Monday, April 26, 2010

Where is Scotty When You Need Him?

I have long wondered what the Canadian military has found out with its quarterly polling of the Afghans.  It turns out that international development efforts are largely hitting issues that Afghans care less about--education, health and the like--and missing those that are their priorities--electricity, jobs, irrigation.

Before going further, we must note that there might be some endogeneity here--that success in education and health have made them lesser priorities.  Yet, it does seem to be the case that the Afghans know what is truly important--that power and jobs have multiplier effects that operate in the short term whereas education and polio eradication sell better back home.  Indeed, Ben Rosell, the RoCK (Representative of Canada in Kandahar) notes that electricity has not been as much of a priority because:
We were not as confident we could have tangible progress in that area by 2011 and because the entire idea behind focusing was to demonstrate to Canadians that their investments would make a concrete difference on the ground," he said.
Plus electricity is simply much more difficult since insurgents can interrupt it pretty easily.  It is funny that electricity is something we take for granted unless we lose it (power failures in the West are rare but inconvenient) but not by military planners--who always target the production and transmission of electricity. Yet, when we go to places like Iraq and Afghanistan, we focus on other stuff than this basic need.  Indeed, one of the classic Petraeus stories is his focus on a key transmission tower--not so much for the power but for the symbolism, but still he focused on electricity even if or especially because it was hard. 

Going back to Roswell's statement--electricity would be making a concentrate difference--it would help employment, quality of life, etc.  This is basic stuff but we end up fighting amongst ourselves over who pays for the fuel if we drop off a few generators.  All I can say is: as we build up to the big Kandahar offensive, we should drop into Kandahar City as many generators as it takes to power the place reliably and fuel it until more substantial production facilities can be built and protected.

HT to Mark Sedra for his tweet

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