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Afghan Realities

Afghanistan, a critical nation, remains essentially on life support.

| Mon Feb. 6, 2006 3:00 AM EST

Article created by The Century Foundation.

Last week, Condoleezza Rice joined leaders from Afghanistan and 60 donor nations in London for what may have be America’s last best chance to get its strategy on track for Afghanistan, a critical nation that remains on life support.

Afghanistan’s problems are a symptom of a single key issue: the nation’s government is exceedingly weak, over-centralized, and incapable of providing security, collecting taxes, or delivering services, especially in the provinces where people need them most.

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This is a big reason the Taliban are stronger today than at any point since they were ousted. Strongmen, smugglers, and narcotics traffickers have consolidated their fiefdoms and used September elections to further entrench themselves. Reconstruction and economic growth have been confined to a few urban areas and Afghans continue to experience some of the worst poverty and health standards in the world.

Before the conference, Rice had promised “a significant new contribution to Afghan development” but in London it became clear that no increase was planned: the $1.1 billion in development assistance proposed for next year is the same amount the United States gave last year.

There may still be time to correct the course, but donors will need to boost their aid dramatically and make the development of Afghan capacities their top priority.

Reconstructing a fractured society is a monumental task which requires substantial resources and an approach that balances security and development. A RAND study, which cites per capita aid flows in the early years of nation-building, is illustrative: relative successes were achieved in Bosnia ($679 per capita), Kosovo ($526), and East Timor ($233). On the other side of the coin is Afghanistan, which received a scant $57 per capita.

The two previous donor conferences (2002 in Tokyo and 2004 in Berlin) delivered less than half of the $28 billion promised, and of that only $4 billion went to rebuilding projects. (During this period, drug revenues overshadowed reconstruction funds by a two-to-one margin, tilting power further toward criminals and strongmen.)

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