Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Afghans say poverty, not Taliban, main cause of war

KABUL – Most Afghans see not Taliban militants but poverty, unemployment and government corruption as the main causes of war in their country, according to a report by a leading aid group released on Wednesday.

After three decades of war, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.

It is also one of the most corrupt. Unemployment stands at 40 percent and more than half the country live below the poverty line.

On top of that, violence is at its highest levels since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001.

The report, based on a survey of more than 700 ordinary Afghans by British charity Oxfam and several local aid groups, found that 70 percent of people questioned viewed poverty and unemployment as the main drivers of the conflict.

Nearly half of those surveyed said corruption and the ineffectiveness of their government were the main reasons for the continued fighting, while 36 percent said the Taliban insurgency was to blame.

The 704 respondents from around the country were allowed to give multiple answers on reasons for the conflict.

"The people of Afghanistan have suffered 30 years of unrelenting horror. Afghan society has been devastated," said Grace Ommer, Oxfam Country Director for Afghanistan.

"Repairing this damage can't be done overnight. It will take a long time for the economic, social and psychological scars to heal ... Afghanistan needs more than military solutions," she said in statement.

There are some 110,000 foreign soldiers in Afghanistan, 68,000 of them American, trying to quell a strengthening Taliban insurgency that has spread to previously peaceful areas.

U.S. President Barack Obama is in the final stages of deciding whether to send up to 40,000 more U.S. troops.

But ordinary Afghans are frustrated at the slow pace of development, endemic corruption and the inability of Afghan and international security forces to stop the violence.

Despite the billions of dollars in aid poured into the country, most Afghans have seen few changes to their lives. Afghanistan relies on aid for around 90 percent of its spending.

"Many individuals felt that though much had been promised to the Afghan people, little had actually been delivered -- creating frustration and disillusionment and ultimately undermining stability," Oxfam said in its report.

"Individuals called for better measures to ensure that economic development and aid reach those who need it the most," it said.

After the Taliban, the reason most people gave for the continued fighting in their country was foreign interference, 25 percent of respondents saying other countries were to blame.

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