How Not to Empower Women in Afghanistan

The U.S. Agency for International Development’s $416 million, five-year program to boost women’s leadership runs the risk of being irrelevant in a country where, just last month, a woman was beaten to death by a mob of men in broad daylight for allegedly burning a Quran. In a video taken by an onlooker, a man is seen taking a concrete block to smash her head. Her body was then set on fire and thrown into a river.

The issue is not just the legitimate concerns over the difficulties of implementing, monitoring and assessing the impact of the program amidst a NATO pullout, as the inspector general of the government watchdog on Afghanistan reconstruction pointed out.

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A Trail of UN Malfeasance in Afghanistan

The correspondence between the chief of the US watchdog on Afghanistan reconstruction and the administrator of the UN’s development agency over a trust fund bankrolling the Afghan police force is an entertaining read.

In a series of letters, John Sopko, special inspector general, alleged that the UN agency mismanaged the trust fund, known as LOTFA, allowing the Afghan interior ministry to milk $200 million in “deductions.” Since 2002, the trust fund has channeled $3.17 billion in salaries and operating costs. The US has paid $1.2 billion of it.

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Give smart aid to protect gains in Afghanistan

A few years after 9/11, I worked for an aid agency in Kabul. One of the memories I cherish most is that of Sahar, a soft-spoken Afghan who was 20 then. Her mom didn’t like her working, because she was a woman. But she showed up every morning, her head wrapped in chador and her large brown eyes both cautious and curious. I taught her how to use Excel and convert Afghanis into U.S. dollars. She said she wanted to be an interior designer someday.

One time, she told me in passing that she’d never smoked a cigarette. So I bought a pack, locked the office door, and showed her how to smoke (“Inhale, Sahar, inhale”). I don’t think she enjoyed the taste, but she was thrilled to hold a cigarette.

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Demining Afghanistan

Kabul — After 15 years of intensive demining work, Afghanistan still remains the most mined country in the world. It is estimated that some 4.5 million Afghans living in 2,400 communities, over an area of 715 square kilometers, are affected. An average of 100 people are killed or injured by landmines monthly. USAID, recognizing the critical importance of clearing lands for reconstruction and long-term development, continues the endeavor for mine action, which it first began in 1989 with the establishment of the War Victims Fund.

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In the great Helmand River Valley of southern Afghanistan, stands a rockfill dam, bearing testimony to USAID’s continued commitment to the country for more than half a century. In 1953, USAID contracted Morrison Knudsen, one of American heavy construction contractors that built the Hoover Dam, to construct this dam. Standing 100 metres (320 feet) in height, spanning 270 metres (887 feet) in length, and having a present storage capacity of 1.2-billion cubic metres (27,550 acre-feet) of water, the Kajakai Dam creates the largest multi-purpose reservoir in the country. For decades, water discharging from Kajakai has traversed some 300 miles of downstream irrigation canals, which stretch across parched formidable landscape, feeding 140,000 hectares of farmland with water.

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Kabul, Afghanistan — Afghanistan recently witnessed the rebirth of one of its major lifelines, a roadway linking the nation’s capital to its southern city of Kandahar. Originally constructed by USAID between 1961 and 1966, the Kabul-Kandahar Highway had been debilitated by decades of war and neglect. USAID’s rehabilitation of the key portion of the country’s national road system has already brought enormous benefits. The travel time between Kabul to Kandahar was cut from two days to five hours, accelerating the flow of goods into and out of villages, and providing improved access to healthcare, schools and markets to the 35 percent of Afghanistan’s population that live within 50 kilometers of the highway. The highway also reaffirms the central government’s influence in this area.

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