I'm with the short-termers on this one:
Convinced that expanding the electricity supply will build popular support for the Afghan government and sap the Taliban's influence, some officers want to spend $200 million over the next few months to buy more generators and millions of gallons of diesel fuel. Although they acknowledge that the project will be costly and inefficient, they say President Obama's pledge to begin withdrawing troops by July 2011 has increased pressure to demonstrate rapid results in their counterinsurgency efforts, even if it means embracing less-than-ideal solutions to provide basic public services.
U.S. diplomats and reconstruction specialists, who do not face the same looming drawdown, have opposed the military's plan because of concerns that the Afghan government will not be able to afford the fuel to sustain the generators. Mindful of several troubled development programs over the past eight years, they want the United States to focus on initiatives that Afghans can maintain over the long term. (excerpted from The Washington Post)
I wrote about this a few weeks back, suggesting that it would probably be better just to pay for fuel and generators so as to deliver something tangible and real for people in Kandahar City. Martine van Bijlert (one of the co-founders of AAN) just posted a must-read commentary from her recent trip down to Kandahar in which she notes that:
I have returned from Kandahar shaken. Not because of the blasts and the warnings and the feelings of apprehension, but because of how dark the future looks when I listen to what people have to say. I fear that all the shiny plans will do very little to change that.
Electricity would, at the very least, be something that the government and foreigners could point to as having improved -- only, that is, if it can be maintained past just a few months. The last two times we had regular and reliable electricity -- just after Governor Torialai Weesa was appointed to the post for a month or so, and in the run-up to the Presidential and Provincial Council Elections -- nobody benefited from the provision of the service because (a) there was very little follow-up in terms of publicising and trying to advertise and remind people it was there and (b) because it soon stopped and people went back to moaning about how useless the government and foreigners are.