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Rebuilding the Middle East: Foreign Aid in Afghanistan

By Edited Nov 30, 2016 1 0

 

Soldier hand shake

After a decade of peacekeeping that begun with the overthrow of the Taliban government by an American invasion in 2001, the Afghan government is presently in a position to responsibly rebuild the devastated country.  To do so the government needs continued financial assistance to built infrastructure, improve the populace’s living conditions, and maintain police forces to keep order in one of the world's least developed countries. Since a staggering 97% of the country’s roughly 16 billion dollar GDP currently comes from foreign aid, according to the World Bank, the government’s attitude towards foreign aid is predominantly positive, as it recognises Afghanistan’s desperate need for these funds. It must also be remembered that it is foreign troops that, at great cost, established and continue to maintain Afghan public order. These two needs are intense enough that, so as to assure aid, Afghanistan has overcome both its history of fragmented governance as well as it’s traditionally unaligned status in the international community, establishing and maintaining strong ties with the United States, Pakistan, India, Iran, the European Union and the Islamic World.

 

U.S. Foreign Aid to Afghanistan graph

However, key Afghan officials have complained that the billions of dollars spent by the international community on war-ravaged Afghanistan's reconstruction and development have had a limited impact on the country's economic growth and even act against the future interests of the country. For example, the government will never be able to match America’s huge military commitment to counterinsurgency and its payment of inflated salaries to Afghan government workers when foreign aid stops. In addition, though donors have spent some 13 billion dollars on various rebuilding and development activities in the country, only 12% has been channelled through the government's control, said the country's Finance Ministry. The way aid this money has been distributed through a cascade of foreign subcontractors also siphons off much of the international funding to Afghanistan. According to Mustafa Kazimi, chairman of the economy committee of the Afghan parliament, 80 cents of every US dollar spent by donors on Afghanistan's reconstruction finds its way out of the country through payments to foreign groups and companies. This poor distribution of aid coupled with the corruption, violence (it has intensified in areas where the target has been to bring it down) and lack of cohesive planning (aid is mainly distributed in the urban areas where it is less needed) all contribute to souring both the government’s and the populace's attitude towards aid.

Taliban

Admittedly, the absolutely overwhelming foreign contribution in Afghanistan that operates more or less independently of local authorities means that in reality the Afghan government’s attitude towards aid is in effect almost irrelevant. It is commendable that local officials have been able to identify faults in the foreign aid that could be fixed, a sign of an at least somewhat responsible and competent government. However, if seething resentment towards the international community builds up in Afghanistan due to mismanaged aid it may compromise any lasting Afghan recovery in the future, after the withdrawl of peacekeeping forces and when foreign aid takes a lesser place in the country.

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