Beyond Reconstruction in Afghanistan: Lessons from Development Experience

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Initially, PRTs were U. There were sixteen PRT lead nations as of March Many nations disagree over the role the military should play on PRTs and whether civilian reconstruction and aid organizations can work in coordination with the military. For example, some lead nations have restricted their PRTs from venturing beyond certain distances of their bases, while others forbid operating after dark. Depending on the lead nation, PRTs also vary in the size, structure and manning of the teams.

The U. PRT model has a staff of 50 to people, is led by a military officer typically a lieutenant colonel , and stresses force protection and small, quick impact reconstruction and assistance operations. The civilian staff includes specialists from the State Department, the U.

Agency for International Development, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Justice, and other civilian agencies. The German model strictly separates the military and civilian functions of the teams. There are 26 PRTs currently operating in Afghanistan. The location city, province and lead country given in parentheses for each PRT are presented below by command region:.

Beyond Reconstruction in Afghanistan

Skip to main content. Afghanistan Project. Afghan Government. Badakhshan Province. Badghis Province. Baghlan Province. Balkh Province. Bamiyan Province. For want of an alternative, aid coordination and the definition of sectoral policies, which are the responsibilities of central administrations, also have to be entrusted to donor-funded project implementation units. When we travel up the hierarchical chain we see that many high Afghan leaders, even at the ministerial level, also belong to such project implementation units to collect the corresponding salaries. The system is totally unstable and can only last as long as international aid agrees to pay.

Since foreign technical assistants are perceived as a free good, the easiest approach is to use technical assistance to make up for the lack of competent local staff. These foreign experts work in a country where they do not understand the languages and the culture, where they do not have local counterparts, where local managers cannot define or monitor properly their work, and where their loyalty to the Afghan authorities is uncertain since their careers depend on the international consulting firms that employ them.

Furthermore, this technical assistance cannot train local professionals to replace it since Afghan staff leave as soon as they are trained. The result then is an impasse, with criticism being made of the technical assistance whose quality is deteriorating as security conditions themselves are worsening. But nobody, including donors and high Afghan leaders, knows what else to do. This problem, which has become critical in Afghanistan, is not specific to this country.

In the DRC, government leaders are currently facing a similar problem as they attempt to form the technical teams that they urgently need. I was recently on a mission for the Cambodian government, which was faced with the same type of challenge. It is astonishing that far from being new, these issues were already present in Africa in the s and that appropriate solutions had already been devised in the early 90s But the weakness of the tax ratio in a country that paradoxically has always lived off its geopolitical income 39 means that the necessary fiscal resources cannot be mobilized.

In this respect, the government depends on the good will of donors who nonetheless are reluctant to make long-term commitments, which are essential in this field. It is therefore necessary to undertake a c omprehensive reform of the public administration in order to rebuild the government structure. This task is extremely ambitious and difficult since it needs to be implemented rapidly and on a large scale.


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It is also politically challenging. Leaving the responsibility of hundreds of projects to international donors or to PRTs cannot be a reconstruction policy.

Nation-Building

Neither is subcontracting the development of rural areas to NGOs that are not supervised by coherent national programs. The importance of reconstructing the government structure was initially recognized both by Afghan authorities and some funding agencies. We already noticed that Mr. To do so, he recruited teams of Afghan professionals on consulting contracts who were supervised mostly by US technical assistants. He was successful in restructuring, customs, taxes and the treasury; he secured the payment chain of government expenses, entrusted government procurement responsibilities to a foreign entity, blocked corruption at this level, started using the budget as an economic policy instrument, and implemented a monetary policy worthy of the name.

Dismissed in because he was becoming an obstacle to several powerful players, his actions to build an institution nevertheless weathered the course of time. The system remains fragile, as the status of the Afghan consultants that make up the ministry's backbone remains uncertain and the qualities of his successors may vary. If, however, Afghanistan had been able to both benefit from two dozen ministers of this caliber as early as and mobilize the billion dollars needed from donors over a 3- to 4-year period to rebuild the main State institutions, aid would have been used infinitely more effectively.

The Afghan drama is that the other key institutions critical for stabilizing the country, particularly the police, justice system and local government, have remained traditional administrations of a failed state governed by nepotism and corruption. This logic is very strong and contradicts any goal of effectiveness.

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Ultimately, in most cases, ministers with sometimes only very basic training blindly manage institutions whose missions are vague, whose organization is defective, whose internal procedures are nonexistent, and whose supervisory personnel are chosen based on ethnical and political criteria. They confirm their belief that only the project implementation units that they select, and whose personnel they pay, can implement the projects and programs they fund. The circle is now complete.

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To so do, they were assisted by various aid programs to build the capacities of Afghan administrations. Unfortunately, these programs were established in a way that was too limited and with too few resources. The number of men with the authority and experience to oversee an ambitious modernization process was also certainly limited. This deal was not offered. The goal of this institution is precisely to facilitate the creation of a modern administration by selecting civil servants on the basis of merit only.

This institution, which was established with the help of several donors, focused its efforts, for want of resources, on a limited number of key departments in the ministries deemed the most important. The approach was intended to be temporary, pending a new salary scale whose budget cost obviously presented a serious fiscal problem. Technical and financial support from funding agencies remained too feeble Numerous ministers viewed it as a fundamental hindrance to their power.

And last but not least, apart from a small pilot project, the program was not extended to the local government which should have been its main beneficiary. But not surprisingly, the lack of resources blocked the experiment which now only concerns about 31, staff out of a total of , civil servants. Note, to avoid ambiguity, that the cost of salary surpluses for an ambitious reform program would have represented only a fraction of the annual cost of technical assistance. This program now benefits about 16, staff. Since then, other specific ad hoc schemes funded by different donors have proliferated and provide bonuses and top ups to civil servants and fund local consultants in what has now become a completely chaotic system.

Since there is no coherence in the system because the different schemes are funded by different donors in an uncoordinated way, the wide differences in treatment now fuel resentment and jealousy among beneficiaries. The key problem that should have been raised initially is the dual lack of Afghan leadership and strategic oversight of international aid , which never devoted the required attention and money to this major topic.

Develop the institution on this basis, by recruiting properly paid, high-quality personnel at each level. Define the organization, responsibilities, procedures, and working methods. Then mobilize financing, insofar as possible, in the form of national programs, where donor money melts into a common pot managed by the ministry. Prepare projects that are then, in the framework of these national programs, widely implemented in the field by closely supervised NGOs. And lastly, discipline international aid so that it complies with the basic principles of the Paris and Accra conferences on aid harmonization.

On the basis of such a political choice that can scarcely be imposed from the outside, all that would have been needed was about a hundred capable leaders with free hands who, in key posts, would have made a difference and cleared inevitable blockages and obstacles. Now is the last time to confirm this experiment which still remains too limited. There is also lacking, from donors who have also now largely lost their faith, a real will to depart from business as usual, to leave aside the habitual concern for party loyalty and accept a discipline where aid can be managed according to clear strategic objectives.

A main leader on this end will therefore be needed to provide the missing coherence. In the present mess, I tend to believe that only the US can provide such leadership as they de facto do in the military area. In addition, more money will certainly be required. But even more importantly, time is required to make up for all the time that has been lost 44 … Basically, from to , Afghanistan could have made the choice to modernize its State. The Karzai regime and its Western backers ended up refusing this modernization.

This unfortunate choice having been made, the country was returned to its demons.

In fact, while this approach undoubtedly puts an end to a political impasse with the first election, there is a strong risk that things will go wrong in the next elections, 5 or 6 years later, when the team in power that now controls the revenues and rents associated with its position inevitably refuses to surrender its place.

The disastrous presidential election at the end of in Afghanistan, like the legislative elections in , highlighted this type of problem, which also created a dangerous split in the political alliance that was agreed to in between the former Northern Alliance and some Pashtun groups. The Afghan parliament, which undeniably has some remarkable personalities, including women with exceptional courage and talent, is therefore partly comprised of mafiosi and gang leaders who bought their votes and consequently immunity, which they hurried to reinforce by enacting an amnesty law.

The goal should be to facilitate the search for political compromise in order to establish monitoring mechanisms and checks and balances, so as to keep the election winner from hoarding excessive power and revenues. It is especially important to take time to create a grassroots democracy at the village level.

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Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) | Institute for the Study of War

This is where democracy is most urgently felt and demanded by populations. The thirst for grassroots democracy is therefore immense.

But at the same time, it will undeniably be essential to construct, if it is still possible , a real grassroots democracy, probably starting with Community Development Councils or similar structures, and by giving real substance to the various provincial bodies that have been created on paper but currently have no resources or authority. This is an ambitious project that should move this centralized Afghan State, which exists on paper only, to a more decentralized form. But once again, is it too late in Afghanistan?


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That is, unfortunately probably the case in the southern and eastern parts of the country. The year will tell us whether it is also too late for the rest of the country. Difficult decisions now need to be made. The real compact between the international community and President Karzai should have been infinitely more stringent than the one that was presented in the London and Paris conferences. Aid shall first and urgently address the reconstruction of the Afghan government structure.

For this to happen, about a hundred Afghan leaders with the requisite qualities of integrity, leadership and organization shall be appointed to head key institutions and positions.

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