Aid and Conflict in Afghanistan
Aid and Conflict in Afghanistan
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 210 / Asia

Aid and Conflict in Afghanistan

After a decade of major security, development and humanitarian assistance, the international community has failed to achieve a politically stable and economically viable Afghanistan.

Executive Summary

After a decade of major security, development and humanitarian assistance, the international community has failed to achieve a politically stable and economically viable Afghanistan. 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 human security. As the insurgency spreads to areas regarded as relatively safe till now, and policymakers in Washington and other Western capitals seek a way out of an unpopular war, the international community still lacks a coherent policy to strengthen the state ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign forces by December 2014. The impact of international assistance will remain limited unless donors, particularly the largest, the U.S., stop subordinating programming to counter-insurgency objectives, devise better mechanisms to monitor implementation, adequately address corruption and wastage of aid funds, and ensure that recipient communities identify needs and shape assistance policies.

As early as 2002, the U.S. established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) that gave the military a lead role in reconstruction assistance in insecure areas and somewhat expanded civilian presence but without setting any standards for where and when they should shift from military to civilian lead and when they should phase out entirely. The 2009 U.S. troop surge, aimed at urgently countering an expanding insurgency, was accompanied by a similar increase in U.S. civilian personnel – attempting to deliver quick results in the same areas as the military surge, but without rigorous monitoring and accountability. In their haste to demonstrate progress, donors have pegged much aid to short-term military objectives and timeframes. As the drawdown begins, donor funding and civilian personnel presence, mirroring the military’s withdrawal schedule, may rapidly decline, undermining oversight and the sustainability of whatever reconstruction and development achievements there have been.

NATO allies have set a timetable for gradually transferring authority to the Afghan government and plan to hand over full responsibility for security by the end of 2014. Transition officially began in July 2011 in several areas, but, for the most part, only in parts of the country where the insurgency has traditionally had but nominal influence. Yet, the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP), despite receiving more than half of total international aid – about $29 billion between 2002 and 2010 – have thus far proved unable to enforce the law, counter the insurgency or even secure the seven regions identified for full Afghan control by mid-year. Part of that failure goes back to ignoring the rule of law sector at the outset; more recent efforts have been undercut by high levels of impunity.

There is no possibility that any amount of international assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will stabilise the country in the next three years unless there are significant changes in international strategies, priorities and programs. Nor will the Afghan state be in a position by 2015 to provide basic services to its citizens, further undermining domestic stability. Moreover, 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.

The amount of international aid disbursed since 2001 – $57 billion against $90 billion pledged – is a fraction of what has been spent on the war effort. More importantly, it has largely failed to fulfil the international community’s pledges to rebuild Afghanistan. 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.

Sustainability is virtually impossible since donors have largely bypassed Afghan state institutions, for years channelling only 20 per cent of development aid through the government. At the Kabul conference in July 2010, they committed to raise this to 50 per cent, in a bid to enhance Afghan ownership over aid. Some 80 per cent of these funds are to be dedicated to the state’s development programs. While this could contribute to growing government capacity in the long term, the overall neglect of state institutions by Kabul and its international partners alike has limited the government’s ability to raise revenues to cover operational costs or finance development expenditures in the absence of substantial international funding.

Under a heavily centralised political and public financial system, created under the international lead, Kabul has handled all development expenditures directly, without allocating sufficient funds to the provinces. While acknowledging the need for provincial authorities to contribute to the annual national budget planning, efforts to enhance their role in determining budget allocations have been slow. If greater government control over development aid is 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.

Equally important, the central government should devolve greater fiscal and political authority to the provinces, particularly through provincial development plans, to enable local authorities to implement development projects effectively and thus reduce public frustration and resentment against the government and its international partners. Only the donor-financed National Solidarity Program has managed to reach down to the district level to generate community involvement in program decisions through local development councils. Sustainability depends now on maintaining donor funding and establishing clear plans for shifting to government financing over the longer term.

As more and more districts come under Taliban control, despite U.S. claims of substantial progress, and the insurgency spreads to areas regarded until recently as relatively secure, displacement and humanitarian needs are also rising. The U.S.-led counter-insurgency doctrine that aid should consolidate military gains has been at best unsuccessful, if not counter-productive. Quick impact stabilisation projects, whether civilian or military-led, in areas retaken from the Taliban have failed to enhance public trust in government. The blurring of lines between needs-based assistance and the war effort has also challenged the ability of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to maintain their neutrality and independence and 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.

The donor community should ensure that humanitarian, reconstruction and development assistance prioritises Afghan needs rather than short-term military objectives, an approach that is more likely to win hearts and minds in a population exhausted by conflict. But if channelling more development funds through the government is to build state capacity, the international community will have to address the problems of an overly centralised, corrupt and inefficient administrative system. This will also require donors to put their own financial houses in order and adopt a more coherent, inclusive approach to engaging with the Afghan state that flags concerns about government accountability and protection of fundamental rights. After almost a decade of too much wasted aid and too many unmet expectations, it is time that donors acknowledge the convergence between effective aid delivery, good governance and stabilisation.

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. Afghanistan will undoubtedly need continued political, economic and technical assistance to ensure that it does not unravel. Donors cannot delay devising a new, long-term development and humanitarian partnership with Afghanistan that goes beyond a narrow arrangement with the Karzai administration. They should indeed channel more aid and transfer more authority to the government, but if they do so without building 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.

 Kabul/Brussels, 4 August 2011

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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