Aiding Afghanistan?

A startling statistic appears in the most recent quarterly report of Congress’ Special Inspector General Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR). U.S. appropriations for the ‘reconstruction’ of Afghanistan have now exceeded the funds committed by the United States for the Marshall Plan at the end of World War II.

The inflation-adjusted cost of the Marshall Plan for the period 1948-1952 was $103.4 billion. The equivalent figure for funds committed to Afghanistan so far is more than $109 billion. Think of it, more money has been spent in Afghanistan than was provided to 16 countries of Western Europe for reconstruction in the aftermath of World War II!

The Marshall Plan is considered one of the most successful development programs in history. It helped to rebuild war-torn economies and solidified the basis for democratic governance and prosperity in Western Europe.

What about U.S. aid to Afghanistan? What has been accomplished? Here are some quotes from the latest SIGAR report:

  • Audits reveal “poor planning, shoddy construction, mechanical failures, and inadequate oversight.”
  • “It is questionable whether the Afghan government can sustain many non-security reconstruction programs in such sectors as health, education, and economic development.”
  • “U.S.-built schools and health facilities often cannot be staffed or supplied. … some facilities  have fallen into disrepair; others are unsafe, incomplete, or unsuited for their intended purposes.”

A far cry from the Marshall Plan!

The poor results of foreign aid in Afghanistan result in part from the Kabul regime’s lack of governance capacity. The countries of Western Europe had pre-existing institutional structures that could be rebuilt, but Afghanistan has never had an effective system of national governance. State revenues fall far short of government expenditures. According to the IMF, “Afghanistan has one of the lowest domestic revenue collections in the world” (the result of minimal payment of taxes).

Another failure factor is the link to armed conflict. Aid for Europe came after World War II in a period of relative calm, while development efforts in Afghanistan have come in the midst of intensive armed conflict. Foreign aid has been “securitized” and used to advance the military strategy of defeating insurgents. Approximately 60% of U.S. aid has been used to support Afghan security forces.

Militarized aid strategies seldom succeed. Similar attempts to fund indigenous armed forces and win “hearts and minds” through humanitarian programs failed in Vietnam and Iraq.

The bottom line: development aid cannot succeed in the absence of good governance, and it cannot bring victory in wars of dubious purpose.

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