Nov 2, 2010 | Article

Currently, one of the daunting challenges facing the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) has been attrition.  By the end of each year, less than half of the 86,000 people recruited, trained and assigned to the Afghan army will remain. Between the Afghan police and soldiers, NATO trainers will have wasted resources on 85,000 personnel who either walked off the job or went AWOL. A telling sign of the extent of the problem is that commanders are cautious not to camp their men next to forests or other dense areas where they could slip away and disappear.

Delivering salaries to their families was a common justification for ANSF personnel deserting or going AWOL. Afghanistan’s undeveloped banking system meant that soldiers and police often had to literally hand the money to their families to ensure that it was delivered. A new technology promises to improve the situation, giving ANSF personnel access to banking services through their mobile phones.

Afghanistan, despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, has a 40 percent penetration rate for mobile phone use—12 million mobile subscribers out of a population of 30 million.  Taking advantage of this trend has been Roshan’s M-Paisa, Afghanistan’s first mobile money transfer product. The phone service offers safe, reliable and fast access to a range of financial services including person-to-person money transfer. The technology has recently been introduced to the Afghan National Police as a means of paying salaries.  Critically, it features voice recognition software, a necessity in a country where literacy rates are so low.

This service can also help tackle corruption. Afghan policemen using the new technology have reported receiving “raises”—in fact just their full salaries, which they had never received before due to corrupt Afghan commanders skimming off the top of payrolls.

Roshan plans to expand M-Paisa to more Afghanistan businesses and security forces. Though it would be too much to expect that the technology will be the driving force behind confronting absenteeism in the ANSF, it certainly demonstrates how technology can solve stubborn logistical problems.

Payroll issues, corruption and absenteeism are common in countries undergoing SSR. These kinds of technologies allow ministries to take advantage of the often surprisingly high rate of mobile phone use in fragile societies.