In measuring the rate of success in Afghanistan, the U.S. government should not look only at the number of insurgents defeated but also the number of children in school and the content and quality of their education, emphasized one of the largest Christian relief and development organizations in the world.
"Success in Afghanistan requires a coordinated development strategy," explained Rory Anderson, World Vision's deputy director for advocacy and government relations, ahead of the country's Aug. 20 presidential election.
"Without a distinct development strategy, the 'civilian surge' is understood to be a military surge, which by itself will not help Afghans take control of their own country," he added in a report Thursday.
According to World Vision, which has worked in Afghanistan since 2001, the country's pressing development needs are not getting appropriate attention from the U.S. government and other international donors. Furthermore, the organization cautions, uneven distribution of aid, lack of donor coordination and some duplication of services are weakening efforts to build a free and stable Afghanistan.
"World Vision is calling on the U.S. government to create a clear development strategy for Afghanistan that is separate from the Department of Defense's counterinsurgency strategy. Such a plan should support the Afghan government's own comprehensive National Development Strategy, or ANDS," the organization reported Thursday. "Resources for civil society to support education, livelihoods and job creation, good governance and agricultural alternatives to the poppy trade are crucial to progress."
With Afghanistan's presidential election less than two weeks away, many, including World Vision, are hoping for a peaceful process and broad-based participation.
Such an election, said World Vision's Christine Beasley, will be a "very positive step."
But if America cares about Afghanistan's future, it needs to be thinking about what happens after the election, she continued.
"The focus should be on strategically identifying and replicating throughout the country those development projects that can bring about lasting stability and economic progress for the people of Afghanistan," added the World Vision country program manager, who recently returned from western Afghanistan.
On the same day World Vision released its statement on Afghanistan, John Brennan, a top White House adviser, acknowledged the need for the United States to harness its economic power to help nations increase their security and to promote opportunity and prosperity overseas.
"In Afghanistan, this means a dramatic increase in our development efforts-working with the government to end corruption, improve the delivery of basic services and build an economy that isn't dominated by drugs," said Brennan, President Obama's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism.
"In Pakistan, it means a billion and a half dollars in direct support to the Pakistani people every year for education, health care, and infrastructure, as well as opportunity zones to spark development in the border regions," he added, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
While poverty does not cause violence, the White House advisor acknowledged that the people who have no hope for a job are often more susceptible to extremist ideologies.
"The most effective long-term strategy for safeguarding the American people is one that promotes a future where a young man or woman never even considers joining an extremist group in the first place; where they reject out of hand the idea of picking up that gun or strapping on that suicide vest," he said.
Outlining five key elements of the new approach, Brennan said the United States will meld its fight against terrorists into a broader engagement with countries around the world, not just those gripped by extremists.
While Brennan offered no details on how much the cash-strapped administration will be pouring into nations that have pleaded for millions more dollars in financial aid, along with funds for trucks, helicopters, and other equipment, he said the White House will use all elements of American power to help other countries bolster their security and governance.
"[W]e are harnessing our economic power to make substantial increases in foreign assistance generally-including poverty reduction, global health, and food security-not as a crutch for societies in need, but as a catalyst for development, good governance, and long-term prosperity," he reported.
"We will take a multidimensional, multi-departmental, multi-national approach," Brennan added.
In its statement Thursday, World Vision said it believes a separate and coordinated development strategy would help promote a more equitable and effective distribution of U.S. assistance across Afghanistan, and better define the roles and space between the military and the civilian reconstruction effort.
"An economic development strategy is not the same as a counter-insurgency strategy; although the end goals may align, the operational approaches are very different and they follow different timeframes," noted World Vision's Anderson.
"If a free and peaceful Afghanistan is the goal, forcing square pegs into round holes won't work."