Five good reasons why Afghans should have a say in the UK elections?
1. Last year the UK government pledged to spend £127 million a year in aid to Afghanistan between 2009 and 2013, a total of £510 million. If that much were being spend on infrastructure and community development in Scotland, for example, wouldn’t Scots want a say in what it were spent on? And if having a say in this process is to be meaningful, there must be democratic accountability – to be able to influence the re-election of the guy who brought water and security, and get rid of the one who allowed corruption and conflict – for instance.
2. Spending huge amounts of money with the aim of bringing development and security is more effective if the people on the ground have a meaningful say in how the cash is spent – and where it goes. An estimated 40% of aid pledged for Afghanistan returns to donor countries in consultancy and contractors' fees. This 40% would fund the entire Afghan education budget for the next 20 years, a service desperately needed in a country where the literacy rate is the fourth-lowest in the world and around half of all children between seven and twelve do not attend primary school.
3. There are many documented cases of aid work that is funded by Western governments, and often carried out by their contractors, being of poor quality. If Afghans have no say, they are powerless to protest at this, or influence future contracts.
4. Since the US, British and allied invasion of Afghanistan in 2002 as many as 32,000 Afghans have died and 235,000 have been displaced and, at the last count, 272 British soldiers have been killed. Many Afghans who are supportive of the international military presence in Afghanistan simultaneously feel that insufficient care has been taken to protect civilian lives, a warning which international aid agencies have echoed. Their knowledge and expertise should ensure them a say in how to protect these lives – as should the fact that it is their lives at risk.
5. Many Afghans feel that their own democracy is undermined by the fact that the big decisions are taken by Britain and the international community. Where and how the conflict is fought, where and how international aid is channelled, where and how the government sets budget priorities are all hugely influenced by British policy. Having a say in national elections is not enough if the real power lies elsewhere, and if decisions are being taken in London about how and where the conflict is fought, how and where aid is delivered. For example, "Right now, all the aid money is being spent in the conflict areas," says Reza Khateb, a Give Your Vote volunteer in Kabul. "If you spend your money in the secure areas, it will be more visible to the people."