PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- With all eyes on London and the high-profile Afghanistan Conference, a quieter gathering that took place this week in Prague might have shed more light on the opportunities, challenges and uncertainty that lie ahead for the war-torn country.
The conference, co-sponsored by the Prague Security Studies Institute and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, brought together military and civilian practitioners of reconstruction and development work in Afghanistan, ostensibly to discuss the future of Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan. But the wide-ranging panel discussions also addressed the broader challenges of reconstruction, as well as the urgent need for overcoming them, if the effort to stabilize Afghanistan is to be successful.
PRTs emerged in Afghanistan in 2003 as an ad hoc response to the inherent security challenges presented by reconstruction work in an ongoing conflict zone. Made up of personnel from both civilian development agencies and the military, they represented the first efforts at interagency, whole-of-government stability operations upon which a counterinsurgency approach depends. Their ability to respond quickly to local needs by bypassing bureaucratic and chain-of-command bottlenecks soon led to wider applications. Now, as Mark Ward, special adviser on development to the chief of the U.N.'s Afghanistan mission, observed, with $1 billion in funding and roughly 30 teams operating in the country, the PRTs are collectively one of the biggest international aid donors to Afghanistan.