By M. ASHRAF HAIDARI
Despite the tremendous rebuilding needs of Afghanistan, the international community re-engaged in the country with a very light footprint from the very beginning.
According to a recent report by Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), for example, Afghanistan received just $57 per capita in foreign assistance, whilst Bosnia and East Timor received $679 and $233 per capita respectively, in the two years following international intervention. Per capita security assistance to Afghanistan also woefully remains low with 1.5 foreign troops per 1,000 people compared to 7 per 1,000 in Iraq and 19 per 1,000 in Bosnia.
Consequently, too few troops and resources have proven useful for the potential peace spoilers, who had destabilized Afghanistan and committed serious human rights violations and atrocities against the Afghan people throughout the 1990s. For example, the Taliban leadership regrouped and reorganized in Pakistan soon after their fall in 2001, and began launching cross-border terrorist attacks inside Afghanistan as early as 2003.
Moreover, although a buzz word of the development community, local ownership of aid implementation as "Afghans in the driver's seat" of the rebuilding process is mostly absent. Rather with "Afghans outside the car," most of the aid resources bypass the Afghan government and go to donor-related non-profit and private sector institutions. An estimated 40 percent of aid goes back to donor countries in corporate profits and consultant salaries, some $6 billion since 2001, according to ACBAR. For example, each full-time expatriate consultant costs $250,000-$500,000 a year.
With resources diverted from Afghan state institutions, the government can hardly retain its competitive employees for effective service delivery, and often lose them to higher paid jobs with international organizations. The resulting weak institutional capacity coupled with underpayment causes corruption in the government system. This in turn harms the legitimacy of the government in the public eyes, leaving a deleterious effect on both governance and security across Afghanistan.
This Thursday at the Paris Support Conference, however, the Afghan government will launch the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) in an effort to jumpstart the rebuilding process and to provide strategic guidance and coherence to international aid efforts in Afghanistan.
In addition, the government of Afghanistan will seek $50 billion in financial assistance from the international community to help implement the short- and long-term objectives of its integrated strategy for improving security, strengthening governance and the rule of law, and providing social and economic facilities and opportunities for the Afghan population.
While generously pledging to fund the ANDS, donors must build on the lessons learned from six years of nation building in Afghanistan to ensure that their aid resources are used effectively through close coordination with Afghan partners, based on sound policies that are centered on local ownership of the development process, so that Afghans themselves can take responsibility for the future of their country.
Failure to do so will repeat more of the same – resulting in additional pet projects and ad hoc quick fixes without sustainability at all. It is obvious that when tax payers in donor countries learn that their precious aid monies for Afghanistan are continually wasted, they will eventually tire and most likely withdraw their support from Afghanistan altogether.
Once neglected before, Afghans do not want their country to return to the chaos and violence of 1990s that made Afghanistan a no man's land, a terrorist base for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. As we learned from the 9/11 tragedy and the suffering of the Afghan people throughout the 1990s, a failed Afghanistan is not an option for international peace and security. Success must be the only way forward.
The Paris Support Conference offers a vital opportunity for all stake holders – Afghan and international alike – to address the key rebuilding challenges facing Afghanistan and to commit firmly to working together to implement the objectives of the ANDS for a free and prosperous Afghanistan.