Reconstruction and Development Need Security To Be Effective (Afghanistan)

Roberta Cohen
Roberta Cohen Former Brookings Expert, Co-Chair Emeritus - Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

March 1, 2003

Post-war Afghanistan is an unfortunate but telling example of how lack of security in a country can undermine economic development. In large measure because of the poor security in many parts of the country, agencies charged with Afghanistan’s reconstruction and development have been reluctant to carry out major road building, establish communications networks, repair irrigation systems, and undertake land reclamation projects.

The Tokyo donors’ conference in January 2002 that pledged $4.5 billion for reconstruction over a five-year period failed to emphasise the critical importance of a secure and stable environment for achieving economic and political development. Nor did President Bush, when speaking of a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan, mention the need to bolster public security in the country. This unnatural separation of development and security goals has produced what one observer called a Catch-22: “Without security, the money for reconstruction won’t come. Without reconstruction, the Afghan government can neither support nor protect its population.” According to Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, “It is only logical that without adequate security, reconstruction and investment will stall, encouraging the illicit narcotics and arms sectors to flourish again.”

It comes as no surprise that to date, less than half of the funds pledged by donors in Tokyo for Afghan reconstruction in 2002 have been received, and the funds that have arrived have gone largely to relief, not reconstruction and development. Slow bureaucratic procedures and red tape account for some of the delay; so too does Afghanistan’s absence of infrastructure. But a major deterrent is the lack of security. Development programmes simply cannot go forward in the rural areas when it is unsafe for engineers, truck drivers, merchants, international investors and technicians to travel there freely. “When we go outside Kabul,” staff members of the US Agency for International Development told the author, “we must do so with military escort.”

About 40 percent of the 2 million returning refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) have crowded into Kabul, Herat and other cities because it is there that they can find a modicum of security and work. As a result, slums have sprouted up around the capital and tremendous pressure has been placed on its already weak infrastructure. Of those who do return to their villages, many uproot again because of unsafe and unsustainable conditions. Most serious is that this failure to return home has slowed up the rebuilding of farms and the replanting of crops, both urgently needed to restore Afghanistan to food self-sufficiency and free it from dependence on international relief.