Monday, August 29, 2016

Falling Short on Afghanistan


A just-released report from Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance has produced some shocking findings with disturbing implications for the future of the war-ridden country and its unstable neighborhood. Yet the report and its conclusions have failed to capture the attention of the key politicians overseeing financial and military support from Afghanistan’s allies.

What this technical report, “The Donor Financial Review for 2008,” concludes is that the international community is falling woefully short in financing its own estimates of Afghanistan’s needs. For the period from 2008 to 2012, the financing gap is about $22 billion, or 48 percent of estimated needs. Worse, the activities financed by the donors have so far been seriously out of line with the strategic priorities established in Afghanistan’s National Development Strategy, which has been strongly endorsed by the donor community as a whole.

Although the Obama administration and its allies have stressed the need to direct more resources to economic and social development, the review suggests this direction is still to be established. As under the Bush administration, proportionately more appears to be going to security, with shrinking resources available for meeting Afghanistan’s development needs.

If this trend continues, as projected donor commitments suggest it will, the suffering of a very poor population will get worse, fueling support for the fundamentalist insurgency that threatens the entire region.

How can these dangerous trends be addressed, and are there lessons to be drawn from “successes” in other parts of the world?

Given that in the first years following conflicts in Bosnia and East Timor, financial aid per capita was on the order of $580 and $400 respectively, commitments today of only $57 per capita to Afghanistan seem laughably insufficient. These numbers suggest that the financing aid that has been committed or actually disbursed needs to be dramatically augmented.

At the same time, the proportion of resources being managed through Kabul’s own budget – rather than separately by each donor – needs to be increased. Currently, only 20 percent of the international community’s financial aid is being managed through Afghanistan’s national budget and in accordance with its strategic priorities. This is occurring despite a recent World Bank assessment that shows substantial improvements in the government’s overall capacity to manage developmental resources. Instead, 80 percent is being managed by donors themselves, creating costly inefficiencies.

Indeed, the situation described in the review defies all the principles of good practice in donor coordination, principles established by these same donor governments in a recent document known as the “Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.” While coordinating the donor community is often equated with herding cats, and each situation is unique, there are “success stories” like Bosnia, which offer important lessons.

In Bosnia, the international community was led by a so-called high representative, an impartial individual with credibility in the eyes of both the civilian and military communities. Though equipped with extraordinary powers conferred by a council made up of the government signatories to the Dayton Peace Accord, the high representative used these powers selectively, and only after consultation with the Bosnian government and council members.

Critical to successful coordination, however, was the creation locally of a board of key donor agency heads, a de facto cabinet under the chairmanship of the high representative, which met weekly, set common objectives and worked to align those objectives with government priorities. The board consisted of the heads of NATO forces, international police and security forces, the ambassadors of the European Union, the United States, Britain, the United Nations, the I.M.F. and the World Bank. Through this arrangement, the high representative, an E.U. national, was perceived as representing the interests of the broader international community rather than those of any single power.

This enabled the international community to act with unity in a way that allowed them to be better partners to the domestic authorities. The result was an efficient use of international aid, through a more effective prioritization of financial resources directed to infrastructure, health, education, a social safety net and job creation, as well as ensuring adequate security.

Given the desperate poverty and the danger of a fundamentalist takeover in the region, Afghanistan deserves no less.

Lord Ashdown is a former E.U. high representative in Bosnia. Joseph Ingram is a former director of the World Bank’s office in Bosnia.

Afghanistan declares its first national park

BrightSurf–The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) applauded Afghanistan’s National Environment Protection Agency (NEPA), which announced today the establishment of the country’s first internationally recognized national park.

USAID provided key funding that led to the park’s creation, including support of WCS to conduct preliminary wildlife surveys, identify and delineate the park’s boundaries, and work with local communities and the provincial government. WCS also developed the park’s management plan, helped the government hire and train local rangers, and provided assistance to the Afghan Government to design the laws enabling the park to be created.

The park, known as Band-e-Amir, will protect one of Afghanistan’s best-known natural areas: the spectacular series of six deep blue lakes separated by natural dams made of travertine, a mineral deposit. Travertine systems are found in only a few places throughout the world, virtually all of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage list and are major international tourist attractions.

Band-e-Amir had been a destination for travelers since the 1950s, with a peak visitation in the 1970s. Tourism was almost entirely absent during the war years between 1979-2001. Today, Band-e-Amir is visited every year by thousands of Afghan tourists and religious pilgrims as well as many foreigners currently living and working in-country. The park is near the Bamyan Valley, where the 1,500-year-old giant Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban once stood.

“At its core, Band-e-Amir is an Afghan initiative supported by the international community. It is a park created for Afghans, by Afghans, for the new Afghanistan,” said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society. “Band-e-Amir will be Afghanistan’s first national park and sets the precedent for a future national park system.”

USAID applauded NEPA for the creation of the national park. USAID believes that protected areas are a key way to preserve natural resources while also improving local livelihoods.

Though much of the park’s wildlife has been lost, recent surveys indicate that it still contains ibex (a species of wild goat) and urial (a type of wild sheep) along with wolves, foxes, smaller mammals and fish, and various bird species including the Afghan snow finch, which is believed to be the only bird found exclusively in Afghanistan. Snow leopards were once found in the area but vanished due to hunting in the early 1980s.

The lakes are under growing threat from pollution and other human-caused degradation to the fragile travertine dams.

Creating the national park will provide international recognition essential to helping develop Band-e-Amir as an international tourist destination, and assist it in obtaining World Heritage Status, which would provide additional protection. It also sets the groundwork to create an Afghan Protected Area System that could include the wildlife-rich transboundary area in the Pamirs shared by Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and Tajikistan.

The new park will be managed by Afghanistan’s National Environmental Protection Agency, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, and the Band-e-Amir Protected Area Committee. WCS helped the 13 villages lying within the park establish this Committee, which provides local input into all management decisions. The park will provide employment, tourism-derived revenue, and ensure that local communities play a key role in protecting this world class landscape.

Wildlife Conservation Society

President Obama’s New Strategy – what’s new, will it work?

Afghanistan Mission—On April 21, H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations, participated in a panel discussion held at the Woodrow Wilson School of Princeton University, entitled “President Obama’s new strategy – What’s new? Will it work?” Ambassador Tanin delivered the keynote address, which focused on the fact that President Obama’s strategy is very open to interpretation, and will need to include follow-through and sustained commitment in order for it to be successful. He warned that if the Taliban thought the international commitment had an end-date they would feel they could out-wait the West the same way the Mujahideen out-lasted the Soviet Union. He also emphasized that success will require patience, but that Afghanistan and the region will be central in the geopolitics of the future, and cannot be ignored. You can read the full text of his address here.
Ambassador Francesc Vendrell, who served as European Union Special Representative in Afghanistan from 2002-2008, and has remained very involved in the region, said he was concerned about the approach that the Obama Administration seemed to be taking. He said he felt there was a division within the Administration between those who wanted to minimize objectives and take a quick exit strategy and those who recognized the necessity of being invested for a longer period. He also is concerned that the “new” strategy does not in fact offer much that is new, and focuses on a military surge rather than the more essential civilian involvement. Ambassador Vendrell also said that the core strategy described by President Obama, to “defeat” al-Qaeda, was extremely vague, and wondered who would get to determine when al-Qaeda had been defeated.
Professor Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, founder and director of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination and Professor at the Woodrow Wilson School, expressed his view that we are facing a critical time in Afghanistan because the region is under more scrutiny than ever before, we are headed into two critical elections – presidential elections this year and parliamentary elections next year – and the region is full of important and growing powers who will need to be taken into account. He mentioned that China is becoming increasingly involved in Afghanistan – through investments in infrastructure and mining particularly – and that if the United States and NATO fail in Afghanistan, there will be substantial repercussions for the future of international politics. Finally, he pointed out what he said was the 1,100lb gorilla in the room, the economic crisis currently facing the world, and said that there would be inevitable effects on Afghanistan as a result. He predicted that governments who currently give substantial aid to Afghanistan would begin to face more and more pressure from their constituencies to spend that money at home.
The panel also responded to questions from the audience on topics including reconciliation, Iran, governance and rule of law, and the Afghanistan-India relationship.
The Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination, along with the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, have hosted a wide variety of conferences, colloquia, seminars and events on Afghanistan and the region which serve as a valuable source of academic analysis and offer an exchange of ideas between all levels of society in the United States, in Europe, and in Afghanistan and the region. LISD held a review conference on Afghanistan in September 2008 which took place in Bonn, Germany, and a number of related events will occur in the coming months, including a seminar on Afghanistan that will take place in Liechtenstein.