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2006-10-05

Afghanistan Inc.: New Report Says "Contractors Making Big Money for Bad Work"

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As Afghanistan enters its fifth year under foreign occupation, we take a look at the state of the US-led reconstruction of the country. We speak with Afghan-American journalist Fariba Nawa, author of a new report from Corpwatch, "Afghanistan Inc." [includes rush transcript]

In Afghanistan, NATO has now taken command of most foreign troops across the country. The handover of power comes just days before the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan of 2001. The U.S. continues to have more troops than any other country in Afghanistan. The U.S. will also retain full control of Bagram Air Force base where the Bush administration is holding hundreds of prisoners.

  • Daan Everts, NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan.

Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist admitted that the war against the Taliban might never be won. He said there are now too many Taliban fighters and that they have too much popular support. Frist said backers of the Taliban should be brought into the Afghan government.

In recent months the Taliban has seized control of entire regions of the country. The security situation has worsened as suicide bombings are up 600 percent this year. Opium and poppy cultivation are at record highs.

Our next guest has closely monitored the U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. She is author of a study published by Corpwatch called * Afghanistan, Inc.* that examines the reconstruction efforts of companies like Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root, DynCorp, Blackwater, The Louis Berger Group and The Rendon Group. Her name is Fariba Nawa. She is an Afghan-American journalist who has lived in Afghanistan for most of the past three years. She was born in Afghanistan and fled the country at the age of eight. At the time of the Sept. 11 attacks Fariba was living in New York, soon after she decided to return to her home country as a journalist. Fariba Nawa joins us from San Francisco.

  • Fariba Nawa, Afghan-American journalist who has lived for most of the past three years in Afghanistan. She was born in Afghanistan and fled at the age of nine.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Daan Everts, NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan.

DAAN EVERTS: NATO’s mission in Afghanistan is challenging. That said, we know that the challenges in Afghanistan cannot be met by international military forces or security operations alone. Enhanced security must go hand in hand with the reconstruction and development efforts and effective transparent governance. This is the only way to fight extremism, to extend the influence of democratic governance and to improve the lives of the people of Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist admitted the war against the Taliban might never be won. He said there are now too many Taliban fighters, and they have too much popular support. Frist said backers of the Taliban should be brought into the Afghan government.

In recent months, the Taliban seized control of entire regions of the country. The security situation has worsened as suicide bombings are up 600% this year. Opium and poppy cultivation are at record highs.

Our next guest has closely monitored the U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. She’s author of a study published by Corpwatch called "Afghanistan, Inc." It examines the reconstruction efforts of companies like Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), DynCorp, Blackwater, the Louis Berger Group and the Rendon Group.

Her name is Fariba Nawa. She is an Afghan-American journalist who has lived in Afghanistan for most of the past three years. Born in Afghanistan, she fled the country at the age of eight. At the time of the September 11th attacks, Fariba was living in New York. Soon after, she decided to return to her home country as a journalist. Fariba Nawa now joins us from San Francisco. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

FARIBA NAWA: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about the state of your home country, Afghanistan, five years after the U.S.-led invasion?

FARIBA NAWA: Well, it is not in a good position right now. I think it’s worse than it’s ever been, since the 2001 topple of the Taliban. And it’s going to get worse. From my research and my time in Afghanistan, people are leaving again. Refugees who had come back are leaving again in large numbers and selling their homes. A lot of the diaspora, who in fact, like myself, were very hopeful that there would be sustainable change, but that isn’t going to happen. So even people like myself are coming back. And it’s a dire situation right now. Security, reconstruction — reconstruction has been, for the most part, a failure, I would say. And that goes hand in hand with how security has gotten worse over the years.

AMY GOODMAN: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, his comments that backers of the Taliban should be brought into the Afghan government, your response?

FARIBA NAWA: You know, I think I would have to think about that a lot more before I say yes or no to that, because I don’t think the Taliban are a primarily Afghan movement. I think Afghanistan and Pakistan are so closely linked right now, and many of the suicide bombers, for example, have not been Afghan. They’ve been Chechens. They’ve been Arabs. They’ve been Pakistanis. And at the end of the day, it’s very hard to tell who is Afghan, who’s not, when you have a huge border that is basically a Pashtun border.

And whether they have popular support — now, I’ve lived there and I speak the local languages — especially in the urban areas, they do not have popular support. I think it’s a misconception to say that the Afghans want the Taliban to come back. They were not happy with the Taliban. That’s not an accurate statement. I think maybe in the southern villages, where nothing has changed, and it never did —-girls never went to school, women were never able to work -— then perhaps that’s where the popular support is. But for, you know, for a large part of the country, people are very afraid that the Taliban are going to come back and then going to have another reign of terror, like they did before.

AMY GOODMAN: Fariba Nawa, talk about "Afghanistan, Inc." Talk about the report that you’ve just issued, and name names. Talk about the companies with the largest contracts and what’s happening.

FARIBA NAWA: The largest contractor in Afghanistan is the Louis Berger Group. It’s an engineering consulting company out of New Jersey, and they received initially $665 million for a period of four or five years. And they were given the task of infrastructure. And under that was building and rebuilding schools and clinics, roads, electricity, dams. And they did a horrendous job. And it is in the report, the details are in the report about how some of their projects failed. They had a few success stories, but for the most part, the things they did do well or the things they did do, they did not do well. The quality was bad for a lot of money. They have — they were supposed to build clinics where they didn’t even know where the clinics were. School roofs collapsed before they were ever used. Roads that were built were falling apart before they were ever used. And this is with American taxpayers’ money.

And then, how were they reprimanded for this? They weren’t. They were awarded another $1.4 billion contract with another company called Black & Veatch just this summer to continue doing their work in infrastructure and also bring power to Afghanistan through Uzbekistan. And that is an unacceptable thing, because their track record showed that they couldn’t do the job well.

And that’s what "Afghanistan, Inc." talks about is the specifics of reconstruction: how the money comes, where does it come from, where is it going, how is it being wasted? For the most part, the $10 billion that was donated to Afghanistan from the international community for the last five years has been mismanaged and wasted. Much of it has come back to the donor nations through corporations. And only — there is an estimate — I don’t know how accurate this is — that only 30% of that money has actually reached the ground on projects. So that is what the report goes into. Other companies that I talk about are DynCorp; Halliburton, you mentioned; the Rendon Group; Chemonics, which is an agricultural group. These are mostly USAID-funded projects, but also State Department and Pentagon.

AMY GOODMAN: You also talk about Blackwater. What is its role there?

FARIBA NAWA: Blackwater is a security — it’s training the Afghan counter-narcotics forces. And they had a lawsuit against them about — it was a helicopter crash that involved a pilot who wasn’t trained well enough. But I didn’t focus on Blackwater that much, so I’m not very comfortable talking about that.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is the attitude of Afghanis towards these U.S. corporations?

FARIBA NAWA: Well, there’s a misunderstanding about the private sector and the public. So Afghans seem to think that they’re all NGOs, and the NGOs are all bad because they’re not doing anything. But that’s because there is a lack of information about these private contractors. And the private contractors do work with NGOs. For example, Chemonics works with 40 NGOs, and Chemonics is the funder. And Afghans are very upset, because they don’t see the results they were looking for.

That said, there has been a lot of progress. You see houses being built. You see people who work. You know, there is more work than there was during the Taliban period. I mean, there’s no argument that life has gotten better for a lot of people in the cities, especially in the north and the west, since the Taliban left.

But still, I mean, the riots that happened in June, where, you know, many buildings were on fire, and there were people going down the street, saying, "Death to America! Death to Karzai!" That was, for the most part, popular sentiment. But that doesn’t mean they want, you know — I don’t find the resistance movement right now that’s there a legitimate Afghan resistance. So when, you know, when I hear politicians talking about it that way, I tend to disagree.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the issue of poppy and opium production today?

FARIBA NAWA: Okay, Afghanistan produces the largest amount of opium in the world, and opium is refined into heroin. It is funding the insurgency, that includes, you know, whoever is opposed to the government, whether it’s Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was a former mujahedin member and received a large amount of cash from the United States to fight against the Soviets. That is the Taliban. That is the Arab fighters who are going there. I’m sure poppy money is being used to fight the Americans in Iraq.

But it’s also funding reconstruction, ironically, and a lot of the drug lords, for example, are building clinics up in the north. People find them doing things that they didn’t expect. Sort of a Pablo Escobar-ish effect, that happened in Medellin, I think, in Colombia, is happening in Afghanistan. Many people are calling it a narco state now. So it’s arguably 60% of the GDP right now.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have about 30 seconds, but I wanted to ask you about the women, about the women of Afghanistan, where they stand today versus five years ago.

FARIBA NAWA: In the cities, better off. Again, I think there’s a big rural-urban divide there and always has been. But very, very scared right now. There was a euphoria right after the Taliban were gone. Women were on TV singing, you know, able to wear what they wanted. But now, there’s a fear, because the women’s affairs director from Kandahar was just assassinated last week. And events like that really bring it home, that it’s not the same anymore. Their euphoria is definitely gone, and people are afraid.

AMY GOODMAN: Fariba Nawa, I want to thank you for being with us. I’d like to have you back to talk more extensively about your own reporting for the years that you went back to Afghanistan, almost kidnapped, facing a lot of adversity, but you remained there. And I want to thank you for being with us today, Afghan-American journalist, who has lived for most of the past three years in Afghanistan, has just come out with a report with Corpwatch called "Afghanistan, Inc."

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