up some successes in the toughest corner of one of the world’s most wretched failed states could go a long way to shoring up its reputation—and do some good for the Afghans, too. M