Whitehall may have to be put its aid ideals aside in Afghan

From The Times
May 22, 2009
Whitehall may have to be put its aid ideals aside in Afghanistan
Richard Beeston: analysis
The first British paratroopers into Gereshk thought they had struck gold when they entered the Afghan town’s dilapidated local hospital three years ago.

In their campaign to win the hearts and minds of the people of Helmand, British troops rightly judged that “quick impact projects” could make the difference between being accepted or rejected. Army engineers calculated that they could get the hospital working properly in a few hours at little expense.

But the project never materialised. It was blocked by the Department for International Development, which ruled that only its staff could undertake aid work. It also rejected the policy of building bridges, hospitals and schools for the Afghans, insisting that the Afghan Government must do this.

The policy had some logic back in Whitehall, where the department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Ministry of Defence each jealously defends its corner of the Afghan campaign. But to illiterate farmers on the ground in Afghanistan the explanation made little sense. The arrival of British forces signalled a sharp rise in fighting with the Taleban, civilian deaths and destruction to property but almost no tangible benefits. Helmand’s population centres — Musa Kala, Lashkar Gah, Gereshk, Garmsir and Sangin — are littered with development projects that never materialised
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