Steven Staples on Canada's Afghan aid

As the combat mission in Afghanistan ends, Canada and other donors have been making hundred of millions of dollars in aid commitments to the Afghan government. At the recently concluded Tokyo conference, the Canadian government committed an additional $227 million dollars in aid between 2014 and 2017. Rideau Institute president Steven Staples commented on what this meant (“Afghanistan aid announcement greeted with caution, skepticismMontreal Gazette, 8 July 2012):

Weariness after more than a decade of fighting, and exasperation over the inability or unwillingness of President Hamid Karzai’s government to tackle rampant corruption and graft, have weighed on the international community’s resolve to keep supporting Afghanistan.

A spokesman for a Canadian think tank which studies defence and foreign aid predicted the money will be siphoned off by the Afghan military or “disappear altogether” through graft.

“The money will be used by the security forces. If not, then squandered into secret bank accounts held by the Karzai government members,” said Rideau Institute president Steven Staples, dismissing the idea that the funds will be used for social services like education for girls as “baloney.”

The landlocked Central Asian country is highly dependent on foreign aid, and there is concern Afghanistan could descend into chaos if the government cannot support itself after most NATO troops withdraw in 2014.

Donors from around 70 countries and organizations pledged $16 billion in development aid for Afghanistan on Sunday at a one-day conference in Tokyo.

Canada will contribute an extra $227 million in development aid between 2014 and 2017, with the money aimed at empowering women and girls in the areas of education, human rights and humanitarian assistance.

The money is in addition to the initial commitment of $300 million that Canada promised between 2011 and 2014.

Conservative MP Chris Alexander, the parliamentary secretary for national defence, attended the Tokyo conference and said Canada and other donors will keep a close eye on how the money is spent.

“That needs to be done, because the flows are substantial and we know there have been shortcomings, not necessarily relating to Canadian spending, but certainly relating to some of the assistance that has come to Afghanistan,” Alexander said.

“But if you read this declaration, it’s very clear what areas the international community is requiring the Afghan government to take action on. One is governance. Two is a more serious fight against corruption. Our impression to date is literally that President Karzai and his team have not been serious on this issue, and that has to end.”

There will be regular reviews for how the development aid is spent, and Kabul must show it is serious about stamping out its deep-seated problems with corruption. There must also be improved governance and finance management, and a safeguarding of the democratic process, rule of law and human rights, particularly those of women.

“We will fight corruption with strong resolve wherever it occurs, and ask the same of our international partners,” Karzai told the donors. “Together we must stop the practices that feed corruption or undermine the legitimacy and effectiveness of national institutions.”

But Staples said Karzai’s presidency is based on a corrupt election — which raises the question of why Canada is funding an illegitimate government.

“This makes a bit of a mockery of Chris Alexander’s notion that they want to use the money to fight corruption,” Staples said.

“They’re kind of trying to close the barn doors after the horses have left.”

Western countries are trying to buy their way out of “the mess” in Afghanistan, Staples said.

“They’ve finally come to realize that there will be no military solution to Afghanistan. They’re withdrawing troops. Now they’re just trying to leave Afghanistan with a parting cheque in order to make their way to the exit.”

Photo credit: DND

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