After a decade of major security, development and humanitarian assistance, the international community has failed to achieve a politically stable and economically viable Afghanistan.
Aid and Conflict in Afghanistan , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines how, despite billions of dollars in aid, state institutions remain fragile and unable to provide good governance, deliver basic services to the majority of the population or guarantee security. The insurgency is spreading to areas regarded as relatively safe until now, and policymakers in Washington and other Western capitals are seeking a way out of an unpopular war. Meanwhile, the international community still lacks a coherent policy to strengthen the state ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign forces by December 2014.
“The U.S.-led counter-insurgency doctrine that aid should consolidate military gains has been at best unsuccessful, if not counter-productive”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “The blurring of lines between needs-based assistance and the war effort has challenged the ability of non-governmental organisations to operate in areas outside coalition and government forces’ control. As security deteriorates further, entire communities could be denied access to humanitarian assistance and basic services”.
In their haste to demonstrate progress, donors have pegged much aid to short-term military objectives and timeframes. A rush to the exit and ill-conceived plans for reconciliation with the insurgency by the U.S. and its allies could threaten such gains as have been achieved in education, health and women’s rights since the Taliban’s ouster. Meanwhile, the amount of international aid disbursed since 2001 — $57 billion against $90 billion pledged – – is only a fraction of what has been spent on the war effort.
Donors have also largely bypassed Afghan state institutions. Poor planning and oversight have affected projects’ effectiveness and sustainability, with local authorities lacking the means to keep projects running, layers of subcontractors reducing the amounts that reach the ground and aid delivery further undermined by corruption in Kabul and bribes paid to insurgent groups to ensure security for development projects
The impact of international assistance will remain limited unless donors stop subordinating programming to counter-insurgency objectives. They should also devise better mechanisms to monitor implementation, and ensure that recipient communities identify needs and shape assistance policies, working more closely with provincial representatives to formulate achievable development plans that reflect local needs.
To increase the state’s capacity to meet public needs and development objectives, President Hamid Karzai’s government must take tangible steps to improve the flow of funds from Kabul to the provincial and district levels and support provincial development and local government capacity building. In the long-term, it should seek to reduce the state’s dependence on foreign funds and to develop its capacity to generate revenue by investing, for instance, in large-scale infrastructure development.
“Time is running out before the international community transfers control to Kabul by the end of 2014, and many key objectives are unlikely to be achieved by then”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “Donors should indeed channel more aid and transfer more authority to the government, but unless they build local capacity and ownership over development, this strategy will amount to a quick handover on the way to the exit, rather than lay the foundations for a viable state”.