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.
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.