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Anxiety as Donors Chart Aid for Afghanistan Beyond 2014

Residents of Kabul reside amongst the destruction caused by Afghanistan's civil war. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

WASHINGTON, Jul 7 2012 (IPS) - A key United Nations official on Friday urged the international community to match security funding for Afghanistan with economic and development funding after 2014, when most international – particularly U.S. – forces will leave the country.

“If the departure of the international military is accompanied … by a decrease in development resources … there is going to be less opportunities for people and less jobs,” Michael Keating, the U.N.’s resident humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan, said on Friday.

“The capacity of the authorities to provide services may decrease, and this is likely to increase the number of people who need help.”

Keating’s warning came just ahead of a major gathering on Afghanistan, taking place on Sunday in Tokyo. International donors from some 70 countries are expected to meet in what is being widely described as a “crucial” summit, tasked with charting out an aid framework following 2014.

“What we hope is that the commitments that the international community has made on the security front, mainly to fund the Afghan national security forces beyond 2014, will be matched by commitments to fund economic and development activities,” Keating said.

“Right now there is a lot of money in both the military side and aid side coming from the international community. That is likely to decrease fairly rapidly in the next two or three years … (D)o not allow a chaotic drop in resources for development, for economic growth and for humanitarian response.”

In Tokyo, President Hamid Karzai is expected to ask for new global pledges of four billion dollars per year for the first three years of a decade-long transition following 2015.

That figure would be in line with new World Bank estimates, released this week, of Afghanistan’s future development (i.e., non-military) needs.

Outside of the 2014 deadline, the bank has also sounded warnings about donor funding drying up in the context of the ongoing international financial crisis, a situation that has been exacerbated by the faltering economies of Europe.

“Sudden sharp drops in external assistance can be particularly destabilizing by changing perceptions of the government’s strength and encouraging political actors and armed groups to challenge the state’s authority,” the bank notes.

“(A)s aid resources decline, there is a risk that reliance on the opium economy and other illicit activities may increase.”

Conference fatigue

While Keating admits to the increased difficulties posed by the economic crisis, he suggests that agreement on the part of the Kabul government to step up anti-corruption efforts could do much to woo wavering donors.

“(W)estern tax payers and politicians want the Government to demonstrate that it has a very clear and strong agenda for tackling things like corruption, strengthening rule of law, ensuring that the elections take place and so on,” he suggests.

Of course, Afghan officials have heard strong talk on corruption for the past several years and, with certain notable exceptions, few substantive measures have been able to stem the tide. Indeed, according to many analyses, the situation has worsened in recent years.

So, for the second time since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the donor community is returning to Tokyo, having attended five other Afghanistan conferences in recent years. Yet this time around, “The mood will surely be different,” according to an essay published on Thursday by Scott Smith, director of the Afghanistan programme for the United States Institute of Peace, here in Washington.

“The combination of global fiscal austerity and an ongoing frustration with the pace of progress in Afghanistan has to make the ritual (of the Tokyo conference) a little more difficult to swallow. The Afghans must begin to understand that patience is running out, and money will run out with it.”

Smith concludes that the current resource crunch in governments around the world, and the very real threat of a significant drop in funding to Afghanistan, will make conditionalities demanded by the international community “more credible”.

Consolidating gains

Of course, lingering corruption and a deteriorating security situation do not cover up the fact that Afghanistan today is a far different place than it was a decade ago. And while progress on rights has been far slower than many would prefer, many of these gains could be severely threatened as the international community’s focus – and purses – moves elsewhere.

For this reason, rights groups in recent days have undertaken a concerted effort to highlight the potential ramifications for common Afghans of a sudden drop off in international support.

On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch, a global watchdog, urged donors gathering in Tokyo to recognise the impact on human rights that significant drop in development funding could bring about.

“The human-rights situation in Afghanistan is poor and could become even worse,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The decisions that donors make today will have huge implications for the lives of ordinary Afghans in the years ahead.”

Several aid groups have particularly highlighted the tenuousness of the situation for Afghan women and girls.

In a report released Friday, Brian Cavanagh, Afghanistan director for CARE International, an aid agency, notes, “We need robust and practical commitments to ensure that women and girls can safeguard the precious, but fragile, gains they have made over the past decade.”

One way or another, the Tokyo conference will mark a new chapter in the international community’s relationship with Afghanistan. In the days leading up to the conference, then, many are hoping to use the opportunity to make changes for the better, on a wide spectrum of issues.

“Tokyo participants must commit to credible and quantifiable benchmarks to monitor human-rights progress such as freedom of expression and media, women’s political participation, the number of schools open in an area, school attendance, women’s access to healthcare and trends in maternal and infant mortality,” Horia Mosadiq, an Afghanistan researcher with the watchdog group Amnesty International, said on Thursday from Tokyo.

“The Afghan government and its donor partners must make Tokyo the turning point – they must fulfil their promises to the Afghan people and build on the hard-won and fragile human rights gains of the last decade.”

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