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. http://jobsforafghans.org/ 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
"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
"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
"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
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
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D- HI),
Chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee