New Zealand’s contribution in Afghanistan needs to focus on reducing the widespread poverty that leaves the country fractured and unstable, say visiting experts on Afghanistan.
The New Zealand Government is reviewing New Zealand’s military role in Afghanistan. Recently, the United States requested New Zealand send its elite SAS unit back to Afghanistan, where New Zealand has a 140-strong provincial reconstruction team in Baniyam province maintaining security and managing development projects for NZAid.
Four aid and development experts from Church World Service Pakistan-Afghanistan (CWS P/A), which has worked in Afghanistan for 35 years, are in New Zealand late next week as guests of New Zealand-based overseas aid agency Christian World Service. They will meet politicians, development students, community groups and Council for International Development and NZAid staff.
CWS P/A has undertaken considerable analysis of currents in Afghanistan and offers local perspectives on the enormous challenges facing the country.
One of the four experts, Farrukh Marvin Parvez, says New Zealand’s efforts to provide security are important but the role would be more effective if New Zealand addressed the poverty compounding the insecurity. Afghanistan has some of the world’s worst health markers – average life expectancy of 43, a 20 percent death rate for children under five, and widespread disease and malnutrition. It is facing the most severe drought in a decade which will threaten millions.
Mr Parvez says the heroin trade, suicide bombings and the war on terror have sidelined the humanitarian agenda.
“The operation of troops is very important for improving security for the people of Afghanistan. But what continues to be disappointing is that instead of humanitarian crises we hear more and more of the military crises and military need. Off the radar are the humanitarian crises – drought, displacement, human rights violations. Unless we address the root causes of conflict we can’t address the fighting.”
It was crucial the war on terror was successful. “We all suffer from terrorism but humanitarian work should be top of the agenda. All the news is about terror, military operations and political problems. The war against hunger should be given a lot of space too.
“The military or political problems are all linked but the military presence is not the solution. It has to be a package where humanitarian relief, strengthening democracy, the fight against corruption and against poppy growing have to have attention. Military might alone will not solve the problems of Afghanistan.”
CWS P/A’s extensive programme in Afghanistan assists communities affected by drought, returnees who came home after the fall of the Taleban, and disaster relief work such as the April 17 earthquake which killed 22.
Mr Parvez has 17 years experience putting in place large emergency assistance programmes in Afghanistan. He continues to be frustrated that the rest of the world does not understand even the very basic problems of the country. “The absolute poverty of ignorance, hunger and illiteracy pushes people to strange ideas of militancy, extremism and suicide. We talk about tanks and military and guns. What about justice? Today, Taleban are gaining ground again because of the injustices, poverty and corruption, not because there are fewer tanks and guns.
“The international community has promised the Afghans so many times that we will not abandon them. Yet what we don’t abandon is our own agendas and then hunger, poverty and human rights are always the last issues to be addressed.”
Christian World Service national director Pauline McKay reiterates the need for greater support of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. “Their clear position is that the international community needs to address the humanitarian crises as part of efforts to improve the lives of the Afghani people. The visit is timely given our government’s recently announced review of New Zealand’s assistance in Afghanistan.”
Christian World Service supported the humanitarian work of CWS P/A in the clean-up of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, the 2008 Balochistan earthquake and Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar/Burma in 2007.
April 27, 2009