Group of Afghan National Police on parade (image
courtesy of the AFP)
ANP member receiving his
certificate following completion of training at the Provincial Training Centre,
Uruzgan. (image courtesy of the AFP)
The 2012 TLO report found that visible progress in socio-economic
development and reconstruction had been made throughout the province since
1 August 2010, when the Netherlands formally handed over command of the PRT.
The accounts from the various agencies testify to the advances made in Uruzgan
in education, health, building or restoring vital infrastructure and in helping
to improve capacity in the local administration and in the ANP.
Ownership and alignment
It should be noted that the Australian agencies working in Uruzgan drew
attention to the efforts they take in the province to engage the local
community in projects. Together with DFAT and AusAID representatives, the ADF
worked within the PRT to 'develop projects in close consultation with a wide
range of stakeholders, including Afghan and ISAF partners, provincial and
district administration leaders and local communities'. By building
relationships with local officials and leaders, the PRT is able to 'facilitate
the delivery of stability, governance and development activities at the
provincial and district level'.
For example, civilian and military advisers in the PRT meet regularly with
the Afghan Government and communities in order to build strong relationships. According
to Defence, this direct engagement enabled the construction of roads, schools
and other basic infrastructure in the province. By working with local and
provincial government officials, the PRT was also able to implement programs to
improve governance capacity and facilitate the delivery of basic services such
as health and education to the Afghan people.
Air Chief Marshal Houston explained that the ADF needed to work closely with
the provincial government to improve its ability to govern within the province,
to connect with the officials down at the district level, and to deliver the
services required by people in the province.
As an example, the former CDF referred to the type of small projects delivered
by the ADF on a day-to-day basis in response to local needs:
...in one village there was a real problem with water. Our
special forces took it upon themselves to deliver a suitable water pump to
provide the necessary water to the community...it is all part of our approach at
the moment, which is to protect the people, engage the people and basically
improve their lives and protect them from the Taliban.
The relationship that the PRT developed with the local community
provided its members with important insights into Uruzgan’s political, economic
and social landscape. Defence suggested that by 'developing their knowledge of
the province’s complex tribal and political structures, departmental officers
within the PRT were able to make a substantial contribution to reconstruction
and development in Uruzgan'.
Mr Philip, DFAT, likewise highlighted the importance of officers finding out
what was happening in the local community by meeting and talking with Afghans.
Over the past couple of years DFAT and AusAID officers in the
provincial reconstruction team have been able to travel the length and breadth
of the province to get out into some pretty difficult locations, where they
have been co-located with military forces, and to really build up a network of
contacts of hundreds of tribal leaders to get that sense of what is happening
on the ground.
He gave the example of the Mirabad Valley, where diplomats in the PRT
carefully and over a long period of time worked with the local community and, as
a result of many meetings and visits to communities and villages, were able to
build up a level of trust.
This relationship then created opportunities for AusAID to come in and look at
supporting education activity in the Valley through the 'Children of Uruzgan'
program. Mr Philip explained:
Through one of AusAID's programs, the small projects facility
of Uruzgan, we have seen a number of projects at the community level up and
running in the Mirabad Valley which we have never seen before. What this will
then lead to is a major project involving the upgrade of a road through the
entire length of the Mirabad Valley. That will be completed partly by AusAID
and partly by the Australian Defence Force engineers in the PRT.
Australia played an important role in overseeing the final stages of this
challenging project and also funded and constructed a bridge over the river
halfway along the road.
Criticism of Australian development assistance to Uruzgan
While acknowledging the impressive gains made in Uruzgan, a number of
independent reports and some witnesses to the inquiry held reservations about
the overall effectiveness of Australia's aid program in the province.
They questioned matters such as the sustainability of the achievements, the
focus on inputs rather than outcomes, and the possible undermining of aid
effectiveness by the military delivering aid.
Managing for results—sustainability
Despite the military and civilian members of the PRT consulting with
local communities about development projects, a number of witnesses were
concerned about the extent to which the benefits to the local people would
last. Some witnesses were critical that the projects were in effect 'quick
fixes'. For example, Mr Antony Loewenstein, an independent journalist who has
spent time in Afghanistan, suggested that while there had been some minor
benefits for Uruzgan province, they were likely to be 'profoundly fleeting and
unlikely to survive once Australia pulls out'.
One major concern was the capacity of the community or the government to cover
operational costs and to maintain facilities.
Importantly, the authors of the 2011 Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness
reported that in their travels to Uruzgan, they were told that the focus of
Australian aid had shifted from 'vertical infrastructure' (schools) to
'horizontal infrastructure' (roads) because 'a large number of schools had been
built with aid funds, but not used'.
Furthermore, the 2012 TLO report noted that:
The demographic and numerical breakdowns of student
enrolment, gender, and facility, reveals little about the overall quality of
education provided. A local NGO representative noted, 'The new school buildings
alone do not make it better if everything else like teachers, training, materials,
and payments are lacking.'
Despite positive indicators, it recorded that local residents expressed
concern with the lack of properly qualified teachers and the resulting poor
quality of education.
One representative from an international NGO described the quality of education
and teachers as 'bad', noting further that there was a lack of materials—in his
words most of the new schools were 'white elephants'.
The report was also deeply concerned about the number of girls attending
school. It found:
Overall only 7% of school-aged girls are enrolled in school
and most are forced to leave school when they reach puberty, often as early as
10 years of age. Only a small number complete high school and none of 2011’s
female graduates wrote the Kankor University Entrance Exam that was held for
the first time in Uruzgan in 2011.
The TLO concluded that female literacy was at 'a seemingly impossibly
low 0.6 per cent of the population' and that more targeted efforts were required
to ensure that women could complete their education.
It should be noted that AusAID provided the committee with a table from
the Afghanistan Ministry of Education that recorded the following figures for
Year 12 graduates in Uruzgan:
Figure 7:1: Year 12 graduates from 2010 to 2012
Along similar lines about the effectiveness of aid in Uruzgan, Professor
Howes referred to the ADF's heavy focus on infrastructure and concerns that
roads may not be maintained and schools may lack teachers.
...if it is done directly by the Australian government there is
no guarantee that there is going to be the ongoing funding to provide the teacher
or to maintain the road, whereas if you go through a national program there is
a budget process and there are better odds that there will be maintenance and
that there will be teachers provided.
To his mind, sustainability should be an overriding objective with
matters around operational requirements and maintenance receiving major
Professor Howes also doubted the effectiveness of building capacity in
the local administration. He understood the connection between having
Australian troops operating in Uruzgan and the presence of AusAID staff and
civilian core staff in the province to provide development assistance and
mentoring. He was sceptical, however, about the mentoring and whether it would
have any effect at all because of the huge cultural and knowledge gaps. He
noted the massive turnover of staff and political problems, and formed the view
that Australian support to the Uruzgan government was 'of very limited value'.
Dynamics of local
A number of witnesses were concerned that in highly insecure areas,
assistance could be more of a destabilizing than stabilizing influence because
of the reality and/or perception of aid fuelling corruption and generating
conflict over its distribution.
According to Dr Bizhan, ethnicity has been highly politicised in Afghanistan over
the past three decades and therefore most of the political movements that came
into being during the years of conflict have been dominated by a certain ethnic
Uruzgan is no exception. The local power dynamics in the province are
very complex and can be traced back to population policies originating in the
18th century and which continue today.
For example, Uruzgan was inhabited predominately by the Hazara ethnic group who
were expelled in two separate waves—one in the late 18th century and
the other in the late 19th century—and now constitute an estimated
8 per cent of the provincial population.
In 2010, the TLO report observed that:
Provincial government in Uruzgan needs to be seen as
monopolized by pro-government (Popalzai) strongmen, who increase their own
power and that of their tribe by practising a policy of marginalizing members
of the former Taliban regime (or those associated with them) and weakening
other power holders by excluding them from access to political positions and
According to author and researcher, Mr Phil Sparrow, ethnic conflict has
also contaminated working relationships between Hazara and Pashtun police
officers in some districts, leading to widespread desertions. As an example, he
referred to the 60 trained ANP in Khas Uruzgan, where only 10 were left. He
also reported that parts of Uruzgan were still under militia control and the
loyalty of the militia to the government was poor or non-existent.
In this context of leadership struggles between powerbrokers and
changing alliances, a number of witnesses raised concerns about the potential
for Australian aid to favour particular individuals.
Professor Howes and Mr Pryke stated that it would appear that aid most often, including
in Uruzgan where Australian efforts were concentrated, 'fails to achieve its
strategic objectives because the aid is itself tainted and ineffective'. They
reasoned that if aid 'is seen as going to people who are "cruel and
unjust"', it would not succeed in changing attitudes'.
Professor Maley, who has travelled to and written extensively on
Afghanistan, also noted that providing aid may have the unintended consequence
of 'empowering particular local actors at the expense of others'. He reasoned
that this situation could develop where those delivering aid become too closely
associated with one political figure among others engaged in fierce competition
in the same area. In his view, this had to some extent developed in Uruzgan,
where the relationship between Australia and the provincial police chief
Matiullah Khan was 'arguably an unhealthy one'.
At one stage, Mr Khan was reported to be 'head of a private army' that earned 'millions
of dollars guarding NATO supply convoys and fought Taliban insurgents alongside
American Special Forces'.
In August 2011, the Afghan Ministry of Interior announced his appointment as
Uruzgan Provincial Chief of Police.
Dr Bizhan made a similar observation about particular individuals profiting
personally from aid. He noted that in some provinces, 'instead of building
functioning local institutions, resources have been channelled to individual
players who were protecting NATO conveys and their logistic roots' and cited Matiullah
Khan in Uruzgan.
According to Dr Bizhan, while Mr Khan kept his own militia, he became 'a source
of distrust among the local tribes' and 'undermined the credibility of the government':
Though he helped to consolidate stability in the short-term,
in the long run this approach compromised institution-building.
Defence described the context and nature of its relationship with Mr
Khan. It noted that during its time working in Uruzgan, Mr Khan headed the
Kandak Amniante Uruzgan (KAU), a private security organisation which provided
contracted security in some parts of Uruzgan for the Ministry of Interior. It
explained that as part of ISAF efforts to help stabilise Afghanistan,
Australian forces regularly engaged with a wide range of tribal and community
leaders in Uruzgan in an inclusive and impartial way. Defence stated:
In this setting, Matiullah Khan is one of many influential
figures that Australians have engaged. Australia works with such individuals in
a way to ensure that their influence is used positively, in support of
governance and security in Uruzgan.
Since becoming the Chief of Police, Matiullah Khan, in his official
capacity, has engaged with Australian officials including the Special
Operations Task Group which mentors Uruzgan’s Afghan National Police Provincial
Response Company—Urzugan (the PRC-U).
It should be noted that influential individuals such as Mr Khan are
highly important figures in the communities with which aid agencies must
engage. Mr Loewenstein noted, however, that many Western powers, including
Australia, have chosen not only to deal with such people but to empower, fund
and arm them.
Fuelling future rivalries
Professor Maley spoke of the danger of inadvertently laying foundations
for a new kind of conflict within Uruzgan after 2014 that is distinct from the
wider security challenge that the province faces because of the Taliban
insurgents coming in from sanctuaries in Pakistan. He explained that the Dutch
kept an arms-length relationship with Matiullah; were more focused on balancing
their dealings with people from different and tribal backgrounds; and probably
had a shrewder appreciation of the political complexities as compared to the
Australians. He explained that from the Australians' point of view, Matiullah's
great strength was his ability to keep open the road from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt,
which allowed the easy resupply of Australian forces.
According to Professor Maley, if foreign forces get too close to a
controversial local individual, the message conveyed to Afghanistan is 'not a
happy one' with the consequence of a possible major future conflict in the
There may be short-term benefits for international actors who
cooperate with figures such as Matiullah, but there can be long-term costs as
well—and it is likely to be ordinary Afghans who pay them, especially if the
main legacy of the international presence turns out to be a predatory,
Dr Bizhan also noted the importance of Australia being aware of, and
sensitive to, the recent and complex history of armed conflict and rivalry
among different local strong men and actors.
He spoke of the influence of such men, empowered through transactions or
contracts, who have the final say. Referring specifically to Matiullah Khan, he
In terms of securing the transportation of convoys, what has
happened is that they granted huge contracts to this man. Using that amount of
money, he supported his own militia to protect the route or provide security.
The cost of this process was to undermine local institution building in Uruzgan
because, for most people, he was not the governor or chief of police—though now
he is chief of police—but it was him who was playing a major role. These
grievances or complicated politics widened the gap between local institutions
and the local communities, which the insurgents—the Taliban—skilfully use for
their own benefit.
In Dr Bizhan's words, Mr Khan 'has the money patronage and is
redistributing it'—he is 'shaping and reshaping the whole dynamics in the
He explained that Mr Khan belongs to one tribe and by becoming powerful 'has
isolated the other rival groups in the same province especially in the south
where rivalry among tribes is a common factor'.
According to Dr Bizhan, very prominent scholars were saying that some such war
lords were empowered through foreign aid. He informed the committee that the
government, international donors, and as indicated by some reports, Australia
as well, have favoured Mr Khan. Dr Bizhan acknowledged that Mr Khan had
helped to improve security in the short term, but shared the concerns of other
witnesses about the long term consequences in Uruzgan beyond 2014.
Managing complex power relations
Dr Bizhan referred to weak institutions in Afghanistan, explaining that
for this reason, donors must be cautious when working with an individual who can
manipulate the whole system. He noted that in Uruzgan, the priority to deliver
projects with quick outcomes on the ground led agencies to ignore local power
dynamics and bypass the national institutions, which ultimately encouraged an
unhealthy relationship to develop in the long term.
He suggested that the rules should be very clear when engaging with such
people, arguing that there should be:
- equal political participation, which is mentioned in Afghanistan's
- continuous monitoring.
Finally, he suggested that resources should not be used to isolate one
player or another player. Overall, he was of the view that there should be 'a
complex mechanism of correct, accurate information, expertise, monitoring
mechanisms and accountability'.
Professor Maley noted the difficulty obtaining the required level of
understanding of local power politics 'unless one exploits the skills and
expertise of Afghans and international personnel who have spent considerable
amount of time in the country'. He referred to the frequent turnover of Australian
military and civilian personnel that did not allow such expertise to develop.
In his view, it was unfortunate that Australia had lost the opportunity of
gaining expert insight from the TLO.
In this regard, AusAID had engaged the TLO, an Afghan NGO registered
with the Afghan Ministry of Economy, to undertake research and report on
various aspects of Australia's aid program in Uruzgan. AusAID maintained that
poor performance on the part of the TLO prompted it to terminate its contract
with the NGO. The TLO disputes AusAID's assertions that it had consistently
missed deadlines including ones that had been extended.
It should be noted that the TLO has produced a number of substantial reports,
including ones that have provided the committee during its inquiry with valuable
insight into many aspects of development assistance in Uruzgan (see
bibliography at end of report).
Professor Howes and Mr Pryke also noted the limited time that agency
officials spend in the field. In their view, the difficulty understanding the
complex social, cultural and demographic relationships was especially severe in
Uruzgan because of the heightened security conditions and the limited time and
access that officials have in the province.
Australian development assistance to Uruzgan has produced tangible
benefits from reconstruction work or restoration of important infrastructure (schools,
health clinics, roads, bridges) to helping the provincial government develop a
cadre of trained and professional public servants. Some witnesses expressed
reservations about the effectiveness of this aid suggesting that some projects
were 'quick fixes' and not sustainable. In some cases, the aid may have
undermined local ownership and alignment with community priorities by
supporting particular individuals. The committee supports Dr Bizhan's
suggestion that Australian agencies should take the greatest of care to ensure
that there is equal participation from among the community in the planning,
designing and implementation of aid projects. Evidence also underlines the
importance of understanding the dynamics of the local patronage network.
One particular concern with Australia's work in Uruzgan, however, was
the civil/military component of aid, which the committee deals with in the
The construction site of the eastern causeway bridge in
Tarin Kowt, one of many projects designed and project managed by the Australian
1st Reconstruction Task Force. (image courtesy of the Department of
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page