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Afghanistan ranks among the poorest countries in the world and the least developed in Asia. While parts of the country have experienced success in building democratic institutions since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, they remain fragile. Insurgents, including a revived Taliban and Al Qaeda, pose a serious threat and have claimed thousands of lives. Millions of Afghans still live as refugees in neighboring Pakistan and Iran, though thousands have been forcibly returned home.
Since 1999, the United States has made the war against terrorists based in Afghanistan a top foreign policy priority. A related initiative has been reconstructing and developing Afghanistan to provide the population an alternative to the radical program of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. However, despite providing substantial assistance to Afghanistan, the United States has not formed a coherent and effective development strategy for the country.
CRS Policy Position
Catholic Relief Services' (CRS) experience in Afghanistan has shown that the United States must determine where and how reconstruction assistance has been the most effective, and to adapt development priorities and funding mechanisms accordingly. Therefore, CRS supports the following policy changes to support long-term stability and development in Afghanistan:
An objective and thorough review of U.S. economic, humanitarian and development assistance to Afghanistan. This would include evaluating the role of agencies implementing humanitarian and development assistance projects such as the military, Private Voluntary Organizations (PVOs) and private contractors to ensure that assistance is effective and appropriate in meeting development needs and U.S. strategic goals. An honest and thorough evaluation of the growing role of the military, Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) and private contractors in providing assistance is needed. Such an evaluation would help to assess the comparative advantage of the different actors (PVOs, contractors, PRTs) and to align resources accordingly.
- Improve development assistance. Based on extensive experience throughout the region, CRS believes that development assistance in Afghanistan requires the following:
- Multi-year funding commitments for long-term development programs rather than the U.S. government's reliance on one-year projects. Short-term projects do not afford enough time for genuine community participation, which promotes local ownership of project activities.
- Engagement of civil society organizations and local leaders in sustainable development activities. This requires a flexible approach that works with local communities in meeting their immediate needs while also building their capacity to address the entrenched problems that perpetuate poverty.
- Poverty alleviation and social justice must remain the primary objectives of assistance to Afghanistan. Therefore assistance should be directed to those areas with the most need and opportunity for development, not only those areas of strategic interest.
Assessment of the Role of the Military in AssistanceThe rise of assistance activities, carried out by military actors, including Provincial Reconstruction Teams is of great concern to CRS. PRTs can effectively provide immediate, quick-impact assistance in extremely volatile areas, but CRS cautions against an over emphasis on such projects. PRTs often fail to promote sustainable development while catering to local power holders. CRS believes PRTs should focus instead on areas in which they have a comparative advantage, such as the training of Afghan army and police forces.
For the following reasons, it is important to limit to the role of PRTs to security sector projects:
- Military actors' limited experience in development and their short terms of duty.
- Inability to fully monitor projects.
- Emphasis on military objectives as opposed to humanitarian ones.
- Negative impacts on development work and PVOs.
- Assessment of the Role of Private Contractors Many private contractors are working to provide assistance in areas such as health, economic development, agriculture and education. CRS notes that many private contracting firms have the expertise and staff to manage large-scale infrastructure programs such as road and power construction. However, when long-term development assistance is needed, CRS believes that PVOs have the experience and the trust of local communities to implement such projects.