A Comprehensive Approach to Development in Afghanistan—March 2009
Two decades of war have destroyed most of Afghanistan’s political, social, and economic institutions and infrastructure. Despite significant investments in the country’s reconstruction since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001, the lives of Afghans remain under constant threat due to deteriorating security, corruption, chronic unemployment, uncoordinated international actors, and weak governance. As a result, Afghanistan continues to be one of the least developed countries in the world, with deep-seated poverty characterized by limited economic infrastructure, high rates of unemployment and illiteracy; and maternal and child mortality rates that are among the highest in the world. Currently, maternal and children’s health services are inadequate, and pre- and post-natal care is underdeveloped and scarce, despite women giving birth to an average of seven children in a lifetime.
Poverty—not insecurity—is the greatest threat to children in Afghanistan. Fifty-four percent (54%) of Afghan children are chronically malnourished, and the exponential rise in food prices has resulted in
food insecurity and widespread hunger, leading many to resort to selling off children as slaves, child soldiers, or child brides.
Despite this humanitarian crisis for children and communities, the existing international approach to Afghanistan has lacked clarity, coherence and resolve, because much international focus has been on the deployment of troops rather than long-term political integration and economic development. Purely military solutions will not bring peace and stability to Afghanistan; instead, transformational development, including a change of attitudes and behavior towards development at the household, local, and sub-national levels will change the national and regional discourse. As a plurality of Afghans sees that their lives are better with development rather than without it, there will be personal incentives for rejecting radicalism and embracing constructive political change that is conducive to long-term stability.
The Ill-Defined Role of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs)
PRTs are viewed by many within defense institutions as a means of enhancing stability and security in Afghanistan, at moderately low cost and risk in a relatively short timeframe. However, in examples where fighting has erupted, the PRT troop contingent has only provided self-defence and security for diplomats or select officials. Further concerns relate to their unclear role, ineffective or inappropriate interventions, and non-adherence to internationally agreed principles of civil–military co-ordination, contributing to the obscuring of military and non-military domains and the subsequent increased insecurity of humanitarian workers.
This obscurity is primarily due to the extensive development and humanitarian assistance activities performed by PRTs. In the same way that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are not expected to take the lead in the security sector, the military should not have a role in development, as this is not their core competency. However, the current approach of some NATO governments largely designs and delivers humanitarian and development assistance according to military priorities, rather than long-term development needs based on a comprehensive strategy for peace, good governance, and sustainable development. The current approach has proven grossly ineffective, leading to decreased child and civilian well-being and widening regional insecurity.
World Vision welcomes the move of several NATO governments to refine their PRTs’ concept of operations in such a way that prioritizes security sector reform (SSR). These governments must ensure however that the official security roles of their PRT in Afghanistan translate to practice on the ground, and do not undermine relief tasks by engaging in intelligence gathering activities.
It is now recognized that ‘hearts and minds’ campaigns will fail without adequately consulting local communities and agencies that have a longer-term presence. To this end, we welcome the new PRT guidelines requiring an adjustment of conduct. Achieving sustainable and transformational development hinges upon genuine local ownership, active local commitment and participation, and medium- to long-term capacity building of Afghan people and institutions. Because of long-standing historical mistrust of foreign forces, Western militaries are unable to achieve a sufficient level of local ownership in order to promote development successfully. Communities often perceive PRT projects as having ‘strings attached’, or believe that they will be obliged to provide information or cooperate in other ways in exchange for assistance. Given these factors, increasing the civilian presence in PRTs will make little difference to the prospects of achieving genuine local ownership, and thus will not achieve sustained development success.
Prioritize Strengthening Sub-National Governance
A comprehensive approach to stability in Afghanistan means a renewed focus on local-level solutions—this means national and international support for local governance structures and community empowerment. Donors should support the gradual decentralization of social services, as identified in the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) to the provincial and local level to cultivate local ownership over the country’s development destiny. Without a clear, functional and robustly supported set of institutions capable of service delivery, inclusive participation for prioritizing development needs and objectives, and dispute resolution mechanisms, there can be no transformation of the status quo. Service delivery, livelihoods generation and poverty-reduction all depend on a systematic and carefully planned extension of state services across the country. This implies clear channels for planning, fiscal transfer, monitoring and evaluation.
Social services in water and sanitation, health, nutrition and education are fundamental to the well-being of children and communities, and, thus, to all of Afghanistan. This support must include technical expertise for line ministries in order to clarify contradictory laws, rules, processes and structures as part of a comprehensive local level engagement strategy for recovery and development. Similarly, a longer-term commitment for training and skills-acquisition of local government officials and other stakeholders must be made in the context of a participatory governance approach to recovery and resilience. Where communities can reconcile over the shape of local governance and their role in it, so too can they become more sustainable and resilient against insecurity and natural disasters.
Phase PRTs out of the Development Sector. A medium and long-term PRT transition strategy and implementation plan should be developed to phase PRTs out of the development and humanitarian sectors, progressively transferring to civilian and local institutions. This phase out of PRTs should be guided by reforms in the development sector that strengthens the implementation of the ANDS.
A Shared Mechanism for Coordinating and Implementing ANDS.A comprehensive national development assessment should be carried out to update and deepen the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS). The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board should play a catalytic role in supporting the Government of Afghanistan to create a shared coordination and monitoring mechanism involving all development stakeholders, including NGOs, for implementing the ANDS. The recently established donor assistance database should play a critical role in informing this mechanism, and should be actively used for better integration and coordination. It is imperative that this mechanism supports sub-national implementation of the ANDS.
Strengthen Sub-national Governance.Donors should support the gradual decentralization of social services, as identified in the ANDS, to the provincial and local level to cultivate local ownership over the country’s development destiny. As an immediate first step, donors should include technical expertise for line ministries to clarify contradictory laws, rules, processes and structures as part of a comprehensive local level engagement strategy for recovery and development.
Focus on sustainable livelihoods.Original thinking around sustainable livelihoods will be critical to stability. There is need for supporting long-term programs aimed at job creation and integrating Afghanistan into regional and global economies. These are the pre-conditions for stabilization and development in Afghanistan.
Resource the UN 2009 Humanitarian Action Plan.Adequate funding and staff are needed to ensure coordination for the protection of civilians and the respect for international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, mitigation of food security and malnutrition, and improvement in disaster preparedness capacities.
World Vision is a Christian relief and development organization dedicated to helping children and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty. We serve the world’s poor regardless of a person’s religion, race, ethnicity or gender. For more information, please visit www.worldvision.org/press