The planned withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan over the next four years will also reduce development aid, particularly for so-called “hearts and minds” projects aimed at social upliftment, experts say.
“Because development assistance is attached to stability objectives there is a fear that as the international military leaves, the world will forget Afghanistan once again,” Ashley Jackson, head of advocacy and communication at Oxfam International in the capital, Kabul, told IRIN.
During the next four years, forces from 48 countries led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will gradually leave Afghanistan and transfer combat responsibilities to the fledging Afghan security forces, in terms of a Transition Process approved by NATO and the Afghan government.
When Canada’s combat mission ends in 2011, its development assistance from 2011 to 2014 will reportedly plummet by 50 percent.
Similar cuts are expected by other donors, who have poured hundreds of millions of dollars in aid into Afghanistan during the past few years, primarily to win military and strategic victories against Taliban insurgents.
All contracts issued by the US government must adhere to “overall Afghanistan Counter Insurgency (COIN) goals”, and where US dollars go “is as important - possibly more important - than the product or service delivered”, the US embassy in Kabul said in a statement on 23 November.
Aid agencies have criticized this approach, describing it as the “militarization of aid”.
Despite the impending military withdrawal, many donors, including the US and Canada, have pledged long-term assistance to Afghanistan.
“NATO re-affirms its long-term commitment to a sovereign, independent, democratic, secure and stable Afghanistan that will never again be a safe haven for terrorists and terrorism, and to a better future for the Afghan people,” said a declaration signed by President Hamid Karzai and NATO’s Secretary-General on 20 November.
Many Afghans are somewhat sceptical. “We know from our experience that the international community will have little interest in poverty alleviation, human rights and development after their military forces withdraw,” said Shukria Barakzai, Member of Parliament.
Before 2001, when the world economy was booming, Afghanistan - severely affected by over three decades of war and ranked the least developed country in Asia - received hardly any meaningful foreign development support.
In the past nine years the country has topped the list of many donor countries but has scarcely improved its position among the world’s least developed nations.
A drastic reduction in foreign aid would not only jeopardize Afghanistan’s modest progress during that time, but could also cause disruptions and setbacks in various critical areas. “The consequences could be disastrous,” said Oxfam’s Jackson.
As NATO forces begin transferring responsibility to Afghans in 2011, the global economic situation presents another challenge to post-NATO Afghanistan: attracting aid and investment.
Aid or business?
More than US$40 billion has been disbursed on development projects by UN agencies, NGOs, international military actors and Afghan government bodies since 2002, according to humanitarian organizations, but aid efforts have been widely criticized as ineffective and mismanaged, and experts say accountability has been scant.
Aid workers have also criticized the use of private local and international companies by some donors, including the US, to implement counterinsurgency projects.
“Private development companies are not here for the Afghan people, they are here either to fill their pockets or spend money from their government, so that at home people [will] say they have spent money on development,” Pierre Fallavier, director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), an independent body, told IRIN.
“Many businesses have boomed and foreigners and a few Afghans have got rich in Afghanistan, but the overwhelming majority of Afghans have remained destitute,” said Shukria Barakzai, the MP.
The unprecedented influx of aid money and too many counterinsurgency and “quick fix” projects have even benefited the insurgents, such as taxes on road convoys, thereby contributing to the conflict, according to US officials.
Aid has not stabilized but has fuelled conflict in Afghanistan,” said Yama Torabi, co-director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan (IWA), a corruption watchdog.
Less aid more effective?
“Too much aid without proper monitoring is more vulnerable to misuse and corruption, but less aid through appropriate development channels will be more effective and transparent,” said Torabi.
Afghanistan’s civilian development bodies would increasingly take charge of aid spending, which would enhance aid effectiveness and accountability, he said.
However, the government is ranked one of the three most corrupt states in the world and worsening security means there are no strong guarantees for aid effectiveness after international military disengagement.
Some experts emphasize the quality of aid rather than the quantity. AREU’s Fallavier commented:
“Development aid cannot be measured by the amount of money poured in, but in terms of building a capacity in which Afghans can take care of themselves.”
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