In a letter to key members of Congressional appropriations and foreign policy committees, a number of Afghan and American scholars, documentary filmmakers, area experts, activists, and students have asked for a $5 billion appropriation for Afghanistan's widely-praised but underfunded flagship jobs and development program, the National Solidarity Program (NSP.) Congress has begun to consider the next round of funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The highly-regarded NSP, run by Afghanistan's Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD,) is credited with solving many of the problems associated with non-military assistance in Afghanistan, including corruption and vulnerability to insurgent attack. It has so far successfully implemented over 35,000 projects such as the clearing of canals, digging of irrigation trench, road improvements, and building schools.
The letter, led by the American peace group Jobs for Afghans, calls for "a small fraction of the amount which Congress regularly approves for military operations in Afghanistan" to fully fund the NSP. The heart of the NSP is over 22,000 elected village councils which evaluate and decide upon various community project proposals, which then generate employment for locals. The village councils consist of nearly half women. In order to insure financial accountability, running project ledgers are posted publicly in the villages, sometimes nailed to a tree. Jobs for Afghans believes addressing Afghanistan's 40 percent unemployment rate is a key to defeating the insurgency. It is well known that the Taliban pays its fighters what is considered a good wage, about $10 per day, and many young men join only because there is no other way to feed their families.
Ehsan Zia, former head of the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, which oversees the NSP, came to Capitol Hill last year to brief Congress on a severe shortfall in funding. Zia is considered one of the prime forces behind the program's expansion and success.
Frank Sturm of the Truman National Security Project in Washington DC wrote last year in Wired Magazine:
"Hundreds of billions of dollars into the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. has spent a paltry sum on one of the few programs that has been hailed as a success by Afghans and international aid groups alike.”
The lobbying campaign comes at a time when the Obama administration purports to make non-military aspects of its strategy in Afghanistan a larger part of its plan. The administration has called for a “civilian surge” of aid workers, but such workers are hard to come by, especially those willing to work in areas which are considered insecure. The letter being circulated by Jobs for Afghans points out that under the NSP, most work is done by Afghans who already live in the villages.
President Obama has repeatedly stressed that there is “no purely military solution” in Afghanistan, and he campaigned frequently on this theme.
Among the signers of the letter are Liz Gould and Paul Fitzgerald, authors of the highly-acclaimed "Invisible History, Afghanistan's Untold Story" Fitzgerald witnessed Afghanistan during the Soviet
invasion, and delivered reports for American news outlets such as Nightline. Also signing is film documentary maker Jim Burroughs. Burroughs covered Afghanistan over 20 years, and was once kidnapped by the Taliban. Prominent signers are being announced by Jobs for Afghans as they
join the call.
The congressional offices and contact persons who have received the letter and hand-delivered packages of background material are as follows:
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY),
Chief of Staff: Elizabeth Stanley, Elizabeth.firstname.lastname@example.org
phone: 202-225-6506 fax: 202-225-0546 (Chair, Subcommittee on State,
Foreign Operations, and Related Programs of the House Appropriations
Rep. David Obey (D-WI),
Foreign Policy Staff Person: Anne Georges, email@example.com
phone: 202-225-3365 (Chair: House Appropriations Committee)
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA)
Chief of Staff: David Wade, firstname.lastname@example.org
phone: 202 224-2742 fax: 202-224-8525 (Chair, Senate Foreign
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Appropriations Staff Person: Tim Rieser, email@example.com
phone: 202-224-4242 fax: 202-224-3479
(Chair: Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related
Programs of the Senate Appropriations Committee)
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI)
Foreign Policy Staff Person: Mary Yoshioka, firstname.lastname@example.org
phone: 202-224-3934 fax: 202-224-6742
(Chair: Senate Appropriations Committee)
FOR CONTACT INFORMATION FOR SIGNERS FOR MEDIA COMMENT, PLEASE CONTACT:
RALPH LOPEZ 617-412-9438 email@example.com
Letter to Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate Requesting $5 billion appropriation for the National Solidarity Program of Afghanistan
From: Journalists, Authors, Activists and Other Friends of the Afghan People
Dear Congress Member,
We are writing to call your attention to what we believe is the best course for the stabilization of Afghanistan, the National Solidarity Program (NSP) We urge you to sponsor and pass legislation which will help ordinary Afghans and provide the basis for a durable friendship between the Afghan and the American peoples. This is a course which President Obama has endorsed in principle, in his pronouncements that the war cannot be won “by purely military means.” However, the words have not translated into action by Congress.
Last year former Afghan minister of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, which runs the NSP, Mr. Ehsan Zia, came to Capitol Hill to decry the shortfall in funding for this vital program. We American citizens and our Afghan friends and colleagues now join Minister Zia’s call for an end to this terrible shortsightedness. For a small fraction of what Congress regularly approves for military operations in Afghanistan, the U.S. is shortchanging the only program which has the capacity to hire large numbers of unemployed Afghans, at dignified work which benefits their own communities. As you know young men often join the Taliban only because unemployment is 40 percent and the Taliban pays $10 per day.
The Taliban is not popular. It is a shame to see the program with the capacity to rectify this situation short-funded.
The Washington Monthly has reported:
“In a country where almost all the recent news has been bad news, the National Solidarity Program, or NSP, offers a rare glimmer of hope…Unfortunately, the NSP is starting to crumble, because the United States won't properly fund it.”
The heart of the NSP is over 22,000 elected village councils, which include about half women. Thousands of local projects are presently on the drawing board and ready to ramp up. The program has so far implemented over 35,000 projects, with grants to communities averaging about $30,000.
This program solves many of the problems associated with non-military assistance in Afghanistan, including corruption and vulnerability to insurgent attack. The projects include the clearing of canals,
digging of irrigation trench, road improvements, and building schools.
In the words of the Washington Monthly, NSP schools are “the schools that the Taliban won’t torch.” The reason for this, reports the Monthly, “relates to the matter of local ownership. Because NSP
projects are less subject to corruption…villagers are more willing to maintain and defend them.”
Col. Kris Kolenda, spokesman for NATO forces in Afghanistan, said to the Army Times last year:
“The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development has a great program called the National Solidarity Program, where money is given in block grants from an Afghan reconstruction trust fund directly to a village, so the village owns the project, the village operates the project, the people in the village are employed.”
Congress can play a vital role in making the non-military component of President Obama’s Afghan strategy a success, by fully funding the National Solidarity Program. We owe it to our troops to use all available and successful strategies to address the insurgency.
Please enact an appropriation of $ 5 billion for the NSP, an amount which may be earmarked as permitted by the well-managed Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) account of the World Bank, through which most NSP funds pass. This is a small fraction of the approximately $270 billion Congress has approved for the conduct of military operations in Afghanistan, but it carries a vastly disproportionate potential to bring stability, democracy, and advances for the rights of women.
The distinguished journalist Ann Jones wrote in 2006, as the relative peace in Afghanistan slipped away and the insurgency began to grow:
“Most Afghans, after the dispersal of the Taliban, were full of hope and ready to work. The tangible benefits of reconstruction -- jobs, housing, schools, health-care facilities -- could have rallied them to support the government and turn that illusory "democracy" into something like the real thing. But reconstruction didn't happen.”
It is now time to remedy this through full support for the NSP. Please see our Powerpoint presentation "Understanding the National Solidarity Program, by Afghans. for Afghans." Linked here: http://jobsforafghans.org/nsp.pdf
Jim Burroughs, filmmaker ("Shadow of Afghanistan")
Najim Dost, co-founder, Jobs for Afghans
Paul Fitzgerald, author, journalist ("Invisible History, Afghanistan's
Elizabeth Gould, author, journalist ("Invisible History, Afghanistan's
Ralph Lopez, co-founder, Jobs for Afghans
Michael Sheridan, filmmaker ("Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War")
Fahima Vorgetts, director, Afghan Women's Fund
Additional signatories to be announced as added
Brief Signatory Bios.
Jim Burroughs is a journalist and an Academy Award nominee who has
covered Afghanistan for nearly 20 years. He has been to Afghanistan
18 times and was kidnapped by the Taliban once. His latest work is
the highly acclaimed documentary "Shadow of Afghanistan."
Liz Gould and Paul Fitzgerald are the husband-and-wife authors of
"Invisible History, Afghanistan's Untold Story," which Ahmed Rashid,
author of the No. 1 New York Times best seller "Taliban," calls "a
defining work of great wisdom and depth." Publisher's Weekly writes
"an enormously important book." Gould and Fitzgerald were the first
Americans granted visas to Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, in
1981, and reported for PBS and ABC Nightline. They are the producers
of the documentary "Afghanistan Between Three Worlds." Book website:
Michael Sheridan is a documentary filmmaker whose work has appeared on
PBS, The Learning Channel, The Discovery Network and National
Geographic TV. His latest film, on the role of economic development
in Afghanistan, is "Brewing Tea in a Kettle of War." Trailer:
Fahima Vorgetts is the Director of the Afghan Women's Fund and a board
member of Women for Afghan Women. She grew up in Afghanistan and was
forced to flee during the Soviet invasion at the age of 24. Her
organization builds schools for girls in Afghanistan and holds
literacy classes for women, and also coordinates medical supply
shipments and other humanitarian assistance and community building
projects. She is a winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award for
"Extraordinary Contribution to Peace and Justice" awarded by the Ann
Arundel Peace Action Organization. She has been interviewed on many
television and radio stations including BBC and NPR. She lives in the
states and is married to an American humanitarian worker, and travels
to Afghanistan several times a year. Website:
Ralph Lopez and Najim Dost are co-founders of Jobs for Afghans. Lopez
is a writer-activist and an American citizen. Dost is an Afghan
citizen who is a graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at
Harvard, and is presently completing his PhD studies at the Korbel
School of International Studies at the University of Denver.
"Afghan aid that works:The National Solidarity Program empowers local
people, but risks underfunding," H.E. Ehsan Zia, former Minister of
Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, Afghanistan, Christian
Science Monitor, 2008
"The Schools the Taliban Won't Torch," Washington Monthly, 2007
"Minister: U.S. Shortchanging National Solidarity Program," Wired, 2009
"McChrystal: Jobs Could Curb Taliban Fighting," USA Today, 2009
“Allies Turn Afghan Insurgents into Partners,” Army Times, 2009
MORE BACKGROUND SOURCES AT THE LINKS: