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Afghanistan and Central Asia: Priorities for Reconstruction and Development


It is widely recognised that Afghanistan cannot be left as a failed state that might again shelter terrorists and breed instability across the region. Rebuilding the country will require an immense commitment of resources and attention by the international community for some time to come. Terrorism triggered the intervention in Afghanistan but donor countries are going to have to tackle a much wider array of issues to bring long-term stability.

The immediate tasks are threefold – putting in place a new government that represents as wide a cross section of Afghans as possible; rebuilding an administration, capable in the first instance of handling increased levels of humanitarian aid; and ensuring security on the ground, probably provided by an international force made up mostly of soldiers from Islamic countries.

Substantial reconstruction efforts will not begin until these processes are advanced but planners need to begin considering how to stabilise and develop Afghanistan and the surrounding countries. Donors will have to find considerable sums of money if past programs of post-conflict redevelopment are considered. Current estimates of the costs of helping Afghanistan range from about U.S.$5-6 billion over five years to U.S.$25 billion over a decade. Making a significant difference to living standards and stability in the wider region would likely double the bill.

To win support for these efforts and to undercut the message of extremists, this money must benefit people and not end up in the pockets of Afghanistan’s warlords. To this end communities need to have a major stake in projects, donors need to fund more projects outside Kabul, women will need to have a key place in development efforts and fighters will have to be induced to do something other than fight.

Afghanistan has not had a strong central government for decades and one is not likely to emerge now. Recognising this, efforts must be made to build up existing local political structures and support those that can act peacefully and learn to resolve disputes without resorting to weapons. Identifying local powers such as shuras (local councils) and other possible partners for development work should be a key priority although this is a complex task given the changing security situation.

The challenges in Afghanistan include rebuilding shattered infrastructure and clearing the mines from homes, fields and irrigation systems. Even returning Afghanistan to its pre-war state will not be enough as the population has grown by 10 million people since 1978 – from around 15 to 25 million including refugees. Much of the country will need to be built from the ground up. Vastly improved health and education are essential to promote rapid improvements in the lives of Afghans.

To work together in broad-based government, all ethnic groups will need to feel more secure economically, politically and culturally, and so a focus on information and education is vital. The hard-line madrasas that educated the Taliban and promote Islamist extremism need to be put out of business, not through the sort of repressive measures seen in Central Asia but by offering a better alternative to parents who wish to see their children educated.

Redeveloping this country will not ease all the problems in what has in reality been a regional conflict. Donors will have to focus more attention on Central Asia’s failing economies and unresponsive governments if that region is not to become more unstable. Central Asia is already a combustible mix of corruption, ethnic divisions, poverty, authoritarianism and emerging Islamist extremism.

The two neighbouring powers – Pakistan and Iran – will have to be induced to play a more positive role in Afghanistan. This will require financial and political incentives but stability will only come if the security interests of these nations are tackled. Iran wants to see an end to drug production as well as protection and a political voice for Shia Muslims. This crisis may present an opportunity for the West to build a new constructive relationship with Tehran.

Pakistan will need to be reassured that a future government in Kabul will be friendly – most of Afghanistan’s governments have not been. Both these countries need more assistance in tackling their drugs problems and Pakistan will need help rebuilding its tax and education systems and civic institutions.

The neighbouring countries all need to reduce their influence in Afghanistan and all will require efforts to stabilise their economies and societies. This present serious problems for the West as all these countries are run by often unresponsive, authoritarian and unpopular governments. Blindly assisting these governments without pushing for deep changes in their political and economic situation will only store up problems for the future. Aid to the region must build momentum for reform.

To respond to the problems facing Afghanistan and its neighbours and to diminish the risks of extremism and conflict, donors will have to establish fast moving management structures for aid, apply concerted pressure on those nations that obstruct efforts and focus their energies on improving the lives of all people across the region.



1. Donors should adopt a regional approach, tackling development, drugs and security problems not just in Afghanistan but in the neighbouring countries as well.

2. Donors should establish a coordinated set of trust funds that will allow rapid disbursement of money in these areas:

q Regional development
q Demining
q Return of Afghan refugees
q Education and media
q Regional drugs program

3. The World Bank should coordinate management of the funds and the establishment of an Afghan Reconstruction Agency focussing on speed and flexibility of disbursement and implementation.

4. Donors should make long-term funding commitments that are likely to be in the area of U.S.$25 billion over ten years for Afghanistan and a similar amount for the wider region.

5. Donors should ensure a smooth transition from humanitarian to reconstruction aid in the coming years by putting funding and planning mechanisms in place as soon as possible.


6. In the absence of a coherent central government in Kabul, the funds should adopt a decentralised approach, working with local powers ranging from regional commanders to village shuras.

7. To provide rapid benefits to Afghans and reduce tensions, aid should be targeted at:

q Job creation in linked programs of infrastructure repair and demining.
q Education, beginning with provision of materials and efforts to get girls back to school.
q Healthcare, beginning with aid to hospitals and efforts to expand immunisation and TB treatment.
q Media and communications to expand awareness of political activities and spread information to the wide population.
q Human rights monitoring, education and gathering evidence for future accounting of abuses.
q Drug control through a coordinated regional plan of crop substitution, rural development and harm reduction with a strong focus on HIV.


8. Donors should directly address the failures of reform and the worsening human rights situation in Central Asia, applying concerted pressure for economic and political change while offering increased long-term support for reforms

9. Donors should end the bias towards channelling aid to capitals and target resources at the most vulnerable and tense areas, including:

q Ferghana Valley
q Karakalpakstan
q Surkhan-Darya
q Gorno-Badakhshan
Autonomous Oblast

10. Donors should expand assistance significantly beyond its present levels across Central Asia in the areas of:

q Poverty alleviation
q Legal reform and development
q Access to media and information
q Education
q Health and environmental projects

11. Donors should develop projects that promote regional cooperation and trade in Central Asia by:

q Improving transport and communications, particularly local radio and Internet links.
q Promoting open but secure borders.
q Promoting joint emergency and environmental planning and action.
q Promoting regional initiatives on energy, water and the environment.


12. Donors should work to overhaul Pakistan’s taxation system so that the system can underpin currently weak institutions.

13. Donors should fund efforts to develop the education and health systems to reduce the influence of extremist madrasas and improve living standards.


14. Western countries, particularly the United States, should take the opportunity to build better relations with Iran by following up on proposals for dialogue.

15. Donors should provide Iran with assistance to deal with refugees and drugs.

Osh/Brussels, 27 November 2001


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