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.
To the International Community, especially the U.S. and other NATO allies and the European Union:
1. Delink non-military assistance from counter-insurgency targets, including by devising mandates and assessing requirements of civilian assistance independently of troop deployment levels.
2. Increase and broaden engagement with the Afghan state beyond Kabul and the Karzai administration to include elected provincial councils and provincial development committees in identifying funding needs, determining funding priorities and monitoring implementation.
3. Improve aid delivery by:
a) prioritising on-budget assistance through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), other multilateral trust funds and ministries and committing to this type of aid beyond 2014; but conditioning the release of such funds on the government meeting clearly defined benchmarks and withholding them when commitments are not fulfilled;
b) limiting the use of private foreign contractors and discontinuing their role for non-infrastructure construction programs, working instead with Afghan and international NGOs in coordination with relevant line departments;
c) working closely with provincial development committees and elected provincial councils to formulate achievable development plans that reflect province needs and developing the elected provincial council’s capacity to monitor the implementation of provincial development plans through regular training and provision of resources; and
d) urging the central government to devolve sufficient funds to the provinces to meet the requirements of provincial development plans.
4. Reduce military involvement in humanitarian, development and reconstruction assistance and, while it continues, improve coordination between military and civilian actors by:
a) harmonising Provincial Reconstruction Teams’ mandates, funding levels and coordination with local Afghan authorities and establishing clear standards for transitioning from military to civilian-led PRTs and then to normal civilian run development structures;
b) limiting and ultimately eliminating the role of donor defence ministries/departments in non-military assistance;
c) ensuring that military resources and personnel are not deployed to provide humanitarian aid unless required by civilian authorities, notably the Afghanistan National Disaster Management Authority, and in accordance with the Guidelines for Interaction and Coordination of Humanitarian Actors and Military Actors in Afghanistan; and
d) shifting away from quick impact military or civilian stabilisation programs, instead supporting programs such as the Afghan government’s National Solidarity Program (NSP) that have proved more effective in building state-citizen relations even in more volatile regions.
5. Work closely with the Afghan government in responding to calls for greater transparency in aid expenditure by:
a) communicating data on funding status and programs regularly to the Afghan finance ministry’s aid management directorate;
b) developing improved vetting mechanisms for contractors that includes consultation with the relevant local/national authorities, and in turn requiring contractors and grantees to report to the relevant donors any indications or allegations of fraud by Afghan institutions receiving donor funds; and
c) promoting Afghan parliamentary oversight of the expenditure of donor funds and development programming.
6. Limit the misuse of aid, including by warlords, criminals and corrupt officials by:
a) vetting personnel in companies bidding for security and development contracts thoroughly and terminating any contracts to private security companies run by former warlords or with criminal links; and
b) urging the central government to properly investigate allegations of fraud in commercial institutions, such as the Kabul Bank.
7. Build the Afghan state’s administrative and fiscal autonomy by:
a) ending the practice of creating separate units within ministries, staffed with international advisers, to implement projects, instead providing line ministries with the requisite training and resource support; and
b) investing in development of the energy, industrial and agricultural sectors, through such funding sources as the Asian Development Bank-managed infrastructure fund, to reduce Afghan dependence on external sources of revenue.
8. Prioritise rule of law programming as the centre of the counter-insurgency strategy by focusing on improving the quality, professionalism and retention rates of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Police (ANP); supporting judicial reform; and ending support for local militias.
9. Commit to principled aid by holding the government accountable to the international conventions it has signed, especially regarding the rights of women and minorities, including by withholding funds if these obligations are flouted; and protect women’s and minorities’ rights by ensuring that some sectors remain outside government control even as the Afghan state assumes more responsibility over aid.
To the Government of Afghanistan:
10. Enhance transparency of aid expenditure by:
a) engaging with parliament on development aid allocation and program implementation; and
b) providing timely public information on funding status and development programming through the finance ministry’s Development Assistance Database (DAD), the Donor Financial Review (DFR) and the Development Cooperation Report (DCR).
11. Support provincial development and local government capacity building by:
a) devolving authority to the provinces to formulate provincial budgets from locally generated revenue, while continuing to disburse development funds to provinces according to need;
b) amending the 2007 Provincial Council Law to better define and enhance the provincial councils’ mandate, including guaranteeing political and fiscal autonomy and institutionalising their role in overseeing the implementation of provincial development plans; and
c) ensuring that provincial line departments and local authorities, including the provincial development committees and the elected provincial councils, have adequate resources to implement and monitor the provincial development plans.
12. Reduce aid dependency and generate revenue by investing in large-scale infrastructure development, particularly in the energy and agricultural sectors, and prioritise building tax and customs duty collection capacity.