The Burden of Responsibility
Once foreign troops leave, the Afghan state will undoubtedly face a myriad of political and economic challenges. Despite all odds against it, is it up to the task?
Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries of the world, has been facing all kinds of challenges a nation-state can perceive. From poverty to terrorism, socialism to theocracy, autocratic rule to a superpower-imposed regime and from Talibanization to mayhem, the state has been embroiled in an internal conflict. In addition to social and ideological polarization, the Afghan state has also seen a collapse of state institutions to foreign occupation and witnessed foreign funding for development succumb to rampant corruption. Of late, the country has shown positive growth in many areas, though all experts concur that the real issue
is still security threats from resistance groups and the main challenge is that of self-governance once foreign troops leave.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Afghanistan relies heavily on donor grants to fund development and security spending. With one of the lowest per capita incomes (estimated at about US$550 for 2012), the country “ranks well below its neighbors on most human development indicators, nevertheless, some progress has been made in recent years toward the country’s political, economic, and social transformation.”
In recent years, despite a very volatile security situation, the government initiated many steps for economic stability and growth. The major challenges however, remain building political and economic institutions. The IMF acknowledges that “economic activity has been robust, with real GDP growth averaging more than 10 percent annually over the past five years (8 percent in 2010/11), and inflation in moderate limits.” Improved economic performance and reforms implemented in key areas enabled Afghanistan to qualify for debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative in January 2010, leading to a 96 percent reduction in Afghanistan’s 2006 stock of external debt of nearly US$12 billion.
The IMF observes that, “Afghanistan has also made progress toward its social and development objectives and the Millennium Development Goals, though substantial challenges remain. For example, child mortality has been reduced and school enrollment increased, albeit from very low levels -- the enrollment rate for primary school is less than 40 percent. At the same time, achievements in some areas are below expectations: more than 40 percent of children under the age of five are underweight; progress in increasing access to potable water and sanitation remains slow; and literacy rates for men and women aged 15 to 24 are 51 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Overall, the low implementation rate of only 40 percent of the development budget impedes more rapid progress toward poverty reduction.”
After years of armed conflicts, both infrastructure and institutions were in disarray and IMF in 2002 started assisting Afghanistan in rebuilding economic institutions and in providing advice to the government on economic policies and reforms. Since then IMF has been providing technical assistance to develop monetary instruments, strengthen the central
bank, modernize foreign exchange regulations, revamp tax and customs administration and enhance public financial management. The IMF warns that in the next few years, “Afghanistan faces two main challenges: the scheduled departure of foreign troops by 2014, requiring the government to take over an increasing share of security spending; and an expected gradual decline in overall donor support over the medium term, with a larger share of donor support possibly being channeled through the budget.” These developments will make it more difficult for the government to address Afghanistan’s large social and development needs.
With less foreign funding available, the government will have to improve revenue collection, which was increased to 11% of GDP in 2011 from less than 7% in 2006. The withdrawal of foreign troops is expected to stunt economic growth and may affect revenue collection. At the same time, the government will have to shoulder expenditures currently paid for by donors. The IMF portrays a positive picture observing, “nevertheless, the government is committed to protecting social spending, but will need to rely on donor support for years to come to make continued progress toward its development objectives and the Millennium Development Goals.”
The Central Statistics Organization (CSO) of Afghanistan in its ‘Capacity Development Plan (2011-14)’, prepared in collaboration with the National Institution Building Project (NIBP) of UNDP, carried out a survey titled, ‘Participation of Women and Men in Decision Making.’ The survey, aimed at providing data to government planners, policymakers, administrators, and international organizations, provides comprehensive, up-to-date information on women and men in decision making levels—all individuals working in the government as well as members of the National Assembly and Provincial Councils. It also provides information on age, sex, education, marital status, opinion on the problems faced by women in decision-making positions. Though women’s participation in the decision-making process has increased in recent years, it is still very low, the survey concludes. The atrocities against women in Afghanistan remain widespread and brutal.
Besides socio-economic issues, the biggest challenge for Afghanistan remains the ability of the police and armed forces to maintain law and order. Addressing this concern, NATO says “its primary objective in Afghanistan is to enable the Afghan authorities to provide effective security across the country and ensure that the country can never again be a safe haven for terrorists.”
Since August 2003, the NATOled International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been conducting security operations, while also training and developing the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Launched in 2011, the transition to Afghanistan’s full security responsibility is due to be completed by the end of 2014, when ISAF’s mission will end. NATO will then lead a follow-on mission to continue to support the development of ANSF capacity. Wider cooperation between NATO and Afghanistan will continue under the Enduring Partnership agreement, signed in 2010 at the Lisbon Summit that provides for: • capacity building efforts, such as professional military education programs; • courses to promote the fight against corruption and good governance initiatives; • assisting the Afghan civil aviation sector in meeting international standards; • an ‘Afghan First’ policy to identify Afghan companies eligible for ISAF contracts; • the SILK-Afghanistan project which provides affordable, highspeed Internet access via satellite and fiber optics to Afghan universities and governmental institutions in Kabul; • training in civil emergency planning and disaster preparedness; and • public diplomacy efforts to promote a better understanding of NATO and its role in Afghanistan.
NATO and others are trying hard to convert the Afghan National Army (ANA) from an infantry-centric force to a fully-fledged army -- with not only fighting capacity but elements of military police, intelligence, route clearance, combat support, medical, aviation, and logistics. At the same time, the role of the Afghan National Police (ANP) will be shifted from countering the insurgency to a civilian policing role. The real test of both ANA and ANP will emerge once foreign troops leave. Military experts are of the view that they still lack capabilities and resources to combat trained militants in a vast land—with mostly formidable hilly terrains—that pose tough challenges even for the best armies of the world.
All indicators show that the Afghanistan of 2014 will not be free from security risks. Since the private sector is not playing its due role in the economy – currently run through foreign funds -- the main engine of growth is still missing and its impact will be enormous once foreign funding and economic activities of foreigners decrease. Afghanistan still has a long way to go before it can forge a national consensus for peace, end armed conflicts, improve governance and safeguard the rule of law. In terms of stabilizing its economy, the country will have to accord special attention to reduce the role of illicit sectors, limit the influence of vested interests, implement a strong fiscal regime and allow the nascent mining sector to contribute towards growth. Dr. Ikramul Haq and Huzaima Bukhari - partners in the law firm Huzaima & Ikram (member Taxand) - are Adjunct Professors at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).