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Building a New State in Afghanistan

Political Counselor M. Ashraf Haidari recently spoke on an academic panel discussion to assess "Policy Options for State-Building in Afghanistan" at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Other panelists included the university's faculty Political Scientist Dr. Francis Fukuyama, Professor Walter Andersen, and Professor Rani Mullen. They discussed regional politics and its impact on the state-building process in Afghanistan, while Professor Fukuyama also analyzed the history of state-building and how the process had evolved differently in different regions of the world depending on such factors as geography and culture.

Haidari briefly explained the history of modern state formation in Afghanistan, and pointed out that the country effectively began building a modern state in the early 20th century under reformist King Amanullah. He noted that unlike other less developed countries, Afghanistan's late state-building did not benefit from the political and economic resources of colonization, as other countries in the region did, since Afghanistan was never fully colonized. Afghanistan's inexperience in building a new state was further undermined by Afghan conservatives and traditionalists, who strongly reacted to the austere modernization reforms the reformist king introduced, Haidari added. This eventually led to the de-throning of the king, which effectively slowed down the process of state-building in Afghanistan in the following decades until the advent of the Cold War.

Haidari pointed out that in the early decades of the Cold War, the Afghan monarchy pursued a neutral and non-aligned foreign policy, which isolated Afghanistan and thus affected its state formation efforts for sometime. "But it was soon realized that Afghanistan's severe underdevelopment needed long-term foreign aid, which would not be forthcoming unless the country changed its passive foreign policy," he added. Hence, Afghanistan was drawn into the Cold War politics, as the former Soviet Union began pouring large amounts of military and development assistance into Afghanistan in an effort to support the country's Marxist and Communist movements, he said.

Therefore, he argued that during the last two decades of the Cold War, Afghanistan's young and weak state increasingly became rentier and dependent on the Soviet aid, which meant that impartial Afghan technocrats lacked the freedom to pursue an effective state-building strategy. This led to an overly subsidized and centralized state, which was too ideological to be able to expand beyond urban areas with a small following.

Haidari noted that the decade of 1990s saw the complete destruction of state institutions that had been created to date. "When the international community reengaged in Afghanistan in 2001, they had to start building a state from ground up, and that process began with the Bonn Agreement of December 2001," he added. Indeed, he praised the shared achievements of Afghanistan and the international community to revive the Afghan state.

However, Haidari cautioned that many of the Afghan state institutions continue to lack the basic capacity and resources to implement their mandates. One of the key factors contributing to state weakness in Afghanistan is the emergence of a parallel aid bureaucracy operating side by side the Afghan state from which it is sapping the scarce aid resources provided by the donor community, he said.

Haidari recommended that the donor community strategically coordinate their aid efforts in Afghanistan and increasingly channel their assistance through Afghanistan’s national budget or to finance the country’s national programs within the Afghanistan National Development Strategy framework. He asked for ample resources to be allocated to accelerate the process of building institutional capacity in the Afghan government so that Afghans themselves gradually initiate, design, and implement reconstruction projects.

"The only way we can effectively measure success in Afghanistan is the extent to which we have collectively striven to enable the Afghan state to take on the rebuilding task," Haidari said. He added, "If we, for example, have an army or police that are independently operational and can defend Afghanistan against terrorists, we can claim success and be confident that when international forces exit the county, Afghanistan’s state will be self-sustaining and not collapse again."

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