An Un­cer­tain Fu­ture

The fu­ture of Afghanistan is plagued with fac­tors like an un­cer­tain se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion, an in­ca­pable gov­ern­ment, lack of skilled and trained man­power, fi­nan­cial con­straints and se­cu­rity is­sues.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Dr. Raza Khan

De­vel­op­ment work in Afghanistan leaves a lot to be de­sired.

As the with­drawal of al­lied forces from Afghanistan comes closer, con­cerns about the re­con­struc­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of this war-rav­aged coun­try are grow­ing in donor coun­tries and or­ga­ni­za­tions. Un­cer­tainty pre­vails as ef­forts made so far have left a lot to be de­sired. Although some note­wor­thy de­vel­op­ment work has taken place in a few sec­tors, how to build on it is the ques­tion that trou­bles all stake­hold­ers.

Most of the re­con­struc­tion ef­forts in Afghanistan have been spear­headed by the United States, which re­port­edly spent around $90 bil­lion on the re­con­struc­tion of the coun­try. Ger­many, France, the United King­dom, the Nether­lands, Canada and In­dia are some other coun­tries which made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to re­con­struc­tion and de­vel­op­ment work in Afghanistan. Pak­istan also at­tempted to take part in the process and has been able to com­plete some im­por­tant projects. China, too, has been forth­com­ing in help­ing Afghanistan with a num­ber of mega road con­struc­tion projects.

Over­all, Afghanistan has re­ceived nearly $290 bil­lion in terms of aid for de­vel­op­ment, re­con­struc­tion and se­cu­rity. This is a huge fig­ure by any stan­dards. But the level of de­vel­op­ment in the coun­try in the last one decade does not match the amount. The rea­son is the ab­sence of a real, in­te­grated and com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy for de­vel­op­ment. Although a num­ber of in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences have dis­cussed this is­sue in great de­tail, the strate­gies de­vised could not be im­ple­mented on the ground.

While ev­ery coun­try ini­ti­ated its own projects in Afghanistan, some coun­tries and in­sti­tu­tions funded projects which suited their spe­cific needs. Coun­tries whose troops were sta­tioned in the coun­try were part of the In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity and As­sis­tance Force (ISAF) started re­con­struc­tion and de­vel­op­ment projects in the re­gions where their troops were lo­cated. In many cases, these projects were un­der­taken by the troops them­selves. Most note­wor­thy among them are the Pro­vin­cial Re­con­struc­tion Teams (RPTs), manned by U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel. They got huge fund­ing but could not go beyond the Quick Re­sponse Projects (QRPs), which have a short-term im­pact.

At the mo­ment, some of the most im­por­tant sec­tors in need of de­vel­op­ment and re­con­struc­tion are agri­cul­ture, road con­struc­tion, cot­tage in­dus­try and min­ing. Agri­cul­ture has al­ways been the back­bone of Afghanistan’s econ­omy. This sec­tor has seen a sig­nif­i­cant re­vival af­ter the oc­cu­pa­tion of Afghanistan by ISAF.

Donor coun­tries have pro­vided farm­ers with mi­cro loans and have in­tro­duced them to mod­ern cul­ti­va­tion tech­niques. Con­se­quently, Kabul has been able to pro­duce suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties of dif­fer­ent fruits and veg­eta­bles to sup­ply to Pak­istan, Iran and In­dia. How­ever, if in­ter­na­tional donors want Afghanistan to make a real turn­around, they will need to in­vest more in the agri­cul­ture sec­tor, specif­i­cally in the pro­duc­tion of fruits and live­stock.

The cot­tage in­dus­try has not seen any progress dur­ing the last decade. Per­haps the donors as well as the Afghan lead­er­ship failed to re­al­ize the po­ten­tial of this im­por­tant sec­tor. Had there been an elab­o­rate strat­egy to es­tab­lish agro-based in­dus­try, it could have con­trib­uted im­mensely to the coun­try’s eco­nomic sta­bil­ity.

An un­cer­tain se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion, an in­ca­pable gov­ern­ment, lack of skilled and trained man­power and fi­nan­cial con­straints are some of the fac­tors that hin­der the process of de­vel­op­ment, with se­cu­rity be­ing the great­est chal­lenge. Lack of ex­per­tise is another stum­bling block. The im­port of skilled work­ers has been ex­tremely costly, and con­sumed a large part of the de­vel­op­men­tal and re­con­struc­tion funds.

Another prob­lem faced by the coun­try is the con­cen­tra­tion of de­vel­op­ment work in cer­tain ar­eas. Most of this work has been car­ried out in the north, northeast and western parts of Afghanistan. These re­gions are in­hab­ited by the Ta­jiks, Uzbeks, Turk­men and Hazara eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties. These mi­nor­ity groups were marginal­ized by the Pash­toon­dom­i­nated Tal­iban regime. Tal­iban in­sur­gency is rel­a­tively weak in these re­gions per­haps due to lack of lo­cal sup­port. In the Pash­toon­dom­i­nated east­ern and south­ern re­gions of Afghanistan, most of the re­con­struc­tion and de­vel­op­ment work has been car­ried out in the rel­a­tively peace­ful Nan­garhar prov­ince and, to some ex­tent, in Ghazni.

Much of the de­vel­op­ment work in Afghanistan has taken place in the road con­struc­tion sec­tor where in­ter­na­tional donors have mainly fo­cused on four kinds of road net­works. These in­clude re­gional high­ways or ring roads, na­tional high­ways, pro­vin­cial roads and ru­ral roads. Ring roads have been con­structed to con­nect the cap­i­tal Kabul with ma­jor re­gional cen­ters – Kan­da­har in the south, Mazar in the north and Herat in the west of the coun­try. Na­tional high­ways con­nect the cap­i­tals of the 34 prov­inces with the re­gional high­ways net­work. Pro­vin­cial roads have been con­structed to link pro­vin­cial cap­i­tals with dis­tricts. Most of these roads have been com­pleted.

These projects have fa­cil­i­tated the over­all de­vel­op­ment process in Afghanistan and have im­proved the lives of the com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing along these roads. Most im­por­tantly, they have im­proved the move­ment of in­ter­na­tional and na­tional troops and thus have been in­stru­men­tal in ex­tend­ing Kabul’s writ to var­i­ous re­gions and cor­ners of Afghanistan.

In the field of min­ing, the dis­cov­ery of min­er­als of ap­prox­i­mately $1 tril­lion worth by the U.S. can be the sin­gle most im­por­tant fac­tor in the de­vel­op­ment process. If prop­erly tapped, these min­eral de­posits – which in­clude huge de­posits of iron, cop­per, cobalt, gold and crit­i­cal in­dus­trial met­als like lithium – could trans­form Afghanistan into one of the most im­por­tant min­ing cen­tres of the world.

The re­con­struc­tion and de­vel­op­ment process in Afghanistan has many pit­falls and in­con­sis­ten­cies. If the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and the Afghan lead­er­ship re­ally want the process to be mean­ing­ful, they have to tailor their strate­gies to the needs of the Afghan peo­ple.

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