India’s contribution to Afghanistan is remarkable
Alexander Thier, as the head of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the Af-Pak region, leads the largest civilian aid and development programme in Afghanistan. An old Afghan hand with two decades’ experience in the region, Thier says there is an incredible need to continue civilian investments in Afghanistan even after foreign troops’ departure in 2014. Excerpts from an interview:
How are you looking at the post-2014 situation in Afghanistan?
What we have seen in the last 10 years in Afghanistan is a phenomenal progress in development projects. Look at any indicator, whether it is access to education, economy, media or telecommunication, we have made advances. Afghanistan had 8 to 10 per cent growth in economy over the last decade. When I was living in Afghanistan in the 1990s, I had to drive to Uzbekistan to make a phone call. Today, you come out of the airport and your BlackBerry starts downloading e-mails and text messages. Our approach to Afghanistan is that even as you have transactions in next two years, there is an incredible need to continue the civilian investments.
Is the financial aid given as part of the military alliances?
The aid is perfectly equitable with the Afghan population. It is not true that one part of the country or a province got more than the other one. Our projects are spread out across the country.
Have donations created more corruption in Afghanistan?
We’ve safeguards to make sure that the US tax payers’ dollars are not being siphoned off. We have a multi-layered approach to accountability. We have also limited sub-contracting to ensure that maximum amount of aid dollar is directly spent in Afghanistan. There have been projects which have been less successful. Some of them have been cancelled. I don’t claim that all of our funds have been used perfectly, but I really believe that we have a very high degree of accountability.
Was President Hamid Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai your subcontractor?
No. It is important to differentiate between the civilian contractors and those from the military.
Are you saying he was dealing with only military contracts?
I’m not aware [of the military contracts given to Karzai], but I can tell you that none of our contracts was given to him or any other person through him.
The US Senate foreign relations committee said the USAID was not having any positive impact on Afghanistan.
If you look objectively at statistics and what we have accomplished in Afghanistan over the last decade, [you can see that] our assistance is having a positive impact. I would challenge you to find another environment which has some of the same set of development gains as Afghanistan. In 2002, only 6 per cent of Afghans had access to health care. Today, 66 per cent Afghans have access to health care. Life expectancy has increased by 15 to 20 years in one decade, which is an astonishing gain.
How do you see India’s involvement in Afghanistan?
India’s contribution to Afghanistan in the last few years is remarkable. It has become one of the largest donors to Afghanistan, which I think is terrific for Afghanistan and terrific for India, too.
THE WEEK, April 14, 2013