Thirty years of war in Afghanistan have had a devastating impact on the country, including the deaths of around two million Afghanis, the displacement of millions more and the destruction of much of its infrastructure, according to The Cost of War: Afghan Experiences of Conflict 1978-2009, a report published today by nine NGOs working in the country.
However, what this has actually meant for millions of Afghans is brought home by the report, whose authors conducted detailed interviews with more than 700 men and women in 14 provinces. They found, for example, that two people out of five reported having property destroyed, while a third were robbed at some point. More than three-quarters of interviewees reported being forced to leave their homes, of whom 41 per cent were internally displaced and 42 per cent were externally displaced. The rest were displaced at home and abroad. Asked about the current conflict, 17 per cent said they were thinking of leaving the country.
Thirteen per cent reported being imprisoned, an experience that was described as arbitrary and linked with harassment, extortion and threats from local power holders. Release only came when relatives paid bribes or elders negotiated their release. One in five respondents reported being tortured, but only one per cent of these reported receiving any compensation or apology.
Seventy per cent of those interviewed believed unemployment and poverty as a major cause of the conflict, while almost half pointed to the corruption and ineffectiveness of the Afghan government.
The interviewees' recommendations to the Afghan goverment are obvious and direct - stop corruption, uphold the law, investigate wrongdoing, reform the police and judiciary. They urge the international community to hold the Afghan government accountable and provide support for local and regional peacebuilding.
All this is fine as far as it goes, but perhaps the NGOs behind this project should have asked a few more questions of themselves. More than 40 per cent of all the billions of dollars spent on aid in Afghanistan never reaches the Afghan people. In fact it often never even leaves the donor country. Instead it is received as fees by NGOs and others who take the lion's share. Who's willing to put their hand up and take responsibility for that?