Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Economy, Development, Environment

Beyond the Tokyo Centre-Court: Civil Society Concerns

Gran Hewad 5 min

Today’s Tokyo Conference is the third such event in a month, following the second ‘Afghanistan: Heart of Asia’ conference in Kabul on 14 June and the Delhi Investment Summit on Afghanistan on 28 June. There have also been three other events in Tokyo, involving the UN, aid agencies and civil society organisations in the run-up to the high-level international meeting already. This means that in the last few weeks, we have heard calls for better regional cooperation measures, more incentives for investors, more transparent and efficient management of the mining sector and mutual commitments for the efficient coordination of aid. Expect to hear more such noun-strings from the Tokyo conference itself. Here, Gran Hewad (with input from Kate Clark, Obaid Ali and Thomas Ruttig) has put together a handy guide to the recent conferences and looks at aid strategy in the light of the Afghan public sector having been ranked (by Transparency International) as the third most corrupt in the world.

For anyone whose eyes glaze over as they try to work out who has met whom, where, and discussed what, here follows a handy list of the meetings of the last month:
• Delhi Investment Summit on Afghanistan, 28 June.

Participants: Afghan ministers of foreign affairs, finance, commerce, mine and agriculture, the Indian minister of foreign affairs, hundreds of businessmen and other interested individuals from 34 countries.

Recommendations: improvement of the regulatory framework and incentives for those willing to invest in the ‘risky sectors’ in Afghanistan. (The final declaration can be read here.)

• Kabul Conference 2: Heart of Asia, 14 June.

Participants: Afghanistan and 29 other countries, from the region and major partners, plus international bodies (see the full list in our earlier blog here).

Recommendations: an active regional diplomatic role for Afghanistan; extending political consultations amongst Afghanistan and international community, further contribution to regional coherence, implementation of Confidence Building Measures identified in the Istanbul Process Document (read the 36 items in the final declaration here).

• Event organized by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, ‘What we have done for Afghanistan since 2002: Lessons learned from the past experience’, Tokyo, 6 July.

A sharing of achievements and lessons learned and discussion of what needs addressing in the next decade.

• UNHCR Symposium, Tokyo, 7 July, to discuss ‘Solutions strategy for Afghan refugees: Linking Humanitarian Action to Development Assistance’.

• Voices from Afghan Civil Society conference, Tokyo, 7 July, organised by Japan’s government and The Asia Foundation.

Participants: Afghan civil society organisations, Japanese, other international and Afghan aid NGOs, plus a few international rights organisations.

Of course, the grand finale – for this month – is the Tokyo conference itself, due to take place today. Representatives from the Afghan government and more than 70 other countries, along with the UN and other international agencies, will be looking at sustainable development in 2015-2025 – what the Afghan government is calling the ‘decade of transformation’. As Anja da Beer in her accompanying AAN blog on the conference, says: expect pledges of money from the donors, demands by the government for more control of it and a final declaration which will, cover such catchwords as mutual accountability, fight corruption, Afghans in the lead and rule of law.But what will all such fine words on transparency and accountability amount to when the money is spent in a state which, in 2011, was judged to have the third most corrupt administration in the world. The measure was byTransparency International, what The Guardian describes as the ‘most credible measure’ of domestic, public sector corruption. Afghanistan tied for third last place with Burma and is trailed only by Somalia and North Korea.

Even more significantly for Afghanistan’s government, citizens and international donors alike, Afghanistan’s place in the table has actually slid markedly in recent years. In 2005, for example, it was ahead of more than forty countries (117th out of 158 countries surveyed). Greater amounts of aid money and military spending sloshing around have undoubtedly been a major factor – ie the economics of aid (including the rentier state) and the actions of international players are also behind the rise in corruption. Nevertheless, it is also true that the Afghan administration has, even as it has repeatedly pledged to tackle corruption, become more corrupt in general.

In Tokyo, the Afghan government may well declare its willingness to fight corruption or spend money wisely and, at the same time, demand that more aid is directed through its own budget. So far, however, it has been barely capable of spending the money available. According to Afghan MP Eng Sayed Ekram, over the last six years the government only has spent an average of 28 to 47 per cent of its annual development budget only. As to the account of the previous fiscal year, sent to parliament by the Control and Audit Office, an independent agency appointed by President Karzai, 15 ministries and 14 other institutions have spent as little as 32 per cent of their development budget for the year 1389 (21 March 2010 – 20 March 2011). Even the Ministry of Finance was on the sinners list, as was the Presidential Office.(1) MP Ekram added that he is concerned about the lack of commitment on the part of the Afghan government regarding good governance.

As for the international players, they have rarely imposed conditionality on assistance. The IMF withholding money after the Kabul Bank scandal is one example where this was effectively done. And the British government’s decision to stop funding the Ministry of Counter-Narcotics after Zarar Ahmad Muqbel was appointed minister in 2009 was an example of where a donor just could not stomach paying out money, because of allegations that Muqbel, the former minister of interior, himself was involved in drug smuggling. For the most part, however, the donors like to spend their budgets.

Civil society organisations are understandably worried. They have chosen to highlight what will happen in the extractive industries, seen by the Afghan government as likely to be a major source of domestic revenue after 2014. Activists point to the government’s weak performance over the last few years and the lack of any serious measures to tackle corruption in any sector and are warning that mining could well exacerbate the evils of corruption. Yama Turabi, from Integrity Watch (press release here), speaking in a press briefing on 5 July, pointed to the dangers:‘The Tokyo conference is a watershed moment for the future of Afghanistan’s extractive industries. The Afghan government and the international community have an unprecedented opportunity to send a clear signal that they will not let Afghanistan go the same way as other resource-rich states (which are) mired in poverty and instability.’ 

A great deal of the Afghan civil society organizations have raised issues that should be on the table of the main Tokyo conference. Almost all of them are pointing to the need of transparency and accountability. But the Afghanistan 21 Young Leaders Initiative is not convinced that the Afghan government is presenting a ‘coherent plan for [the] implementation’ of hat it is proposing at Tokyo. The Committee for the Protecting of Journalists, against the backdrop of the ongoing debate about a media law that might become more repressive, tried to raise donor attention for the independent Afghan media that ‘is under political and economic pressure’.

And the Afghanistan Women’s 50% Campaign, fearing that a ‘civil war is looming […] if the present undemocratic, unaccountable and unclear trends continue’ (a prediction that President Karzai, in his speech before the National Youth Jirga in Kabul on 5 July called a ‘kind of western psychological war against our country’ with the aim of maintaining a presence there; Hasht-e Sobh, 5 July 2012, source: AAN media monitoring and here) drafts a long list of necessary measure which neither the Afghan nor the other governments in Tokyo likely would like to hear: from investigating human rights violations, including a role for the UN it it, and abolishing the ‘Public Amnesty and National Stability Law’ to guaranteeing ‘the independence of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission’. Let’s see how much of that will make it into the Tokyo Declaration of the main conference.

(1) The ministries are those for Refugees, Justice, Rural Development, Transport, Hajj and Islamic Affairs, Higher Education, Agriculture, Water and Energy, Border and Tribal Affairs, Counternarcotics, Information and Culture, Economy, Finance, Commerce and Foreign Affairs. The other state institutions are: Control and Audit Office, Presidential Office, Upper House of the Parliament, Independent Electoral Commission, Kabul Municipality, Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA), National Security Council, Directorate of Statistic, Independent Directorate for Local Government, Commission on Monitoring of the Implementation of the Constitution, Supreme Court, Lower House of the Parliament, Attorney General, ANSA (Afghanistan National Standard Authority).


Civil Society Economy international aid international donors regional relations Tokyo Conference