Why did state-building efforts in Afghanistan fail?

A military helicopter lands at Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has received enormous amounts of foreign aid over the years, but despite the investment of funds and various efforts to build state capacity, the government quickly fell to the Taliban after the withdrawal of U.S. forces. To discuss what capacity-building efforts accomplished and why they ultimately fell short, David Dollar is joined by Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, director of the Center for Governance and Markets at the University of Pittsburgh. Murtazashvili explains why the government’s unwillingness to reform led to the rapid unravelling witnessed earlier this month. She also describes how Taliban rule may impact women in Afghanistan, the opium trade, and the delivery of international aid.

Related content:

Northern Afghanistan once kept out the Taliban. Why has it fallen so quickly this time?

Land, the State, and War: Property Institutions and Political Order in Afghanistan (Cambridge University Press, 2021)

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DOLLAR: Hi, I’m David Dollar, host of the Brookings trade podcast Dollar and Sense. Today, we are going to talk about Afghanistan, and we are very fortunate to have as our guest Professor Jennifer Murtazashvili, director of the Center for Governance and Markets at the University of Pittsburgh. She has a wealth of experience on the ground in Afghanistan studying governance and development, and that will be our topic. Welcome to the show, Jen.

MURTAZASHVILI: It’s a great pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.

DOLLAR: Afghanistan has been the recipient of a huge amount of foreign aid—about one quarter of the economy, GDP, in recent years—yet it seems to have had very little effect in terms of building a functioning state. So let’s start with the big question of why so much aid had so little impact apparently.

MURTAZASHVILI: This is a great question, and I think it’s the billion-dollar question for Washington especially. There’s a couple of reasons for this. One is a reason that we know very, very well, and that’s rentier effect.

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