In this article in The Times, William Hague and George Osborne are credited with announcing a new Tory policy for the development of Afghanistan. Their aim, so they say, is to draw on the military to carry out “quick impact aid work and infrastructure projects in the aftermath of fighting.” Surely this sounds like a good idea: drawing on the excellent experience of our Armed Forces to aid with construction. It is a good idea (when done properly), but it is not new. DfID incorporated it into its Afghanistan strategy months ago.
In 2008, the Department for International Development carried out a comprehensive consultation, including government ministries, civil society, the private sector and most importantly Afghan communities. The resulting strategy for Afghanistan includes a vital role for the military. Douglas Alexander is quoted in The Times as saying, “The highly praised provincial reconstruction team operating in Helmand already brings together military and civilian support in delivering a comprehensive approach to stabilisation.” This is a strategy that can provide positive results, but the role of the military must be considered wisely. What is crucial to success in Afghanistan is a balanced partnership between civilians and the military, as well as the Afghan Government. Indeed, it is vital that development comes from the Afghan state and that is why DfID channels half of its funding through the Government.
The Tories are often quick to criticise civilian aid work, but in doing so they run the risk of relying too heavily on the military. In a country with as bloody a past as Afghanistan, civilian aid groups are often able to reach communities that the military simply cannot. It is vital that this role is not overlooked. A spokesperson for Médicins sans Frontières is quote in The Times saying just this: “We secure access to very tricky parts of the world because of civilians understanding that we are not military. Where military sell themselves as humanitarians it is very, very problematic.”
There is little meat on the bones of the policy beyond simply stating that the military could be used. The Times reports that DfID will be dismayed to hear that funding for the military activities would come out of the International Development budget. This would lead to a real-terms cut in aid for civilian development. What is also unclear is how much of this new Tory policy relies on what people on the ground believe to be right for development. DfID’s consultation spread the net wide and included local communities. What is not clear is how far the Tories have consulted outside of the military.