The Sketch: A new benchmark gets lost in translation

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The Independent Online

How do you say "benchmarking" in Pashtu? We're bringing Afghan administration up to Western standards and our nice young David Miliband is introducing them to a benchmarking programme. How do we know if he knows they know what he's talking about? Will he be able to get them benchmarking in Dari as well, and Baluchi, Pashai, Nuristani and whatever else they speak out there?

In the early days of the empire we had linguists. At least we knew then how foreign we were to each other. There's nothing like learning someone else's language to realise the differences between you. These days, international administrators speak Benchmark and they assume we're all the same.

Gordon Prentice said the Speaker of the Afghan parliament told him there were 107 parties in their country. How is democracy going to work with that number of people pointing at each other and saying, "We'll take no lectures from the party opposite!" David said it was a matter of definition. "What they mean by a party isn't something we'd recognise in this country." Too true, but where does it leave "benchmarking"?

The fact is, Afghanistan in its entirety isn't something we'd recognise in this country, and the pieties applied to the place produce a tragic comedy of good intentions.

So how many "deradicalisation programmes" have happened (and downgraded martyrdom aspirations among a 16-24 cohort to non-lethal but economically deleterious jihad)?

Our friends in high places ran an Afghan conference four years ago in London to pledge generous sums in aid – and how much has been delivered? Seven per cent. But "7 per cent" in Dari means "my commission" and in Pashtu "much more than expected" so young David was able to keep his head high.

He said that this time, implementation was the important thing, he would be judged by deeds not words. But don't misunderstand, words were important as well – "it is a lot better that words are used than not used," he told us.

You may want to know they have a new counter-terrorism strategy over there. David is going to "split the insurgency" and they're going to set up a Peace and Reintegration Council (with a P and R Trust Fund) run by an Office of High Oversight.

His Highness of Oversight isn't there to overlook but to oversee, you understand. But then again, overseeing in Afghanistan often becomes an oversight under which billions of foreign aid can be channelled to the warlords for funding terror groups (or sometimes shepherds with machine guns).

Will the distinction between overseeing and oversight come through in a dozen Afghan dialects? What's the average in other countries? What's the benchmark? No! Don't say it hasn't been benchmarked! How can we hope to succeed without proper benchmarking?