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NATO should keep out of development: NGOs

KABUL, Nov 29, 2006 (AFP) - NATO soldiers' involvement in both reconstruction and combat in Afghanistan endangers relief workers and undermines long-term development, nongovernment groups say, as NATO leaders meet in Riga.

india Updated: Nov 29, 2006 12:55 IST
Bronwen Roberts (AFP)
Bronwen Roberts (AFP)

NATO soldiers' involvement in both reconstruction and combat in Afghanistan endangers relief workers and undermines long-term development, non-government groups say, as NATO leaders meet in Riga.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has an important role to play in stabilising the war-torn country, but the idea that the military can bring both protection and development to win peace has yet to be proved, they added.

Below-expected reconstruction after 25 years of war was, meanwhile, ratcheting up public frustration, leaving the country at a "dangerous crossroads", the Agency Coordinating Body For Afghan Relief (ACBAR), the umbrella body of NGOs said.

Incapacity meant only about a quarter of this year's development budget had been spent, it said.

But the international community had also only delivered on 56 per cent of its commitment of nearly 30 billion dollars to the destitute nation, it said in a statement urging NATO nations to rethink their role here.

ACBAR also questioned ISAF's "quick impact projects", such as handing out stationery to schools kids, and involvement in other relief and reconstruction work.

"Military actors are not trained in development and their approaches are often undertaken with little community ownership or capacity to support community maintenance over time," it said.

"Further, when military forces do quick impact projects it can also seriously undermine and threaten the aid efforts of civilian agencies."

For example, ISAF-led provincial reconstruction teams want to hand out free vaccinations for livestock but this can have adverse effects on a national strategy for vaccinations and undermines a para-vet system being set up, a kind of fast-reaction unit modelled on paramedics.

NGOs have also expressed concern that the involvement of soldiers in aid will blur the difference between troops and relief workers, further putting them in the sights of insurgents and challenging their neutrality.

By August, 28 aid workers have been killed this year compared with 31 for the whole of last year, ACBAR said.

The private Norwegian Refugee Council agreed in a separate statement that ISAF had a key role to play in security efforts, including police and defence reform and bringing alleged war criminals to trial.

But it should keep out of development, which must be distinct from military operations, it said.

"NATO should do what it does best -- support the security sector and keep the peace -- so that aid agencies can do what we do best -- deliver protection and assistance to civilians in need," said the council's Ann Kristin Brunborg.

"We have observed that the engagement of NATO forces in peace and combat operations simultaneously is blurring local perceptions of the reasons behind foreign intervention in Afghanistan," she said.

The killing of civilians in military offensives, for example, undermines "peace operations" in more stable areas. Human Rights Watch has estimated 1,000 civilians have been killed in unrest this year.

"It also threatens the safety and security of our beneficiaries and our staff, especially when such killings spur communal unrest," Brunborg said.

The council and ACBAR said the theory that the military could bring both protection and development to win peace had yet to be proved.

"With 11 times more cash being spent on military assistance than development aid in Afghanistan, that's one raucously expensive hypothesis," Brunborg said.

Over the past five years, the international community had spent more than 82.5 billion dollars on military assistance but only 7.3 billion dollars in development help, the council said.

Afghanistan is in a "perilously fragile" situation with frustration about unmet expectations in a context of "extreme poverty, low capacity, deteriorating security and increasing illicit activities," ACBAR said.

"Unless the needs and expectations of the Afghan people are met shortly, the country could easily slide back into chaos."

First Published: Nov 29, 2006 12:55 IST