WHAM is back! And it really does Win Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan

Remember that “terrible phrase”, Winning Hearts And Minds (WHAM)? Using development programs as a tool for counterinsurgency? PRTs and Money as a Weapons System? So last decade, right? Well it’s back, and there’s some new evidence to show that it might actually work – for certain things, and when done right. From Afghanistan, of course. It’s only taken 10 years.


Yes, Tufts University’s Andrew Wilder has already done quite a bit of research in the area, and highlights the National Solidarity Program (NSP) (largest development program in the country) as the only program with a positive reputation, mainly due to perceptions of equality and community involvement.


Winning Hearts and Minds: Evidence from a Field Experiment in Afghanistan goes a step further in looking at the NSP. Randomly sampling 500 villages across 10 districts, it finds that the NSP has had positive effects on perceptions of; economic wellbeing, all levels of Afghan government, NGOs, and ISAF soldiers. It also reports improved perceptions of the security, but the shift does not necessarily translate to the occurrence of security incidents in and around villages.


A word of warning before the donor chequebooks come out – although the NSP is funded by foreign donors, it is provided and administered by the Afghan government. Therefore, the lessons here may not be transferable to development projects delivered by foreign powers.


So, development programs (when run by host governments with local buy in and plenty of engagement) can create conditions which improve perceptions of wellbeing and government. But, the jury is still out on the security / stabilisation effect. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another decade for that chestnut.