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Aid and the Post-Conflict Reconstruction of Afghanistan

December 13, 2001
Council on Foreign Relations


As the U.S. led military campaign against the Taliban and Al’Qaida forces in Afghanistan enters the next phase, the Administration must focus on a working road map for reconstruction and development aid in the region. Afghanistan, a power vacuum surrounded by China, India, Pakistan and Iran, is susceptible to clientism and could be the source of exacerbated tensions in the region if stability, security and sovereignty are not brought about. Failed states that are allowed to continue to fail create a fertile breeding ground for terrorism and provide sanctuary for its agents.

Additionally, the U.S. will be seen by the rest of the world as responsible for the state of Afghanistan after the war, whether or not possible famine or other ills are a direct consequence of the U.S. military campaign. Therefore, it is in the interest of the U.S. to provide reconstructive aid in the longer term.

The demonstration effect of a U.S. assisted post-conflict reconstruction effort is useful for legitimizing and gaining support for potential future conflicts and will also serve to legitimize U.S. actions in the eyes of her allies.

There are three different types of aid that Afghanistan will require. Short-term, emergency subsistence aid will be provided by the appropriate nongovernmental organizations like the World Food Organization. Micro-development and long term developmental aid, however, require close examination in terms of effectiveness and implementation.


In order to achieve long term goals of development in Afghanistan, immediate action must be taken. The implementation of interim aid, or micro-development, is critical for establishing the foundation for long term development. Beyond emergency subsistence aid, the U.S. must look to enable the Afghani population to provide itself with the bare necessities of survival. As Afghanistan is primarily an agricultural nation, contributions ought to be made in kind, at the grassroots level, in order to revive this most important sector of the economy. Work must be done at the local level to provide the people with education of mountain farming techniques, so that agriculture can be on an upswing come spring. In kind contributions of drought resistant seed and help in opening irrigation ditches are but some of the interim contributions that could be made. The establishment of these fundamental elements of self-sufficiency must be encouraged in order to lay the groundwork for the long process of overall development.


There are several areas of concern regarding long term development that necessitate qualitative analysis: necessary preconditions, conditionality requirements, and the coordination and management of aid. In the long term, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is clearly the most ideal and successful way of developing a country. However, FDI requires security and the rule of law as prerequisites. Therefore, aid is needed to help establish and solidify appropriate institutions that can guarantee these two requirements effectively in the future. It would be wise to provide a lean program of aid that is more easily managed and also to establish an independent development authority to audit the resources. This body would include government, city and donor representatives and could enlist the talents of expatriates. Although unlikely to be as successful as FDI in terms of auditing funds, it would provide a preliminary foundation and also ensure that funds are not mismanaged and contributing to warlordism from the donor end.

The conditionality of aid must be linked back to internal principles. Though conditionality is difficult to enforce, there are several general principles that would facilitate success. Aid must be distributed relatively equitably or at least on a quantitative basis that is economically viable, rather than as a result of favoritism or political interest. In terms of implementation, the coordination of aid between donors is crucial. A series of bilateral relations aid would foster disunity and be a force for fragmentation within the country. Aid must also be multinational in order to emphasize that this is of global importance and interest. Local participation ought to be incorporated into the distribution process and efforts must be made to assure governmental adherence to human rights principles. It would be wise to pay close attention to the question of whether or not it is in the best interest of the country to outsource funds through a centralized government. It is likely that the government in Afghanistan will be weak regardless of the level of aid provided it, therefore other power centers, such as tribalism, regionalism and the division of power, ought to be considered in terms of distribution.

Long term development aid must be more creative than the Marshall Plan, which was geared toward reconstructing an industrialized nation. Without established institutions in Afghanistan, more will have to be done to effectively make use of the funds. Dispersal must be controlled and managed and conditionality must be enforced as effectively as possible. Care must also be taken not to strip resources away from other potential hotbeds for terrorism while our focus remains on Afghanistan. Allowing failing states to fail in other areas of the globe would be dangerous and could begin this tragic cycle anew.


The effectiveness of aid is dependent upon many factors and has many requirements. Institution building is of primary importance in order to prevent clientism and the manipulation of Afghanistan’s reconstruction for outside interests. Naturally, the building of these structures necessitates ample time for development, and though it can be argued that providing aid in the absence of such institutions will only exacerbate warlordism and the misuse of funds, it must also be noted that institutions by no means guarantee successful development. Egypt is a case in point, where a country that receives substantial U.S. aid, and having institutions in place, still does not measure up to U.S. standards for successful development. Though caution must be exercised, it could be argued that Afghanistan needs to receive aid in order to begin thinking about institutional development.

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