More than 30 years ago, the instigation of various “complex” political situations, re-initiated the process of planning and development of Afghanistan. Since then, a lot has been achieved by the country despite grave challenges. In an effort to address such challenges, it is important for the international community to increase Kabul’s monitoring and planning initiatives in a manner that reinforces the top Afghan leaders, security administrators, simultaneously respecting both Afghan traditions and values, and more importantly remaining effective, efficient and viable for the people of Afghanistan.
With over a dozen socio-economic indexes positioning Afghanistan within the ranks of least economically developed countries, frequent violent clashes with Taliban continues to create mayhem and chaos in Afghan lives. The extremist situation, as proven by the deployment of NATO-ISAF and allies, is not easy to tackle. Nonetheless, the progress Afghanistan made since the ratification of the Bonn Agreement in 2001, has been significant and morale boosting. Internally displaced people and refugees have safely returned home. With international cooperation, the state department machinery has been restructured along with law enforcement and judiciary services, which still awaits improvement. Afghanistan now has a new constitution.
Presidential elections have been conducted without major incidents. Similarly, heavy turnout has been seen at provincial and state elections. Roughly over 10 million children have made it back to school. The Afghan National Security Force has been re-institutionalised, disciplined and re-armed in an effort to provide security, law and order in the country. National schemes pertaining to health care has phenomenally reached a major part of the Afghan population. In light of major Public-Private partnership, communication services have been restored, giving easy access for people distanced in long areas to communicate in any part of the country or the rest of the world.
However, this story of success and rebuilding is just one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is of horrors and sorrows. Unchecked and rampant cross-border terrorism has created an atmosphere of insecurity, adversely affecting development initiatives while creating “open-season” for drug traffickers and weapon traffickers to operate, severely compromising security.
The rampant corruption like a parasite has already raised questions on the ability of local law enforcement agencies to maintain law and order in the region, while many experts go to the extent of questioning the “ethics” of law enforcement officers, sometimes calling them instigators. The nation-building process has lost its pace, opening doors for private firms to initiate back-channel communication with Kabul, while severely undermining Kabul’s legitimacy, instigating confusion.
The expectations that the local Afghan population has, has not been met by international organizations and other developmental agencies; at the same time, numerous initiatives continue to suffer from poor decisions and leadership paralysis. Moreover, the presence of major supporters of left ideologies further compromise developmental initiatives. It reminds one of how the Mujahedeen drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan, as factions belonging to both Mujahedeen and local militia fought unanimously against one enemy. Once Soviets were routed, there was a huge vacuum which was filled by factions from Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
On the verge of extinction of Taliban, violence continues to claim lives. Moreover, Taliban has further reinforced its ranks with militias operating in Pakistan, where they have been reinforced with foreign recruits including fighters from Chechnya and Philippines. Armed with veteran foreign fighters, they continue to spread violence and fear, target government infrastructure and schools, creating fear and insecurity, in an effort to further compromise Afghanistan’s national security architecture.
Frequent political clashes have created “policy paralysis” in the country, which has severely compromised state-building initiatives, reinforced by the economic drain and absent socio-economic policies. As a result, many generations born during the wake of Afghan war lost educational opportunities. Issues pertaining to “socio-economic” rehabilitation especially to lost generations will not only require massive financial support but also “technical” expertise, in an effort to rehabilitate them.
Despite such uncertainties, pouring international assistance supported by international communities, will bear fruits and further restructure government’s policies which will help policy makers deliver “promises” to the Afghan people. This would then further strengthen trust and dependability of top leadership while repairing the foundations broken 30 years ago.
Moreover, active policies would strengthen once “long-lost” Afghanistan’s land route which was a hub for trade long before the world as we know it came into existence. Heavily crippled with “uneducated” and “unskilled” migrants, it continues to provide for the Afghani diaspora, many of whom, in the light of recent positive developments, look towards their return.
Safety and security is severely threatened by militant factions operating actively and unchecked in “compromised” economies. They are the instigators of forced migration, the perpetrators of weapons smuggling, drug trafficking, extortion and slave trading, terrorizing local communities. They compromise efforts on “socio-economic” development, while creating hurdles in the goals of international development agencies, delaying the initiatives from years to decades. They further limit the availability of resources to their loyalists creating havoc in the lives of masses.
In the light of such incidents, the need of urgent relief policies occupies most of the international development agencies, but in the rush, many international development organizations fail to understand the need for innovativeness, necessary advisors and presence of technical and subject matter experts, cooperation, and coordination received by international agencies lack far-sightedness. Their methods limit their modus-operandi to fast track checks. Their anxiety and dilemma, which underestimates the ability of the initiatives, further limits the availability of necessary assets involved in the initiatives.
Large government institutions establish departments which are tasked to ensure timely completion of the development initiatives, without compromising on incentives, salaries or bonuses of actors involved. Systems such as these are rarely operational in least developing and developing economies. Many international aid organizations then exercise back-channel tactics or apply pressure on local officials in an effort to change the departmental policies which pleases the relevant international aid agency in an effort to lure donors.
Policy makers needs to understand that initiatives in “state building” requires inter-agency cooperation, coordination and correlation. Some key lessons that can be learned from previous state building initiatives in Afghanistan are as follows:
1. Initiatives in state building cannot be “rushed”, particularly in the light of conflict, deplorable socio-economic scenarios, socio-political instability in Afghanistan and a history of “terror” regime. There is an absolute need to draw a line between Afghan leadership and top leaders of international aid development while pursuing realistic time management and completion ratios.
2. Any nation’s developmental initiatives depend upon variety of factors, one such essential factor is the nation’s topography, history and society. Simply applying tried and tested model, however successful it has been in another country, does not guarantee the same success. It depends upon how the local masses accept it. It is important for policy makers to liaise with international aid agencies in an effort to make the policies widely appreciable and locally acceptable. Modernisation should not be hyped, but it should be encouraged by policy makers within the masses, particularly those who were drawn into conflict at a very tender age; this will prevent rural community from being ignored. In the past, policy initiatives to modernise the rural communities enormously failed opening “old wounds” of outsiders interfering the “natural” way of livings.
3. It is important for policy makers to effectively and efficiently use the budget in an effort to effectively use the state institutions signalling a positive example of state leadership along with winning hearts and minds of the local masses. It is very important to coordinate with international aid agencies which can further increase the effectiveness of state’s capability on distributing and re-distributing or relocating essential and viable resources in the right areas.
4. It is important to understand that a consistent and “interested” international aid organisation would extend their limits of support and further express desire to assist in strengthening state capacity using lucrative means. When donors complain of poor and inconsistent state capacity, it forces international aid agencies to appoint officials with nexus in the local government, which the agency then exploit in an effort to please the donors. This further compromise state’s capability to effectively enhance its operating mechanism.
Initiatives in state’s planning for reforms and capacity development requires strong leadership with firm determination, whose objective should not only focus on Afghanistan’s betterment but also on strengthening the goals and objective of Afghan communities, removing donor pressures from the list. Many international aid agencies relocate finances in those projects which acquire national and international publicity, rest of the projects go unheard, compromising projects designated for distant areas.
Many self-proclaimed experts have advocated complete decentralisation, based on inaccurate and inadequate analysis, strictly focussing on small communities. It is important for policy makers to focus the developmental agendas within the boundary of Afghanistan. Moreover, the development goals should be focussed on “section by section” or “phases by phase” approach, in an effort to include all regions in development initiatives.
Policy makers should fix their approaches to planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating and then delegating approach while ensuring that local government bodies/institutions remain in charge of local development initiatives, while equipping them with oversight.
Policy makers today, deviate from top-to-down developmental approach. This further compromises community development initiatives and prevents the community from participating in development initiatives.
Corruption is Afghanistan’s biggest enemy. In an effort to effectively prevent it from corroding state building initiatives, it is imperative for policy makers to hold certain accountability and follow model code of conduct. It is important for policy makers to inspire the masses and play a leadership role in development of Afghanistan. To achieve this, their leadership must be defined with clear roles and responsibilities during the initial stage of state building. It is important to strengthen and reinforce development initiatives by timely coordination, cooperation and correlation with relevant agencies in an effort to prevent the seed of corruption. Officials under pressure from timely completion of their tasks would focus on the initiatives rather than individual needs.
Accountability should be developed through adequate training mechanism and joint training sessions with donor countries and their academies. This will further strengthen the will to cooperate and coordinate particularly at the senior leadership, preventing the development of root cause of corruption, even before an operational or implementing phase. Policy makers should also understand the importance of punishment if any official is found compromising an assigned task. Furthermore, incumbent officials should be clearly told that no former or recently transferred official will be allowed to use public offices for personal gains. Another effective step is to strengthen oversight committees and monitoring mechanisms, while restructuring financial asset management.