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More Investment Will Bring Security to Afghanistan

Interviewee: Mahmoud Saikal, Former Deputy Foreign Minister, Senior Advisor on the Afghanistan National Development Strategy
Interviewer: Greg Bruno, Staff Writer
June 9, 2008

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When Hamid Karzai greets donors in Paris on June 12, the Afghan president will officially unveil Afghanistan's first national development strategy. A focal point of the package is its price tag—$50 billion—a hefty sum for a country with a tenuous record managing its own redevelopment effort. But Mahmoud Saikal, Afghanistan's former deputy foreign minister and an adviser on the national strategy, says the international community must look past concerns about corruption and insecurity and invest in his country's future. "If we invest more in Afghanistan, chances are we will bring security," he says. "The two go hand in hand." Saikal says the national development strategy, two years in the making, will serve as Afghanistan's blueprint to guide itself from decades of war and conflict.

Let's start with a brief outline of the Afghan National Development Strategy. Help us understand what this document is and why it's needed.

The Afghanistan National Development Strategy [ANDS] is the medium-term development strategy for Afghanistan. It also serves as a poverty reduction strategy paper which has been proposed to the World Bank and the IMF [International Monetary Fund]. It has been prepared by using the PRSP, or Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper methodology, which means that it had to have a poverty focus, sound macrofinance work, sector policies, a consultative process and so on. The ANDS is Afghanistan's overarching strategy for promoting growth, generating wealth, and reducing poverty and vulnerability in general.

Why is it needed?

In late 2001, when the Bonn Agreement [on the makeup of a post-Taliban government] was signed by various parties, it chalked out a political strategy for putting things together for the next few years. By the end of 2005, the benchmark of the Bonn Agreement was coming to an end and the Afghans, as well as the world community, wanted to know what to do next. This is why there was a need inside Afghanistan and also a need for the international community to know what to do in the next few years. This is why, when the London Conference took place in January 2006, two key documents emerged from that conference. One was the Afghanistan Compact and the other one was a version of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. Now the strategy in a way was a blueprint for the development of Afghanistan but with a particular focus on three key pillars. Pillar one was security, pillar two was governance and rule of law and human rights, and pillar three was development and economic issues.

Among the questions that have surfaced in advance of the Paris conference is the price tag for the strategy: $50 billion. Why is so much money needed and what makes Afghanistan think that the international community is prepared to spend that much on Afghanistan's redevelopment?

Number one, with the passage of time now we know the scale of the conflict in Afghanistan. Now we know the kind of damage Afghanistan has seen—over thirty years of war and conflict. At the beginning, seven years ago, we had no idea. We didn't have facts and figures and all those things. This is why when we went to the Tokyo Conference, which was the first donor conference in January 2002, we had no idea of the scale of devastation. So that's one reason. Number two: We are putting up a strategy for the next five years, so it’s a sort of medium-term strategy, which needs a large amount of money. But the way it is, the breakdown of the $50 billion, [is such] that $24 billion of that has already been pledged in the past and we anticipate another $6 or $7 billion coming from our own revenues. So, all together it has to be something a little bit less than $20 billion that we would be asking for. And so far, in the discussion that we've had with the donor community, we're confident that at least a very good percentage of what we are asking for will be covered in Paris.

The Afghan government has sought more control of donor dollars, a request some in the international community have resisted. Donors contend they haven't seen evidence Afghanistan is ready to control funds, and they often cite corruption as one of the reasons. What assurances can the Afghan government give to donors that corruption won't undermine the assistance?

Under the ANDS the capacity building and fighting corruption and so on has been given top priority. So what happens in every sector, capacity building and being able to deliver the goods, has been given priority. A good percentage of international aid will go toward confidence building, will go toward transparency, will go toward capacity building of Afghan institutions. We can only fight corruption if there is international support; we can only establish transparency if there is international support. Let's not forget that building that quality governance takes time. Quality governance needs quality human resources and quality human resources need having a mechanism through which we could allow our quality human resources to come to governance, and these are the kind of things that we are doing.

In real fact, we've been busy building up government administration only for the past three or four years. Before that it was an emergency situation and it was a transition period. Two, three, or four years in the life of building up a government is not much. Building government bureaucracy takes time.

The World Bank recently reviewed the ANDS and suggested that it suffers from a lack of prioritization of key development programs. Is such criticism valid?

Afghanistan has been hit from every angle for thirty-odd years and it's been badly damaged. So it is very, very difficult to develop black and white lists of priorities because the fact is we have to be mobilized in different fields simultaneously—and we have to work simultaneously. Security needs development; development needs security. You know, agriculture, for example. Now as we get into Paris, at the top of our list there are a few things which include irrigation, agriculture, energy, followed by health, education and so on. But really, we've had had some achievement in the past in the field of infrastructure, namely transportation, for example. We have been successful in putting the Afghanistan national ring road together. Up until today we've finished about 70 percent of that. We have been successful, for example, in the field of communication. Nowadays, four and a half billion Afghans have access to mobile telephones. But we are lagging behind in some other sectors now, after seven years, in particular, agriculture and irrigation. And this is why when we go to Paris the emphasis shall remain on irrigation, agriculture, and energy.

The strategy places a very heavy reliance on the idea of privatization luring international and domestic partners to invest money. But the strategy acknowledges that to do that security needs to first be achieved. How does the ANDS address the continuing needs of security in the provinces?

To start with, if you're an investor and want to invest, no matter where you are, whether you are in the United States or Afghanistan or in Europe, there are risks of different kinds that you have to accept. I don't think you can find anywhere in the world where there is risk-free investment. The only trouble is that in Afghanistan the risk could be higher. But at the same time, those investors who have taken risks in the past seven years—they have been making profit. Take the example of the telecommunications sector. So far we've got four companies who have licenses in Afghanistan. Two of them moved into Afghanistan at a time when we had no idea what the future was going to be like. But now they're here, and they're making profit [Afghan Wireless, owned by an Afghan businessman, was formed in 2002; its competitor, Roshan, began operating in 2003]. Recently we saw the tendering of the copper mine of Aynak in Logar Province of Afghanistan, [where] a very big Chinese company moved in.

Security needs development and development needs security. If we invest more in Afghanistan, chances are that we will bring security. But if we stay away from Afghanistan, chances are Afghanistan will see more insecurity. So, you know, the two go hand in hand.

The ANDS talks about the 'Afghanization' of redevelopment. How important is it for the Afghan government and the Afghan people to feel ownership over this redevelopment strategy?

The call for international aid to be channeled to Afghan institutions is timely. That is another move toward Afghanization. But the terminology of Afghanization came into being when we were discussing security. About a year and a half ago there was a strong call by the Afghans and the international community that the time had come that we Afghanized the security of the country. We support the security agencies, mainly defense, the Afghanistan National Army, the police force, and the National Security Directorate. The focus was on security but now we are moving it into the other sectors, making sure that Afghans take control, but of course with the backing and with the support of the international community.

So the message in Paris will be a nuanced one. On one hand Afghanistan is ready to take the reins but on the other Afghanistan can't do it alone.

Of course. The point is that two-and-a-half years ago when we went to the London Conference there was a pledge in there. The pledge was that the Afghans would put a national development strategy together and the international community would support that strategy and make sure that the implementation of that strategy would take place smoothly. That meant that the international community would extend technical support and financial support to the implementation of this strategy. Now, two and a half years on, we're going to Paris and we let the world know that now we have this strategy ready. The time has come that we reconfirm the political support of the international community and also the technical and financial support of the international community toward the implementation of the national development strategy.

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