by Nadeem Iqbal
(IPS) ISLAMABAD --
Afghanistan after two decades of war must respect local needs and desires, and must be a long-term commitment, aid and development experts here say.
Dr. Paul Oquist of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) warned against "quick fixes" and "donor fatigue," arguing that there should be a "post-war" concept of special institutions and resources over a considerable period of time.
But in helping reconstruct Afghanistan, donor agencies and governments must take care to let Afghans shape their own future, officials from donor agencies said.
"I did not come to this conference to tell you how the World Bank and other donors are going to rebuild Afghanistan," Mieko Nishimizu, World Bank vice president, told an ongoing meeting of international donor agencies, some governments and Afghan aid and other groups.
"How dare we think about rebuilding Afghanistan without listening to the sovereign people? How dare we continue the very exclusion that has blighted the lives of the Afghan people so long?" he argued.
Oquist said Afghanistan can look to other countries blighted by conflict as it plots its future. Post-war Japan and Germany were good examples of countries that had been able to transform destroyed industrial infrastructure into an opportunity to construct modern, competitive economic and industrial infrastructure, he added.
Afghanistan does not have a government apparatus, he said, but that can be transformed into an opportunity to create a modern, participatory and responsive state.
The Islamabad meeting to discuss the reconstruction of the social and economic infrastructure in war-ravaged Afghanistan began November 27, parallel to a meeting in Germany on the country's future political dispensation.
Of the more than more than 300 participants at the meeting here, a majority are Afghans belonging to NGOs, the assistance community and non-governmental groups. None are from the tribal mujahideen groups.
The three-day conference is part of a three-pronged international strategy to reconstruct the country by bringing in competent political leadership, cooperation among different donor agencies and financial funding.
The meetings on reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan started in Washington on Nov. 20, which the United States and Japan co-chaired. From Islamabad, the process went to Bonn.
Estimates by international bureaucrats here put reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan at up to $10 billion. How donor agencies respond and whether the manner is inclusive of local needs and aspirations will have to be seen in the months and years ahead.
In recent years, international assistance to Afghanistan has totalled $200 to $300 million annually. It has gone overwhelmingly to humanitarian relief purposes, much of it in the form of food aid and other in-kind assistance.
Most has been channeled through the Annual Afghanistan Appeal, together with periodic Drought Appeals. The most recent example is the much larger "Donor Alert" and appeal for $584 million for the period October 2001 to March 2002, announced in late September 2001.
So far, funding has come from numerous donors, the largest of which has been the United States, followed by the European Union.
Most international assistance to Afghanistan is delivered by NGOs. There are about 40 sizable NGOs with an annual spending of $1 million or more each, along with other smaller entities.
Much aid passes through UN agencies to implementing NGOs, although the larger and more reputable groups, mostly international NGOs, attract substantial direct donor funding.
In the absence of an effectively functioning government, service delivery or leadership, NGOs have over the years become the main actors in areas such as primary education (especially for girls), rural water supply, basic health units and demining.
A World Bank paper says Afghanistan's economic situation has regional spillover effects -- through unofficial trade, narcotics, terrorism and extremism, financial flows, and movements of people.
These spillover effects have undermined revenue collection, governance and the effectiveness of economic policies in neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan. It is therefore expected that the neighboring countries would also be the beneficiaries of the rebuilding process.
But none of the six countries around Afghanistan, including the host Pakistan, have been invited to the meeting and most speakers are either international bureaucrats or development specialists, in what some said looked like an effort to stay away from politics.
Yoshihiro Iwasaki, an Asian Development Bank (AsDB) director, said that in recent weeks, the Manila-based bank has had discussions with member governments, especially with those of the directly affected economies including the Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
"Any Afghanistan rehabilitation and reconstruction will require a long-term approach for all the neighboring countries," he said.
Expecting that the huge rehabilitation exercise next door would boost the country's struggling economy, the Pakistan government has already prepared the business community to be ready to participate in the reconstruction work.
Already, Pakistan has provided wheat to the World Food Program on credit and now is poised to offer its expertise for building irrigation infrastructure and clearing landmines in Afghanistan. The clearance of landmines from all mine-contaminated areas alone could cost as much as $500 million.
But beyond physical reconstruction efforts, a World Bank paper said: "In Afghanistan reconstruction cannot be separated from longer-term economic and social development."
"Merely restoring the pre-1978 economic situation would still leave the country one of the poorest in the world in terms of both incomes and social indicators. This would make the task of maintaining political stability and promoting national integration very difficult and would leave Afghanistan highly vulnerable to resurgence of conflict," it added.
"Population growth since the 1970s means that the pre-existing economic base and infrastructure could not in any case support the current population if most refugees return to Afghanistan," the paper pointed out.
"So reconstruction will need to be combined with a massive development effort: education and health, which never reached most of the population, will need to be greatly expanded," it said.
Afghanistan's agricultural production base has to be able to support more people and roads and infrastructure much be repaired to reach inaccessible parts of the country.
Another issue is that over the years, the difference between development and humanitarian activities has become blurred.
One of the biggest problems of the last 10 years has been the extremely high overhead costs paid by donors to deliver aid, so there is a need to design future programs around as few international staff as possible.
This would mean extensive management and control by Afghans -- and development assistance aimed at building the capacity of Afghans to run these programs.
But doing economic and social reconstruction work in Afghanistan may not be easy, even for major donors. For example, the AsDB has not had operations in Afghanistan since 1980 although the country is a founding member of the bank.
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