Kabul Conference (3): More plans and programs, but what has happened to the earlier ones?
There are mixed feelings among Afghans on the eve of Kabul International Conference. Many people who are involved in convening the Conference, are extremely excited and proud that it’s the FIRST international event being hosted and planned by the Afghan government during the past ten years. However, there are some other critics who continue with their cynicism that it’s nothing more than just another conference on Afghanistan. However, we can only assess the impact and effectiveness after a while, when the promises in the conference are deceived or fulfilled. Time will tell…. but my cynicism stems from the past failures.
In this week’s editorial, Afghanistanâ€™sÂ 8 am national newspaperÂ writes that the Kabul Conference is yet another hopeless theatre of empty promises of the government. The article continues that 11 months after the newly elected government, Afghanistan still does not have a complete and functional cabinet. Its own Ministry of Interior claims that among 365 districts throughout the country, only 9 of them are safe. The Afghan Constitution has been violated numerous times from the extension of the president’s working tenure to the instances where the government took the decisions of the parliament with a grain of salt.
Being the subject of a long list of international conferences, Afghanistan has tremendously benefited from earlier conferences like the conferences of Bonn, Berlin and Tokyo. Since those conferences launched a new roadmap for Afghanistan, Berlin and Tokyo’s billions of aid assisted Afghanistan towards a state-building process and enabled the presidential and parliamentary elections to take place throughout the country.Overall, the Afghans were more hopeful about their government at that time and the focus was on development rather than military surge. Any subsequent international conference on Afghanistan was not more than a formality.
While each conference has had a pledging component, aid effectiveness remains a controversial question in Afghanistan. In each conference, the Afghan government and the international allies created more plans and unlimited benchmarks, but none of the conferences in the past have taken stock of the progress made towards the achievement of those benchmarks. Instead, more funds have been pledged and more priorities have been introduced. In a recent interview with Ariana television, Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai who is the Chief convenor of the conference, said that the reason the Afghan government could not spend its development budget well was a lack of national level programs and initiatives. However, Dr Ghani himself has been part of national level initiatives like Afghanistan Compact and ANDS. What happend to those plans?
This international conference on Afghanistan, referred to as the Kabul International Conference, too has similar plans. According to the Afghan government officials, the conference aims to introduce around 23 areas of priorities and seek 15 billion dollars from the members of the international community to implement those areas of priority in security, governance and social development sectors.
A glance at the recent international conferences exhibits vague and unknown progress, even by the rough statistics. For example, in 2006 the government of Afghanistan introduced the Afghanistan Compact at an international conference in London. The Afghanistan Compact was a comprehensive plan to address some of the basic and fundamental social development and governance priorities of the Afghan government and its people. However, right after two years of the Afghanistan Compact, another plan was introduced at the Paris Conference and that was the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. Again two years down the line, Afghanistan sees almost no significant signs of the implementation of the ANDS on the ground. It is worth mentioning, that the Comprehensive Strategy concluded at the Hague Conference last year too has remained unachieved so far.
However, even after good planning, there are two conditions for the proper implementation of any development plan in Afghanistan and those are improved security and increased accountability through combating corruption. United States as the major donor of Afghanistan claims to have pledged almost 51 billion dollars to Afghanistan, according to theÂ SIGARâ€™s first quarterly report of the 2010. One of the most important priorities for the Afghan government and its international allies has been building the capacity and expertise of the National Security Forces so that they can take the responsibility for stability in the country. According to the benchmarks set by theÂ Afghanistan CompactÂ and ANDS for security forces: â€śBy the end of 2010, a nationally, respected, professional, ethnically balanced, Afghan National Army will be fully establishedâ€ť. Unfortunately, as we are heading towards the end of 2010, the Afghan National Army is neither professional nor fully established. According to the recent audit of the Afghan National Security Forces, SIGAR found the training poor and the capabilities of the forces were measured wrongly and inconsistently by the earlier reviews of the NATO. The audit further concludes that the training provided to national forces were not productive and effective and that the United States has spent almost 21 billion dollars the training and equipment of the national security forces.
While the ANDS and Afghanistan Compact claim to establish functional and effective mechanisms to combat corruption, there are unresolved disputes on the lines of responsibility of the current mechanisms responsible for curbing the widespread spectrum of corruption in Afghanistan. Amidst structural arrangements, the country did not have a clear law or legal procedures for the prosecution of high government officials for embezzlement charges, but numerous commissions have been created and recreated. For example, the government already had a Directorate of Fighting Corruption, but another organization by the name of High Office of Oversight was established to review the charges and cases of corruption at the government level. This happened in spite of having a national Attorney Generalâ€™s Office that has been claiming to be the primary warrior of fighting corruption at the government level throughout the country. Amidst already opaque circumstances, the Afghan president increased the implementation authorities of the High Office of Oversight, which created more contentions between these organizations at work.
Many critics argue that the creation of commissions have only been a political gesture by the government to manipulate the ongoing calls of the international community on the government to address the issues of corruption. A recentÂ report by Integrity WatchÂ shows that the impact of corruption has increased: Afghans have reported to have paid twices as many in bribes in 2009, compared to 2006. This means that even though commissions and Office of Oversight is created, the government offices are still indulging in various forms of corruption that go un-accounted. And the most corrupt parts of the government have been declared as the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice and the National Directorate of Security, which are the wheels of any functional government.
Security and accountability are the fundamental conditions for development and progress in Afghanistan. The government should strive to evaluate its past progress through participatory means so that the tangible achievements in Afghans lives are made visible, if such achievements exist. The government, with the support of civil society organizations, should launch a stock-taking campaign throughout Afghanistan to finally evaluate the impact of billions of dollars poured into this country through government and non government initiatives. Such accountability initiatives can create a level of trust and hope among the common Afghans, who are skeptical about the billions of aid dollars.
We cannot create more programs and plans if we do not know the exact progress of the previous plans. Moreover, one of the very crucial plans has been the population census survey in the country. It is of huge importance for planning and resourcing any development initiative. For a small dinner party, we first make the list of the guests before planning the menu, but in Afghanistan we have had numerous dinner parties without knowing the exact number of the guests.