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South/Central Asia: Think Tank Says U.S. Aid Helped Afghanistan, Not Uzbekistan

An Afghan policeman in Kabul. The report says U.S. aid has helped the country's fledgling police force (epa) January 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The RAND Corp., a leading U.S. think tank, says in a report that Washington's security assistance to states that are transitioning from conflict to democratic systems -- like Afghanistan -- has been more effective than assistance to governments that remain repressive, such as Uzbekistan.

The RAND study evaluates U.S. assistance to security forces in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and El Salvador since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, examining if human rights and police performance improved. RFE/RL spoke to Olga Oliker, a senior international policy analyst at

RAND and one of the authors of the report.

RFE/RL: In your report you evaluated U.S. security assistance to four countries, including Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. Could you first briefly tell us about the main conclusions of the report?

Oliker: What we were trying to do with study is begin the process of evaluating the extent to which U.S. assistance -- specifically to internal security forces in countries that are undergoing transitions or that are repressive -- is effective in improving the capacity of these structures to respond to the security threats facing these countries, and also the capacity of these structures to become more accountable, to become more respectful of human rights. One of the things that we found is that these are interlinked; that improving accountability, transparency, respect [for] the people actually does make the security structure -- we feel -- more effective against a variety of security threats in the broad, long-term sense. What we found is that the current programs that are under way are not terribly effective, A, and B, what we found is that oversight of these programs may be insufficient, that we are not doing enough to measure and assess and determine what works and what doesn't work and, as a result, we are potentially not improving these programs or potentially not ending things that don't work, we are potentially overlooking possibilities to make this effort more effective because we're continuing a program that may not be working.

RFE/RL: As you said, you selected countries that have repressive regimes and countries that are undergoing transition, including Afghanistan, where the report says U.S. aid has brought positive results and has helped improve the human rights practices of the Afghan police. In what way? Could you give us an example?

Oliker: The Afghan police were built from scratch so to say improving that is a bit of misnomer because that would suggest that there was something to start with -- there wasn't. But we do find that while there are a great many human rights abuses that continue in Afghanistan, these don't implicate the police forces that were built. They predominantly implicate warlords and factions in Afghanistan; those are the people who are responsible for carrying out the vast majority of abuses. So with the Afghanistan case and also the El Salvador case it suggests that if you start from scratch in a postconflict society it is certainly possible to build responsible, accountable internal security structures.

RFE/RL: But at the same time the report says -- regarding Afghanistan -- that the country's internal forces are still not very effective. Does it mean that the programs have not been able to increase both respect for human rights and effectiveness?

Oliker: The problem with Afghanistan and El Salvador is the question of effectiveness: can you build them to be effective and, at the same time, the problem with some of this is that it just takes so long, you certainly have a much bigger window, much more capacity to influence a country that is in transition from conflict, that has depended on foreign assistance, where you are starting from the beginning, but this takes time. It takes a great deal of time to train up a force that's effective and capable as well. So the result on both El Salvador and Afghanistan is that you can do some good but even with these programs we did not feel that it was an unmitigated success; while there was progress it was not sufficient. In Afghanistan it built up some capacity within internal security forces but so much of what's going on still depends on warlords and regional commanders who continue to persist in human rights abuses -- that isn't sufficient.

RFE/RL: Regarding the situation with Uzbekistan, the report says that U.S. assistance was not successful in fostering reforms [there]. Is this because the U.S. did not have enough oversight or is it because the U.S. did not pay enough attention to human rights issues?

Oliker: The U.S. did pay attention to human rights issues but did not have sufficient oversight of the programs that it was implementing to make sure those programs were effective and actually promoting human rights. One of the anecdotes that we heard, when we did this research, was for instance in the legal-reform efforts. A great many Uzbek judges went through programs that taught them how to run a fair trial, how to ensure that everybody was heard, how to protect the rights of suspects, and yet conviction rates in Uzbekistan remained at the 99.98 percent rate, which it's just not possible that all these people committed all these crimes. These were judges who had their certificate, they'd had gone through the U.S. program and they learned how to answer the questions appropriately: that yes I will respect human rights and whatever else but that wasn't actually reflected in their actions and the program was deemed successful because somebody could count so many judges went through this program, so many attorneys went through that program, but the actual impact on the criminal justice system was minimal, if any.

RFE/RL: So do you think the U.S. should suspend its aid to Uzbekistan or reevaluate it?

Oliker: It depends on the area and it depends on the program. For instance the drug enforcement agency has a program with Uzbek law enforcement and that program, in our view, has not had sufficient oversight to assess how effective it is. So in programs that continue, one of the questions that has to be asked is "are they helping, do they help, whom do they help?" And there are programs that seem to be useful, some of the export controlling programs, the nonproliferation program for example. The problem with Uzbekistan is that from the U.S. side there wasn't enough of an effort made to develop programs that would work and oversee them to make sure they would work. From the Uzbek side, there wasn't a high-level commitment to these concepts of transparency and accountability -- there was a fundamental disagreement on the part of the Uzbek government on what would contribute to security. The senior leadership of the Uzbek government actually felt that more [repression] and less transparency contributes to security, whereas what the U.S. was trying to do was increase security by increasing accountability. At the present I think the programs that are continuing need to be reevaluated and if they're not working they need to be stopped.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.