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Strengthening the Afghan State must be Donors’ Top Priority

Political Counselor M. Ashraf Haidari spoke at a daylong conference on “Governance in Afghanistan: Afghan Perspectives on the Meaning of ‘Legitimacy;’ How to Achieve it and Sustain it at All Levels” on February 18, 2010. Hosted by Booz Allen Hamilton, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and the US Central Command sponsored the conference to help enhance the understanding by their analysts of the problems facing governance in Afghanistan. Other panelists included former Afghan Interior Minister Ali Jalali and Afghanistan experts.


Haidari noted that “it should be no surprise to anyone why governance remains weak in Afghanistan, when the international community has yet to help us implement a comprehensive state-building strategy.” He added that Afghanistan suffered from weak state institutions, even before the Soviet invasion and occupation of the country. And the ensuing decades only saw the destruction of Afghanistan’s fledgling state institutions both on the center and local levels.


“In many cases, we should not even talk about weak governance but absence of governance because we have lacked the human and material resources to establish the effective writ of the government,” Haidari stated. Since 2001, he noted that a number of major problems have undermined the formation and capacity-building of state institutions that are responsible for weak or absence of governance, particularly on the local level and in insecure areas of the country.


Haidari noted that a lack of international commitment, from the very beginning, to state-building in Afghanistan remains “our number one problem.” “The Bonn Agreement and political process only gave Afghanistan a government on the paper, while the actual task of building our state institutions was completely abandoned,” Haidari pointed out. Haidari said that Afghanistan not only received far less per capita reconstruction and security aid, compared to other post-conflict international interventions, for a long time but that more than 80 percent of the assistance provided thus far continues to be delivered through ineffective mechanisms, such as a multitude of donor-related contractors, NGOs, and a family of United Nations agencies, each with a massive overhead cost and a well-documented record of wasting tax payers aid monies.    


“We must ask why Afghanistan’s key governance institutions—the police and justice sectors, indeed, the eyes and hands of any government in any part of the world—continue to remain weak, eight years on. That is because these critical state institutions have been underinvested from the very beginning,” Haidari noted. He said that “delegation after delegation from Afghanistan was warning in their official Washington meetings that we need more resources, more technical assistance, more Afghan capacity, more Afghan hands to build and strengthen our security and governance institutions, particularly the army, the police, and the justice sectors.” But, Haidari pointed out, that these requests were not heeded, as the United States was entirely focused on Iraq from 2003 until 2008.


Haidari welcomed the many measures taken by the Obama administration to help Afghanistan build its governance and security institutions. However, he said that “the right balance between security and development aid has to be ensured in order to truly help Afghans transition from a status of ineffective aid dependency to self-reliance where we can increasingly receive and effectively implement direct assistance from the United States and our other partners.”


In addition, he discussed the government of Afghanistan’s preparedness to take on the leadership and ownership of major national programs and implementation of policies, particularly the adoption and implementation of the sub-national governance policy, which the Afghan government presented to the international community at the recent London Conference.


He also discussed Afghan government’s measures to fight corruption, which he said was a two-way street where donors had to fight it at their end and Afghans on theirs to reach a point where the problem was brought under effective control. “Every Third World country is riddled with petty corruption and Afghanistan is not immune from it either,” Haidari said. But he indicated that the bigger problem was “dysfunctional corruption—involving millions of dollars in aid resources being wasted by entities working outside the Afghan government that can and should be resolved.”


“Our government doesn’t lack plans, strategies, or programs which we know can work or have already delivered results, such as the National Solidarity Program, but we need our partners’ strategic willingness in and a firm commitment to building and strengthening the Afghan state,” said Haidari. He urged the international community to put strategic coordination of their aid efforts, both civilian and military, at the top of their aid agenda to help Afghanistan achieve self-reliance and “positive sovereignty.”

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