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Afghanistan at the crossroads

20 July 2010
by Guest author

Click on the image to go to the Kabul Conference website

As the Kabul International Conference on Afghanistan brings together representatives from over 70 partner countries, Sarah Cramer and Asbjorn Wee of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate look at what’s been achieved and what remains to be done 

Nine years after the international community supported the establishment of a new government, Afghanistan now stands at a crossroads.

In the midst of questions about the future of the international military operation to stabilise the country, the first international donors conference to actually take place in Kabul will hopefully result in the acceptance of the first ever Afghan government-led plan for improved development, governance, and stability.

Afghanistan has been the testing ground for donor efforts to increase aid effectiveness and mutual accountability in post-conflict situations. Assessment of post-conflict needs has resulted in the establishment of a joint plan, pooled funding instruments, budget support, etc. Importantly, it has also been the laboratory for improvements in “whole-of-government” approaches to stabilisation and development, such as through the use of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs ). The conference as such is an opportune moment to take stock of these experiences and highlight changes needed.

Afghanistan was one of the six countries that participated in the 2009 monitoring survey of the Fragile States Principles (FSP). This process brought different stakeholders together for a frank discussion about how donors are adhering to the FSPs, and now seems an apt time to review the five key principles identified by participating stakeholders as most pertinent for Afghanistan, as the Afghan Government and donor countries gather for this important stage of the “Kabul Process” of shifting toward full Afghan leadership and responsibility.

Take Context as a Starting Point (FSP 1): While there is a growing consensus that taking context as the starting point is essential for better engagement in Afghanistan, opinions diverge on what that context is, some seeing Afghanistan as a country at war and others seeing the country in post-conflict terms. A unified understanding of context will need to be developed in order to achieve a coherent approach for donors and the Afghan Government.

Do No Harm (FSP 2): This principle has been violated repeatedly in terms of security, loss of life, corruption and the perception of the state. The need to “Do No Harm” has an impact on all aspects of the reconstruction process: security (reform and training of security forces, long lasting impact of foreign military intervention); governance (support – or lack of it – to national systems, parallel implementation units, and corruption); economic (market distortions on salaries and imports, misguided economic strategies); Social (discrimination/exclusion).

Statebuilding as the Central Objective (FSP 3): State-society relations are still regarded as the biggest missing link in the reconstruction process. The international intervention of the past nine years has created both weaknesses and strengths in the legitimacy of the state (e.g. shifting or un-coordinated policies; ambivalent impact of the military intervention). The unpredictability of aid and the limited discretionary funds available to government contribute to uncertainties in funding the development part of the national budget, and affect the consolidation of the government priorities and reach.

Recognise the links between political, security and development objectives (FSP 5): Many stakeholder participants of the monitoring survey felt the overarching political and development agenda is overly influenced by security and stabilisation objectives in the field, resulting in development actors having to adjust their initiatives based on evolving political agendas, rather than a need-based development agenda (as outlined in the “whole-of-government” approach of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy ANDS). In other words, there should be a greater balance of the 3Ds (Defense, Diplomacy and Development).

Align with local priorities in different ways in different contexts (FSP 7): the 2009 monitoring survey of the FSPs identified increasing awareness of the need to support and use the national frameworks – such as the ANDS – more extensively. Concern remains however as to the degree to which PRTs are aligning their civilian activities to local development plans.

From the above, it seems clear that donors will need to improve their efforts to actually implement the FSPs.

Looking forward, the proposal to promote more effective utilisation of international assistance thorough better alignment of international aid with government priorities and the channeling of increased assistance through the Afghan national budget seems particularly interesting. The challenge is to find mechanisms for channeling funding that build rather than undermine government ownership, while at the same time facilitating accountability and adhering to minimum fiduciary standards. “Joint accountability” or mutual accountability mechanisms are promising in this regard (e.g. the case of Liberia).

Secondly, the fact that the new plan highlights critical peacebuilding and statebuilding priorities is promising. Many of these priorities align with those cited in the Dili Declaration, which identifies seven peacebuilding and statebuilding goals as stepping stones to reach the MDGs in conflict-affected and fragile states.

The experiences of Afghanistan and other signatories of the Dilli Declaration will provide important evidence for the fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness to be held in Busan, Korea from November 29 to December 1st 2011. The issues being discussed at this conference on Afghanistan represent a growing and increasingly central challenge for donors and developing countries alike as they seek to make aid – and all development policies – effective.

Useful links

OECD work on conflict and fragility

Aid statistics

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