Alongside the military exit strategy, the international community needs a civilian entry strategy for Afghanistan in which donors continue or even increase their development assistance after the military have left. Afghans’ desire for continuing basic services and a strong Afghan government are stressed in a new report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) presented today at a meeting of donors and civil society in Kabul.
With the departure of most North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces by the end of 2014, development assistance can no longer count on the current military infrastructure. Future assistance will have to be provided in the same was as in other conflict-affected countries such as Somalia and Sudan. From on-the-ground interviews with Afghan government officials and representatives of NGOs and donors, it appears the key challenge will be mutual trust among all partners.
‘This is a crucial point in time to show the population of Afghanistan that they will not be abandoned, in the hands of a corrupt government or Islamist extremists. If donors don’t develop a civilian entry strategy that maintains current levels of assistance, there is a risk that much of what has been achieved over the past decade will be lost,’ said Dr Jaïr van der Lijn, Head of the SIPRI Peace Operations Project and author of the study. ‘It is surprising to see how some donors think that, with a reduced military presence, the provision and monitoring of assistance will become almost impossible. Experience from Somalia, Sudan and already large parts of Afghanistan shows that this is definitively not the case.’
A strong central government high on the Afghan wish list
All Afghans interviewed for the report stressed the importance of the central government, alongside decentralized implementation of policy. As well as making policy and regulations, interviewees generally believed that the central government should be an important link in the development assistance chain, with funding largely channelled through Kabul.
At the July 2012 Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan the international community made a commitment to channel at least 50 per cent of development assistance through the national budget of the Afghan Government. Donors hope in this way to increase the capacity and, consequently, the legitimacy of the Afghan Government as part of their state-building strategy.
Percentages in Tokyo donor commitments not helpful
The current international focus largely equates funding with implementation: in order to increase the role of the central government in providing basic services, it aims to increase funding to the government. However, most Afghan interviewees argued that the government has no capacity in some sectors, while in certain regions it is fighting a war: in these cases, the NGO community is better able to deliver assistance. While the long-term aim should be to move tasks from NGOs to the state, this should be done slowly in order for government capacity to grow.
According to most interviewees in Afghanistan, focusing on the Tokyo target only fuels the feeling of competition between the government and NGOs. It is crucial that the issues of funding and implementation of assistance are separated. The government should play a large role in determining the development strategy, but the choice of provider of basic services should depend on who is in the best position to deliver. Sometimes this is the government, but in other cases this can be the private sector or NGOs.
Earmarking funds a key element of a civilian entry strategy
‘Donors should consider conditionalizing aid to encourage service delivery by civil society and require close cooperation and consultation with local communities', said van der Lijn. 'In order to make any civilian entry strategy credible, many donors need to further increase their aid pledges and show a longer-term commitment to Afghanistan, beyond 2016 or 2017.’
The SIPRI Insights paper Development assistance in Afghanistan after 2014 has been funded by the Dutch development organization Cordaid and is presented today at a meeting with officials in Kabul.