Press Release

Release: Yale and Harvard Grads Team up to Stop Afghan War

Jobs for Afghans Pushes Economic Approach to Stopping War

May 22, 2009

Playing on a friendly and ancient rivalry between institutions, a graduate of Yale and a recent Afghan graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government have teamed up to promote what they consider is the only solution to prolonged, widespread war in Afghanistan, the provision of jobs to address the 40% unemployment rate which plagues the country and drives men into the arms of the Taliban for the daily wage it pays of roughly $8 per day.  

"At this point most people still don't know that it is economics which is driving this insurgency, not religion or ideology, although we have made headway.  Last month in a major cover story Time Magazine acknowledged our position, and placed the issue of jobs-as-a-strategy prominently throughout the article," said Ralph Lopez of Cambridge, Massachusetts, a co-founder of Jobs for Afghans.  His colleague is presently outside the country.

Jobs for Afghans is working to raise awareness of this factor in the U.S. and to generate support for a highly detailed program centering around cash-for-work projects in Afghanistan, in which unskilled workers are paid in cash at the end of each day of labor.  Jobs for Afghans maintains that this addresses the problem of corruption both inside the country and out.

"Everyone knows money disappears in Afghanistan" says Lopez.  "What fewer people know is that far more disappears before it ever reaches the ground, if you will, in the form of multiple layers of subcontracting which pushes the job down the line only after each subcontractor has taken a profit."

Cash-for-work, Lopez maintains, avoids both forms of mismanagement by shortening the route from the aid donor to the Afghan worker.  

"These kinds of programs have already been tried across the country with great success, in Jawzjan Province, Uruzgan, and Balkh Province, to name just a few.  They work because the projects are labor-intensive and require little capital equipment besides hand tools.  It puts, say, 5 or 10 dollars in a poor Afghan's hand, and that is the vast majority of Afghans, at the end of each day of labor.  Most supervision is indigenous once the project is defined, so you don't need many foreign engineers in the field, which is a security risk.  We don't have to ask if this can work.  It already has.  The question is, will the U.S. Congress and the international community recognize its own self interest in winding down this war, by taking advantage of this opportunity to decrease Taliban recruitment, by providing a corruption-resistant, cash-for-work program on a massive scale?  Say $4 billion USD in the current budget?" says Lopez.

Lopez reminds listeners that the Taliban was extremely unpopular during its rule but maintained order by force.  

"The Taliban had mass executions and cut off hands.  People remember that.  No one wants to go back to it.  But you have to feed your family, and it pays."

The Taliban's funding comes largely from illegal activities, such growing opium, which is itself exacerbated by the economic situation.  

"For years the West said to farmers, don't grow opium, we'll give you something else to grow, seeds and fertilizer.  It never came through, so they are growing what they know and what sells."

Lopez says his analysis has a broad consensus among policymakers, so the task is to inform the general public.

"It's pretty remarkable when you have a 4-star general and former commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Karl Eikenberry, saying to Congress in 2007, and I quote: ""Much of the enemy force is drawn from the ranks of unemployed men looking for wages to support their families.""

Jobs for Afghans is proposing a fund to be administered by the US agency USAID, through which most reconstruction funds are already administered.  Funds would then be disbursed to a mix of NGOs and Afghan government departments submitting qualifying proposals, and agreeing to USAID reporting requirements, including random headcounts of workers at work sites and spot audits.

"It's pretty manageable, because there are no big black holes for money to fall into, like budgets for machinery and materials where someone paid for X but really received Y.  You give the men shovels and picks and work gloves, and pay them.  The wage times the number of men onsite is your bottom line."

With the US Senate now debating Iraq and Afghanistan appropriations legislation, Jobs for Afghans is calling for its supporters to contact U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who chairs the key Senate Appropriations Committee, to ask him to support a $3 billion item for cash-for-work projects in Afghanistan.  

The Jobs for Afghans initiative will result in small-capital formation and help start small businesses and spur economic growth. The goal of the group is to have Afghanistan on a stable economic and political footing within one year so that US forces can withdraw.

Ralph Lopez

Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D- HI), Chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee
phone: 202-224-3934
Fax: 202-224-6747