Packhorses, loaded with rockets, mortars, and nonlethal equipment, were preparing to leave before snow closed the mountain passes. They were to be the last of 7,000 animals to depart this year for resistance fronts in north Afghanistan. ``We're going to different parts. Badakshan, Panjshair, Kunduz,'' a caravan driver said. ``There is already snow, but parwanist [no matter].''
But only two weeks earlier, in fact, several mujahideen accompanying other caravans had died from the bitter cold.
Many Afghans still lack proper shoes, warm clothes, or sleeping bags - despite the enormous amounts of largely American-sponsored cross-border aid destined for the resistance.
The distribution of United States humanitarian aid is hampered by several problems. According to international aid representatives, resistance sources, and independent observers, they include:
Ineffective American management and monitoring of aid that is supposed to reach the resistance inside Afghanistan.
Inability of Pakistan-based Afghan resistance parties to distribute and monitor aid properly.
Corruption within sectors of the Afghan resistance, as well as among Pakistani officials and other intermediaries, who sell aid supplies for personal profit.
Ignorance or disregard by the US Agency for International Development (AID), which provides humanitarian aid, of the realities and conditions among the internal guerrilla resistance.
High administrative costs.
``Congress wanted an overt program quickly and appropriated funds without giving much thought to where it's all supposed to go,'' says one US relief coordinator of the AID program, which was set up in April 1985, more than five years after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
The aid - and where some of it goes
The US provided an estimated $715 million in military and humanitarian assistance to the Afghan resistance for fiscal year 1987. Of this amount, roughly $670 million was ``covert'' military aid supplied by the US Central Intelligence Agency. Humanitarian assistance of $30 million, as well as $10 million provided under the so-called McCollum amendment that allowed for the delivery of nonlethal Army surplus to war-affected Afghans, was funneled through AID. For fiscal year 1988, Congress is expected to appropriate $45 million in humanitarian aid.
Many observers believe that no more than 25 percent - some say as little as 15 percent - of the American humanitarian aid destined for the resistance is reaching the interior. ``I think we would be very happy if it was 30 percent,'' says an American official in Pakistan privately.
The CIA's military pipeline - which includes the highly effective Stinger missiles - is thought to have a somewhat better success rate, with half to three-quarters of its aid getting through.
A substantial proportion of the US commodity aid is being sold in bazaars or along the frontier by corrupt elements within the resistance, Pakistani officials, and other intermediaries. Resistance and relief sources say so much US equipment gets diverted that private voluntary organizations often end up purchasing anoraks, sleeping bags, flak jackets, and boots from bazaar dealers selling American goods originally destined for free distribution inside Afghanistan.
A $15 million AID effort to ship 47,000 tons of milled wheat into Afghanistan over two years has run into snags. Relief representatives and observers recently back from Afghanistan say most of the grain is sold on the frontier. Some critics question the wisdom of even sending in grain. Harvests in so-called liberated areas have been good, and inundating the market with free wheat would disrupt the fragile agricultural economy.
``Fortunately, as most of the intended aid never crossed into Afghanistan, its destructive possibilities have not yet come about,'' says a West European aid worker. ``But this should have been considered before the program was designed.''
In many critics' eyes, Washington's use of aid to bolster the seven-party Afghan alliance in Peshawar constitutes a contradictory policy - carried out at the expense of an effective humanitarian aid operation.
``We have a diversity in objectives here,'' argues Peter Rees of Britain's Afghan Aid, one of about 12 private groups involved in cross-border aid. ``We are looking toward humanitarian relief, whereas I feel the US aid package is more politically motivated. This is putting a lot of money in the political arena and away from direct humanitarian aid.''
Do political aims jeopardize relief?
Since 1985, AID has directed much of its funding toward setting up a highly ambitious resistance administration to counter the Kabul regime. Four US contractor agencies are helping the alliance to establish health, education, agriculture, and logistical programs in resistance areas. The idea is that the Peshawar-based parties will eventually assume control of all cross-border humanitarian operations.
But foreign relief workers and observers with experience inside Afghanistan warn that excessive reliance on the political parties could seriously threaten the international aid effort. Many say the parties lack the capabilities or interest to run an effective cross-border operation.
In recent years, the exile parties have lost much credibility among both Afghan refugees and inside commanders - and are also engendering deep resentment. Millions of aid dollars from the US, Saudi Arabia, and other countries have already turned Peshawar into a boomtown, with party officials squandering valuable resources on office, salaries, villas, cars, and foreign bank accounts.
``Many Afghans have become too comfortable and simply regard the Americans or Arabs as milch cows to be exploited,'' says an American private aid coordinator. ``We prefer to work with people from the inside.''
The US, from its point of view, has no choice but to operate through the alliance. President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq's government, which seeks to retain as much influence over the resistance as possible, has made this a condition for the transiting of US assistance through Pakistan.
``The Pakistanis insist we run it covertly. They've got us in their pocket,'' a US official bemoans privately. Critics, however, say this is a lame excuse. If the US really wanted to work out a more flexible modus operandi, they say, the obstacles are not insurmountable. They suggest the US could use its direct aid to Pakistan - about $4.2 billion over a period of five years from 1987 - as leverage.
US assistance is channeled to the Pakistanis, who have representatives within the Afghan political alliance and ensure that aid is given primarily to parties of their choice. The bulk of the assistance, particularly military, goes to fundamentalist Islamic parties. Thus, US aid supports leaders who do not necessarily represent Western, or for that matter, Afghan interests.
In addition, the AID program, which is publicly funded and meant to be distributed overtly, has become a de facto covert operation. AID officials in Pakistan refuse officially to discuss its activities or divulge information available in the US. According to official sources, a recent directive forbade AID personnel to talk or fraternize with journalists.
According to a US official in Pakistan: ``The US AID program has expert accountancy of its operations. But accountability [is lacking].'' The private groups, he says, do not have detailed accounting procedures but have better accountability.
For the moment, most of the international humanitarian aid is channeled to the interior by private groups. According to relief sources, roughly $10 million worth of medicine, ``cash for food'' programs, clothing, and technical equipment is being distributed directly to resistance commanders. Western coordinators or observers visit regularly to ensure the aid is reaching those it is supposed to.
What role for US?
AID, whose mandate does not permit American citizens to cross the border, co-finances many of these projects. But voluntary agencies worry that Washington, which does not plan to increase its grants to them, is moving to channel most of its assistance through contractor programs controlled by the alliance rather than to spread the aid distribution.
Working directly with the inside resistance can mean dealing with hundreds of different commanders. Yet many relief representatives see this as the only way of reaching the people who need help.
The international aid community strongly feels that the US has a pivotal role: It has the financial backing that none of the Europeans can hope to muster; it also has the ability to set up the sort of training - medical, educational, or agricultural - which a postwar Afghanistan will desperately need.
Nevertheless, there is considerable apprehension that AID is seeking to dominate the entire relief effort. The US already provides most of the military assistance. A takeover of the humanitarian side, too, would turn Afghanistan into a one-on-one superpower affair.
This would be a ``mistake,'' says an American representative. ``It is important to keep this an international operation, to keep the Europeans deeply involved, particularly the neutrals like the Swedes. This shows that everyone is concerned about the occupation. And that makes it harder for the Russians to stomach.''
The Monitor will publish a series of articles assessing the Afghan situation later this month.