The World Bank’s President Robert Zoellick recently highlighted the fact that more urgency is needed in Afghanistan in order to increase effectiveness in the management of foreign aid spending, by both the non-profit and non-governmental organizations.
Foreign aid, spent by the international community in the last decade in Afghanistan, has contributed to some progress, notably in Afghanistan’s economic and social infrastructure, but the overall development process has been quite ineffective. The billions of dollars of aid have not successfully reached the local Afghan people as is reflected in the impoverished conditions in the country that continue to create insecurity, notably in the tribal regions.
Any developmental accomplishments in Afghanistan to date are now facing uncertainty as the international community prepares to withdraw troops. International troop withdrawal will put serious pressure on the capability of Afghanistan’s National Security Forces (ANSF) to create a safe environment that will allow for the continuation of economic development. This leads to the question of whether the limited economic development that has occurred over the last ten years in Afghanistan will continue with the handover of security, or if it will become even more ineffective.
The anticipated deterioration of security in Afghanistan will have a direct consequence on the success of future developmental projects in Afghanistan. The areas that already receive limited aid and development will likely receive even less developmental support post-2014.
Ultimately, Afghanistan is facing many obstacles that have the ability to negatively affect sustainable economic development including:
• Most international aid agencies have lost credibility in Afghanistan as they continue to throw millions of dollars of aid money at ineffective development strategies.
• Afghanistan does not have an economy that will be able to pay for its own security, leading to insufficient resources to properly fight the insurgency long term.
• The Afghan economy relies too heavily on foreign aid and foreign military funds.
• Overall, government capacity is weak as corruption is rampant which harms the effectiveness of aid money.
Furthermore, any agriculture gains in rural areas will once again face the wrath of the illicit opium trade. This is illustrated in the rise of opium production in Afghanistan by 61% this year compared with 2010, according to the UN. Many Afghan farmers will likely feel pressure to grow opium poppies due to added Taliban influence, not to mention the ability of poor farmers to economically sustain their families much better.
Security concerns will also hinder the ability to extract Afghanistan’s wealth of minerals (including copper, gold, iron ore, chromite, coal, and lead) that has the potential to create at least billions of dollars in economic spinoff for the country. China’s successful $3.5 billion bid on the Aynak copper mine is a prominent example of the potential that Afghanistan’s resources can have on economic development. However, most of these minerals are located in insecure regions and are unable to be extracted, not to mention to attract foreign investment (besides the Wakham corridor).
If the Afghanistan National Security Forces cannot maintain security in Afghanistan, then infrastructure projects that have been already completed, such as schools and hospitals, will run the risk of being torn down. It remains a matter of time before the Taliban take over from the ANSF in certain parts of Afghanistan and destroy infrastructure that goes against their interpretation of Sharia law.
There is no doubt that economic development in Afghanistan post 2014 is facing many challenges and questions. However, there are a few things that the international community can do today in order to increase the effectiveness of economic development after international troop withdrawal:
• The most effective way to deliver aid money post 2014 will be efficiently training the ANSF. The international community badly needs to increase the amount of trainers they have committed to the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) and Afghanistan National Police (ANP).
• Post 2014, the international community must be more strategic in delivering aid and development in Afghanistan. The international community will need to put additional trust in the Kabul government the next few years by giving them increased ownership and accountability of aid money. This will allow the Kabul government to be in better position to carry out more effective economic development after troop withdrawal.
• Today as the international community has some form of leverage in Kabul, they must encourage major reforms in public administration, anti-corruption and the rule of law. Such reforms will remain critical for the success of the adequate delivery of aid and development post 2014.
It will also be important to rely heavily on Islamic based organizations and regional institutes, such as the Aga Khan Foundation (AKD), Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is in position to take a more prominent role post 2014 through channeling donor money into Afghanistan. The Aga Khan has already contributed around 700 million US dollars, including investing in large-scale rural development; health, education and microfinance services.
Official governmental international development agencies, such as USAID and the UK’s DFID who will have increased security concerns without their troops would be well-advised to funnel their aid money through the above mentioned institutes and organizations.
Moving forward, the next few years will be critical with regard to the training of the ANSF and their ability to maintain some form of security to allow Islamic and regional organization to deliver on economic development in Afghanistan. The future of sustainable of economic development in Afghanistan will be a daunting task; however, some form of success can be achieved through smart decision making the next few years.