Friday, 16 January 2009

Afghanistan: time for a new plan

Here it goes again.
A few days before the inauguration and people are bemoaning well-known ills such as the utter failure of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort.
It is not news because it is not new.
Yet it will never stop being news because the whole endeavour has been such a monumental failure.
Plus we are all secretly hoping that what Bush broke, Obama will fix.
That magic wand again.

So we are back to talking about the privatisation of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Security companies, reconstruction agencies, catering outfits, engineering firms. They are all out there making a buck, doing good, messing up.
And journalists exclaim that ‘privatisation is benefiting the privateers’. Well done Sherlock.
And they also bemoan the fact that foreign aid funds don’t actually leave the US. Which they do. They just come back in, as most private businesses supporting the reconstruction effort are US-based. That bit, however, is not a mistake. It was always part of the plan. A plan we didn’t know about till it was too late to do something about. A plan we may not like. But a plan nonetheless.

And the thing about mistakes is that you can fix them or at least try. With plans, that’s trickier.
Because before the plan, comes the implementation, before that the groundwork, before that the decision-making. So someone, somewhere had what he thought was a good idea and set out putting it to practice.
Privatisation is an old idea and one that successive administrations thought good. It goes back to the Vietnam war. Clinton stepped it up. Bush went to town with it.
It was all part of the plan. A plan that we now see is not working.
But let’s go back to when the plan was hatched and what do we see?
Decades of groundwork and implementation. In other words, decades during which ‘other ways of doing things’ atrophied as they were not part of the plan.

So we need a new plan.
That’s not news either.
We need the decision-making – this bit Obama can do without a wand.
We need the groundwork and implementation. We need the result.
But all this takes time. Because first you need to reverse what is, to open up space for what could be. And while you are doing that, you need to find a way to carry on doing what you need to be doing. And if the old way is the only way, then you are stuck with the old plan for a while. Because the US won’t and shouldn’t stop reconstruction efforts.
So the money will carry on going to whomever has been leading the effort so far. USAID and commercial entities such as the Louis Berger group or private security companies such as DynCorp.

The truth is, much as we don’t like it, we can live with this a bit longer. As long as it’s part of a plan. A new plan that will eventually lead to a new way of doing things.
This is the time for decision-making.
And while the groundwork and implementation phases are unfolding, we will be patient. And we will await the result of the new plan.
Just as long as Obama doesn’t say ‘we are stuck with this for now, so we are stuck full stop’. As long as he says ‘we’re stuck now, but we have a plan’.
As long as he has a plan.

1 comment:

  1. Here's an idea: Why don't the US open a bank in Afghanistan? Backed by the Fed, and start shelling out loans to reconstruction efforts and do the whole microfinance thing that's all the rage in Africa these days.