Half Measures for Afghanistan

President Obama’s plan to send 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan — in addition to 17,000 previously announced — was apparently a compromise between his political advisors and his military ones. Described as a “down-payment” option on future commitments once the Iraq draw-down is completed, this measure seems designed to buy time in the hope that Afghan President Karzai, who is meeting with President Obama on Wednesday, will get his army and his government in good enough shape to effectively engage with the Taliban and their allies.

The Washington consensus seems once again to be that the U.S. is not engaged in nation-building. In other words, we will train your army but we are not going to educate your kids. For some observers, like WPR’s own Andrew Bast, as well as Paddy Ashdown and Joseph Ingram in this NY Times op ed, this is a recipe for disaster, as the increased suffering of the people brought about by a lack of assistance will lead directly to support for the insurgency.

For the period from 2008 to 2012, the financing gap is about $22 billion, or 48 percent of estimated needs. Worse, the activities financed by the donors have so far been seriously out of line with the strategic priorities established in Afghanistan’s National Development Strategy, which has been strongly endorsed by the donor community as a whole.

Further fueling the problem is the fact that:

Currently, only 20 percent of the international community’s financial aid is being managed through Afghanistan’s national budget and in accordance with its strategic priorities. This is occurring despite a recent World Bank assessment that shows substantial improvements in the government’s overall capacity to manage developmental resources. Instead, 80 percent is being managed by donors themselves, creating costly inefficiencies.

One glaring irony is that even though the international donor heavyweights (World Bank, IMF, USAID) pushed for a National Strategy, they seem to be side-stepping their own recommendations.

The reason for this may have been the flawed process for creating the strategy in the first place. According to a report (.pdf) issued by the Afghan Research and Evaluation Unit, a Kabul-based think tank, the process excluded key members of the Afghan government, was uncoordinated and rushed through, with the priorities of the donors seeming to far outweigh the expressed needs of the Afghan people and their elected representatives.

No one can say where all this is going, but the accumulating evidence suggests nowhere good.