A project of the author Ralph Lopez         Share on Facebook
Jobs For Peace in Afghanistan
The Afghan people have suffered long enough. Peace Between the Afghan and the American Peoples.

"Men who work, have no time for war" 
-- Noor Ahmed Qarqeen, Afghan Minister of Labour and Social Affairs

Mission Statement

Letter to Congress, The "Five Percent Solution"

Afghanistan's Reconstruction Stolen by Foreign Contractors.

Jobs for Afghans invited to present in Kabul, please keep letters to U.S. Congress going.

                                               TAKE ACTION!  EMAIL YOUR CONGRESSMAN HERE!      

"In some areas, thanks to the canal cleaning initiatives, farmers have irrigation for their farms for the first time in 20 years. Many of their irrigation systems were destroyed by the Russians. They had never been able to afford the time and man-power to repair them until now.  Juma Gul, one of the workers on the CRS Nakhunai Canal project shares that view. "I am 18 years old. I don't mind the hard work. I have been cleaning out the canal for a month now and I will stay on until the job is finished. I support my family with the money I earn, this is an important project for me. I thank everyone who made this possible. My mother cried when she knew I had this job and that we would have water."  -Changing Lives - Caritas in Kandahar, Caritas Press Release, May 28, 2003

Bodybuilding: Afghanistan's Fastest  Growing Sport

Join a discussion thread at BodybuildingDungeon.com

"We are tired of war.  We want to be healthy. We want to be famous in the world, not for our fighting, not for war. We want to be famous for our good behavior, our health."

"There's an awful lot in life that's beyond his control, from the current Taliban resurgence to his low-paying job, but there is one thing he can control: his own body."

Working out all the rage in Afghanistan
"Everyone wants to look strong, but the problem is calories. Most clients just dont have access to enough food."

Afghan Bodybuilders  Idolize Arnold
(World Politics Review)

"Based on total signage space, Arnold Schwarzenegger may be the second most popular man in Afghanistan."

Flexing Guns Instead of Firing Them
"We lift shiny, weight-specific dumbbells; In Afghanistan, they lift left over car parts and cinder blocks."

Disabled Afghan Bodybuilders (Official ABBF website)

Poverty in Afghanistan


starving child

"Drought and Hunger Kill Nine People in Northern Afghanistan" (May 25, 2008)

"Obama Making Taliban Shadow into the Real Thing"
by Ralph Lopez, at Film-maker Robert Greenwald's Blog

A proposed letter to President Obama, to be signed by congressmembers.  Please ask your congressman to sign and circulate.


"Job creation should be top of Canada's Afghan strategy: Kandahar leaders," Canadian Press, May 2008 

Letter to Activists and NGOs

Other Articles by Ralph Lopez

General Petraeus, Can You Hear Me Now?

Time Says No Win In Afghanistan Without Jobs

The Difficulty of New Thinking on Afghanistan

Progress in Slowing the War: Time Magazine Hears Jobs for Afghans.  Thank You Time.

Time Says No Win In Afghanistan Without Jobs (full article)

Time Cover

Review of Time Article

New Obama Policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Unlikely to Succeed, by Amit Pandya

"[Obama's] basic framework and assumptions are flawed. It threatens to exacerbate the situation. It evinces excessive reliance on military force - both significant expansion of the Afghan Army and increased operations by US, NATO, Pakistani and Afghan armed forces. It also requires pressure to be brought to bear on the Pakistan government to more aggressively prosecute the battle against Al Qaeda and its extremist allies. Each of these reflects failure to acknowledge key realities."

Cash-for-Work Successes in Afghanistan:

Afghanistan: The Problem, The Solution
by Ralph Lopez

 Share this on Twitter - General Petraeus, Will You Talk to Me Now? 

Wed Apr 22, 2009

It isn't State-Building, It's Deflating an Insurgency

The former Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, General Karl Eikenberry, Vice President Joe Biden, and now even Time Magazine agree: 70 percent of the Afghan men fight for the Taliban not for reasons of religion, or even against the occupation, but for the wages the Taliban pays so they can feed their families. Afghanistan is a desperately poor land with 50% unemployment.  Most of them don't hate us (yet,) they don't even especially want us out, at least right now.  They attack because they get paid for it and their children are starving.

The devil is in the details.  Is it possible to do anything to lure young Afghan men away from the Taliban with hope and jobs? 

Time Magazine reports that:

valley elder Sham Sher Khan, [says] the way to counter the insurgency hasn't changed..."The Taliban say they are fighting because there are Americans here and it's a jihad. But the fact is, they aren't fighting for religion. They are fighting for money," he says. "If they had jobs, they would stop fighting."

The prevailing wisdom is that the country is rife with corruption.  We hear that money never makes it to the little guy.  So the question is, is there a program which can circumvent this?  

The metaphor I like to use is a physicist's "wormholes" through space.  There are vast distances between suns, but there may be "wormholes," bends in space, which are in essence short cuts which may make intersteller travel possible.  In this case the vast distances are the many layers of corrupt bureaucracy, inside the country and out, which prevents all but a trickle of reconstruction aid reaching the people who need it most.  

It should be noted that the biggest corruption takes place outside the country, where American contractors like Louis Berger (schools, roads) skim off huge profits from cost-plus contracts before a dime ever reaches Afghans.

The solution, the wormhole, is cash-for-work jobs programs, an innovation in Third World development which has been proven over time.  They are administered by humanitarian organizations like Oxfam (called NGOs, non-governmental organizations), local government authorities, and US agencies like USAID.  

Cash-for-work programs have already made a huge difference in some communities in Afghanistan, including in Jawzjan Province, Uruzgan, and Balkh Province.  The work involves basic infrastructure improvement like clearing canals, clearing irrigation waterways, building stone wall boundaries, and basic improvements of unsurfaced roads, which is most of the roads in Afghanistan.  There is no shortage of this kind of work, as most of the rubble lays right where it fell after the Russians bombed it.  

The aim of cash-for-work programs, which have also been piloted in many other countries, is to put hard cash into the hands of workers at the end of a day of labor.  They are easy to monitor, since little capital equipment is required besides hand-tools, and one can easily count heads at a worksite to see if the money is being spent properly.  The cash-for-work solution is ridiculously cost-effective.  The Taliban's recruiting pool could be greatly soaked up by spending what we spend on military operations in 2 months.    This would keep potential Taliban "off the street" for a year.  Pay $10 a day and these guys will do anything.  The Taliban pays $8.

Also, these kinds of simple projects like canal-clearing and ditch digging are not structures the Taliban can destroy right after they are built.  You can't blow up a ditch.

The time has come to take what has worked in Afghanistan and to put it on steroids.  Cash-for-work should be the core around which the new military mission is built. 

President Obama warns us against extending our ambitions to "state building" rather than simply defeating the insurgency.  Cash-for-work is not state-building.  It is deflating the insurgency.  

If real reconstruction is to have a chance, if the patient is to be saved, first the bleeding of young men into the arms of the Taliban must be staunched.  The question is whether the political will can be generated to make cash-for-work big enough, fast enough, to stop the train wreck.  Brave American soldiers like Capt. Sean Dynan are doing an outstanding job on the village level, sitting with tribal elders and asking, as Capt. Dynan did in July 2008: "We know many faces have come through here over 30 years...the question we have to answer to you is how we are different."

It is time to show this graveyard of empires "how we are different."

Ralph Lopez is the co-founder of Jobs for Afghans.


Capt. Dynan, PBS Video

Congress Must Pass an "Emergency Works" Program:
  • Large-scale cash-for-work projects, clearing canals, digging ditches for future water pipeline, clearing irrigation systems, basic road improvement, other simple projects

  • Military focus on protecting work crews, not chasing Taliban

  • The Goal is to provide breathing space for the informal economy to develop, build goodwill, and exit soon.
Who is Pushing for More War in Afghanistan and Why?
"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience...we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications...we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."              -President Dwight Eisenhower, Farewell Speech, 1961

"War is  a Racket"
- General Smedley Butler, Double Medal of Honor winner, 1935

Smedley Butler
General Smedley Butler

How to Help Afghans

March, 16, 2009, by Ralph Lopez

Jobs for Afghans has created a Powerpoint/PDF presentation which it is attempting to put before all Congress members and the Obama foreign policy team.  The presentation summarizes in the format of a briefing:

The Question: How do we employ, in a short turnaround time, large numbers of Afghan men who would otherwise join the Taliban for the pay?

Problems to Be Solved:

*Major works program is needed to frustrate Taliban recruiting, but construction is difficult in a hostile environment.

*Major changes in USAID reconstruction policy aimed at creating jobs take time. But need for jobs is immediate.

Infrastructure Opportunities:

Three-fourths of population has no access to safe drinking water, a major source of high infant mortality and preventable disease. Most of country has no electricity. What do both of these key infrastructures have in common? Both depend on digging thousands of miles of trench to hold water and electrical "pipes." These are the foundations of development which benefits population.


*Focus on digging paths for "pipeline" infrastructure with hand-tools, meaning thousands of miles of trench which will carry basic water, electricity, and sewage pipeline, which is the foundation of rural infrastructure.

*Actual pipeline need not be laid immediately, but trenches can be dug using labor-intensive methods.

*Prioritize Kabul's unsanitary open-trench sewage system, potential to hire thousands of workers in easy-to-secure environment.

Project is Technically Feasible:

*Minimum requirements for trench-digging works program would be surveying and staking out trench-line, importation of hand tools.

*Only native supervision required, minimal technical skills. This minimizes exposure of foreign engineers needed for more complex infrastructure projects like bridges and other structures, which require more secure environment.

-Focus mission on using forces to protect work crews rather than chasing Taliban around the countryside. Minimizes civilian casualties.

- Use the Russian experience.  Russian General Pavel expressed dismay at Obama's decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.  Grachev's advice: Post soldiers to guard road projects and irrigation systems.  Pour billions of dollars into infrastructure, which would be more productive than firefights in far-flung villages. ("Russian Generals: More Troops Won't Help in Afghanistan," McClatchy Reports.)

This is a sustainable model due to enterprising Afghan nature. Afghans are natural businesspeople. Infusion of capital to poorest segment will jump-start informal economy, as Afghans use funds to buy vendor stands, taxis, and other means of earning income, and distribute income through the tribal-clan structure to other Afghans.

Creating 1 million jobs at $10 per day for one year would cost about $2 billion. This is far less than the cost of the entire military occupation in Afghanistan for 1 month. This would significantly impact the 40 percent unemployment rate and begin work on much-needed infrastructure.

"Most Afghans, after the dispersal of the Taliban, were full of hope and ready to work. The tangible benefits of reconstruction --jobs, housing, schools, health-care facilities --could have rallied them to support the government and turn that illusory "democracy" into something like the real thing. But reconstruction didn't happen." ---Journalist Ann Jones, "The Road to Taliban-Land"


Wednesday March 11, 2009

Brussels:  Biden Says Problem is Jobs, Not Ideology

By Ralph Lopez

Vice President Joe Biden
conceded for the first time in Brussels this Wednesday that the Taliban insurgency was driven by economics, and that 70 percent of the Taliban are fight only because they get paid.  Unemployment in Afghanistan is 40%.   Jobs for Afghans thanks all who have been forwarding these articles on this key aspect of the insurgency to Obama and your congressmen, as we have requested. I am ready to believe that Obama-Biden are in good faith looking for a way out of this impending disaster. The question is, now what? ("A Real Solution for Afghanistan")

The question is not whether the surge is good or bad. The question is, what should our troops be doing in Afghanistan, whatever the number? If 70% of fighters are there to collect the Taliban's $8 per day "living wage," which is indeed a living wage in Afghanistan, because an utterly failed reconstruction under George Bush leaves them looking at a 40% unemployment rate, then how to give these young men an alternative so they can, as General Karl Eikenberry told Congress, "find wages to support their families?"

"Much of the enemy force is drawn from the ranks of unemployed men looking for wages to support their families." - Gen. Karl Eikenberry, Former Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan

The problem with US policy in Afghanistan is that it has been a man trying to walk on one leg. The military side must complement the economic side, and the latter has been
completely missing.

As Jobs for Afghans has always held, the tricky part is getting money and jobs into the hands of the vast numbers of unemployed young Afghans, like 19 year-old Jaan Aghwa, who told the Institute of War and Peace Reporting:
"I couldnt find a job anywhere, so I had to join the Taleban. They give me money for my family expenditures. If I left the Taleban, what else could I do? I am not educated, so it is hard to find a job, although a lot of educated people are also unemployed nowadays."

report on Youtube goes further into depth on the problem.

The Jobs for Afghans solution? Focus, immediately, before the Spring offensive begins, on that part of the country's infrastructure which can be labor intensive, requires few foreign engineers present beyond initial surveying teams.    That means trenchline which will hold pipes for water, electricity, and sewage systems, all almost completely missing from Afghanistan. It could employ hundreds of thousands of Afghans immediately. This is a country where 1 out of 4 infants die before the age of five from preventable disease, most of it borne by dirty water.  8 years after the fall of the Taliban, the vast majority of the population lives in various stages of starvation and abject misery.

The intrepid journalist Ann Jones reports:

"Most Afghans, after the dispersal of the Taliban, were full of hope and ready to work. The tangible benefits of reconstruction -- jobs, housing, schools, health-care facilities -- could have rallied them to support the government and turn that illusory "democracy" into something like the real thing. But reconstruction didn't happen."

For anyone really interested in understanding what is happening in Afghanistan, Jones' full report is a must-read.

ABC News poll shows that in 2005, nearly 70% of Afghans approved viewed the US presence as positive. An astonishing 91% preferred the Karzai government to the Taliban. By 2007, only 42% of Afghans viewed the US positively. Preference for the Karzai government over the Taliban dropped to 84%. Now, two years later, those numbers can only have worsened. Those who ascribe the insurgency to unavoidable nationalism and Islamic ideology are wrong. Afghan hearts and minds were ours to lose, and lose them we have been doing.

Employing up to million men, digging thousands of miles of trenchline for basic infrastructure would require only local supervision of work crews, once surveyors mark the routes. Russian generals who made all the mistakes of trying to fight Afghans have suggested what US forces should really be doing: protecting work crews, rather than chasing Taliban all over the countryside and causing civilian casualties.

McClatchy reports :

"I believed as sincerely as American officers do now that we were fighting there to help make our country safer," said Grachev, who later became defense minister and sent in Russian units to quell Chechnya during the 1990s, a campaign that also ended in disaster. "After the war, as a politician, I could see this war had been pointless."

That said, Grachev offered some advice: Post soldiers to guard road projects and irrigation systems, and send in an army of engineers, doctors, mining experts and construction advisers.

Pouring billions of dollars into infrastructure would be a lot more productive than firefights in far-flung villages, he said.

"You have to understand that in the economic sphere, Afghanistan is now at a stage lower than the Middle Ages," Grachev said.

Another advantage of giving hundreds of thousands of men picks and shovels to dig ditches, right away: unlike schools and bridges, you can't really "blow up" a ditch. It will be there when the remainder of the project is ready, and meanwhile you are putting people to work right now.

Otherwise it doesn't look good. NATO is finding that Afghans are fierce fighters, who will keep coming back despite almost unimaginably fearsome weapons, such as C-130 gunships. Where a typical firefight in Baghdad might last 30 minutes, a firefight in Afghanistan will go on for days, as fighters move in from across a district to engage. Iraqi tactics were largely hit-and-run. Afghan fighters show themselves, take casualties, and continue closing in.

$10 per day is what it would take young Afghans to say no to the Taliban. Congress should pass this Emergency Works program just to give them something to do besides shooting at our troops. Biden is starting to understand, so Obama must be too. The Goal is to provide breathing space for the informal economy to develop, build goodwill, and exit soon.  Save Americans.  Save Afghans. Call your congressman.


Contact: RalphLopez2002 - AT - hotmail - DOT - com