Afghanistan and Central Asia: Priorities for Reconstruction and Development
Afghanistan and Central Asia: Priorities for Reconstruction and Development
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri
Report 26 / Asia

Afghanistan and Central Asia: Priorities for Reconstruction and Development

It is widely recognised that Afghanistan cannot be left as a failed state that might again shelter terrorists and breed instability across the region. Rebuilding the country will require an immense commitment of resources and attention by the international community for some time to come.

It is widely recognised that Afghanistan cannot be left as a failed state that might again shelter terrorists and breed instability across the region. Rebuilding the country will require an immense commitment of resources and attention by the international community for some time to come. Terrorism triggered the intervention in Afghanistan but donor countries are going to have to tackle a much wider array of issues to bring long-term stability.

The immediate tasks are threefold – putting in place a new government that represents as wide a cross section of Afghans as possible;  rebuilding an administration, capable in the first instance of handling increased levels of humanitarian aid; and ensuring security on the ground, probably provided by an international force made up mostly of soldiers from Islamic countries.

Substantial reconstruction efforts will not begin until these processes are advanced but planners need to begin considering how to stabilise and develop Afghanistan and the surrounding countries. Donors will have to find considerable sums of money if past programs of post-conflict redevelopment are considered. Current estimates of the costs of helping Afghanistan range from about U.S.$5-6 billion over five years to U.S.$25 billion over a decade. Making a significant difference to living standards and stability in the wider region would likely double the bill.

To win support for these efforts and to undercut the message of extremists, this money must benefit people and not end up in the pockets of Afghanistan’s warlords. To this end communities need to have a major stake in projects, donors need to fund more projects outside Kabul, women will need to have a key place in development efforts and fighters will have to be induced to do something other than fight.

Afghanistan has not had a strong central government for decades and one is not likely to emerge now. Recognising this, efforts must be made to build up existing local political structures and support those that can act peacefully and learn to resolve disputes without resorting to weapons. Identifying local powers such as shuras (local councils) and other possible partners for development work should be a key priority although this is a complex task given the changing security situation.

The challenges in Afghanistan include rebuilding shattered infrastructure and clearing the mines from homes, fields and irrigation systems. Even returning Afghanistan to its pre-war state will not be enough as the population has grown by 10 million people since 1978 – from around 15 to 25 million including refugees. Much of the country will need to be built from the ground up. Vastly improved health and education are essential to promote rapid improvements in the lives of Afghans.

To work together in broad-based government, all ethnic groups will need to feel more secure economically, politically and culturally, and so a focus on information and education is vital. The hard-line madrasas that educated the Taliban and promote Islamist extremism need to be put out of business, not through the sort of repressive measures seen in Central Asia but by offering a better alternative to parents who wish to see their children educated.

Redeveloping this country will not ease all the problems in what has in reality been a regional conflict. Donors will have to focus more attention on Central Asia’s failing economies and unresponsive governments if that region is not to become more unstable. Central Asia is already a combustible mix of corruption, ethnic divisions, poverty, authoritarianism and emerging Islamist extremism.

The two neighbouring powers – Pakistan and Iran – will have to be induced to play a more positive role in Afghanistan. This will require financial and political incentives but stability will only come if the security interests of these nations are tackled. Iran wants to see an end to drug production as well as protection and a political voice for Shia Muslims. This crisis may present an opportunity for the West to build a new constructive relationship with Tehran.

Pakistan will need to be reassured that a future government in Kabul will be friendly – most of Afghanistan’s governments have not been. Both these countries need more assistance in tackling their drugs problems and Pakistan will need help rebuilding its tax and education systems and civic institutions.

The neighbouring countries all need to reduce their influence in Afghanistan and all will require efforts to stabilise their economies and societies. This present serious problems for the West as all these countries are run by often unresponsive, authoritarian and unpopular governments. Blindly assisting these governments without pushing for deep changes in their political and economic situation will only store up problems for the future. Aid to the region must build momentum for reform.

To respond to the problems facing Afghanistan and its neighbours and to diminish the risks of extremism and conflict, donors will have to establish fast moving management structures for aid, apply concerted pressure on those nations that obstruct efforts and focus their energies on improving the lives of all people across the region.

Osh/Brussels, 27 November 2001

Podcast / Asia

The U.S. and the Taliban after the Killing of al-Qaeda Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri

This week on Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood speaks with Crisis Group’s Asia Director Laurel Miller about U.S. policy in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s foreign relations and what the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul says about the threat from transnational militants in Afghanistan a year into Taliban rule.

On 31 July, a U.S. drone strike killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in the Afghan capital Kabul. Zawahiri appears to have been living in a house maintained by the family of powerful Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. His death came almost a year after U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban routed the former Afghan security forces and seized power. The Taliban’s uncompromising rule over the past year has seen girls denied their right to education, many other rights and freedoms curtailed and power tightly guarded within the Taliban movement. The Afghan economy has collapsed, owing in large part to the U.S. and other countries’ freezing Afghan Central Bank assets, keeping sanctions against the Taliban in place and denying the country non-humanitarian aid. Levels of violence across the country are mostly down, but Afghans’ plight is desperate, with a grave humanitarian crisis set to worsen over the winter. The Taliban’s apparent harbouring of Zawahiri seems unlikely to smooth relations between the new authorities in Kabul and the outside world. 

This week on Hold your Fire! Richard Atwood speaks with Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director Laurel Miller about U.S. policy in Afghanistan and the Taliban’s broader foreign relations after Zawahiri’s killing. They discuss what his presence and death in Kabul mean for U.S. policy and what they say about the threat posed by transnational militants sheltering in Afghanistan. They look into how countries in the region are seeking to protect their interests in Afghanistan, including by engaging with the de facto Taliban authorities, and how those countries – particularly Pakistan, which has faced an uptick of violence in the past year – view the danger from foreign militants in Afghanistan. They also look in depth at Washington’s goals in Afghanistan a year after the withdrawal and what balance it should strike between engaging the Taliban or seeking to isolate them. Just over a year after the U.S. withdrawal and Taliban takeover, they reflect back on Washington’s decision to pull out troops. 

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more on the situation in Afghanistan, check out Crisis Group’s recent report Afghanistan’s Security Challenges under the Taliban.

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