U.S. Troop Drawdown Shouldn't Hurt Aid Work

The U.S. Agency for International Development is going to have to do more with less as it faces serious budget cuts. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah talks to Renee Montagne about what the troop drawdown in Afghanistan will mean for U.S. assistance for Afghanistan.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

When President Obama laid out his plan to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan, he also expressed a desire to move that country from - as he put it - an economy shaped by war to one that can sustain a lasting peace.

The United States Agency for International Development is playing a key role in that transformation. The head of USAID, Rajiv Shah, joined us from our Washington studio to talk about his agency's efforts in Afghanistan.

Good morning.

RAJIV SHAH: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: OK. So as U.S. troops draw down in Afghanistan, what does this mean for your efforts at USAID?

SHAH: Well, first, I think it's important to note that we are drawing down from a position of strength. We've, in fact, achieved significant gains in security, in development and in governance that allow for this draw down and allow us to envision a future where Afghanistan has the security and safety to protect and govern itself without our active involvement.

MONTAGNE: So, in a way, what you're saying is you're not worried about the fact that, say, the country might get so unstable that you can't even work there.

SHAH: Well, you know, we always - always, in a war situation, it's a difficult environment. But I would look back on the last eight or nine years and look at a record of significant progress. Afghanistan has - with U.S. assistance, and with assistance from more than 20 other donor countries on the civilian assistance side - helped generate real economic growth at nearly 10 percent, in annual terms, for a decade. They've had great gains in human health with at first only nine percent of the population having access to health services, now 64 percent. And more kids are in school. Nine years ago, there were about a million kids in school, almost all were boys. Today, there's seven million kids in school, nearly 35 percent of whom are girls.

MONTAGNE: You know, I wonder, though, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee spent two years looking at how the U.S. is spending civilian aid money in Afghanistan, and it released its findings earlier this month.

One of its conclusions is that, and I'm quoting, "The evidence that stabilization programs actually promote stability in Afghanistan is limited." It also questions a basic tenet of counterinsurgency theories that assistance will win hearts and minds and ultimately lead to peace. Based on USAID's experiences in Afghanistan, do you have faith in that premise?

SHAH: You know, if I look across the portfolio of work that we do in Afghanistan, it is part of an integrated civilian and military effort that includes the military surge, the civilian surge. We have more than three times as many USAID staff as we had when I started in my role, and we now have a significant diplomatic surge. And these things all work together and will save the United States, you know, billions of dollars and significant lives as we accelerate the drawdown of American troops.

MONTAGNE: Well, could I ask you, though, there are people who will say or have said in recent times, you know, civilian surge. What civilian surge? Why is it that it's felt that it's just not working over there?

SHAH: Well, I think you have to put that in the larger context. You know, Secretary Clinton has highlighted that the civilian surge, for one year, cost about 10 days of military activity. And in fact, it is about two to three percent of the overall investment in this initiative. And so while it is a surge, and it certainly is important, I think it's very reasonable for people to look at the larger landscape and mostly see the military activity. And we're proud to be supportive of that effort.

MONTAGNE: Well, just finally, then, what do you see in the coming months as your biggest challenge?

SHAH: Well, I think our biggest challenge is going to be continuing the path of making the gains that have been achieved really sustainable and durable. For example, we've helped train more than 16,000 civil servants that now work in the Afghan government. Having them get paid in a way that is efficient and effective is actually quite challenging in a country where most people don't have bank accounts. And so we're working with them to develop a payment system where they can get paid on their mobile phones.

And we've found in some pilot programs that that actually reduces the risk of corruption. It improves the performance of the civil service. And I think the challenge will be to continue to find examples like that, where we can save money, improve outcomes and help continue on this path of transition.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

SHAH: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Rajiv Shah is the head of USAID, the United States Agency for International Development.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: