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  Afghanistan and Central Asia: Priorities for Reconstruction and Development

OSH/BRUSSELS, 27 November 2001: It is now widely accepted that Afghanistan cannot be left as a failed state that might once again shelter terrorism and breed regional insecurity. It must also be recognised that the war there did not start with the Taliban, and will not necessarily end with their removal. If stability and security, let alone any measure of prosperity are to take hold in Afghanistan, a massive and sustained diplomatic and aid effort is required.

In a new report published today, Afghanistan and Central Asia: Priorities for Reconstruction and Development, the International Crisis Group sets out a clear blueprint for donor countries and aid agencies, emphasising the need for rapid, grassroots action and a long-term commitment across the entire Central Asian region.

ICG President Gareth Evans said: “Combat in Afghanistan has often been sustained because of the intervention of neighbouring states and global powers that have poured money and weapons into the country. It is not an isolated war, but part of a regional web of problems. There will be no peace in Afghanistan without tackling problems in Pakistan, Iran and the Central Asian nations, particularly Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The fact that the region is bordered by four nuclear-armed states – Russia, China, Pakistan and India – makes the danger of continued regional instability all the more stark.”

The estimated cost of post-conflict redevelopment of Afghanistan alone is up to U.S.$25 billion over ten years. Making a difference to living standards and stability in the wider region would likely double the bill. These are enormous sums but should be compared to the estimated U.S.$1 billion per month that Washington is spending on its war against terrorism and the U.S.$100–200 billion economic cost of the 11 September attacks.

Security in Afghanistan is the most immediate problem with planners favouring an international “coalition of the willing”, made up mostly of soldiers from Islamic countries, endorsed by the UN Security Council. This force must be sufficiently robust that it does not constitute an attractive target for terrorists, splinter factions or disenchanted civilians. It must also be able to protect those Afghans who work with international donors and agencies. Prior experience shows that local aid workers can swiftly become targets for retribution if the security situation changes.

In the absence of any strong central administration in Afghanistan – and little likelihood that there will be one soon - it is vital that donors and aid agencies concentrate on building relationships with local powers, establishing work programs to demobilise soldiers and supporting those who can act peacefully and resolve disputes without resorting to weapons. Education and health programs, especially for women and girls, are essential to promoting rapid improvements in the lives of Afghans. Efforts to rapidly improve irrigation systems and demine arable land will also be key to improving the dismal economic situation in Afghanistan.

ICG Asia Program Director Robert Templer emphasised the need for aid to focus on the local level. “To win support for their efforts, and to undercut the message of extremists, aid money must benefit people and not end up in the pockets of Afghanistan’s warlords. Communities need to have a major stake in projects, donors need to fund more projects outside Kabul, women will need to be at the centre of development efforts and fighters will have to be induced to do something other than fight.”

Human rights must be taken seriously if there is to be an end to violence. There has been very little interest so far in seeing the link between achieving peace in Afghanistan and ending impunity for war crimes. This is a dangerous approach, with the risk that those responsible for violent abuses will continue to wield authority. Investigating crimes against humanity and boosting the role of Afghans who have not come to power at the point of a gun will be essential to stabilising the country and building a government based on consent, not conflict.

Conventional donor programs are unlikely to provide the flexibility and speed that the region urgently needs. ICG therefore recommends the establishment of a co-ordinated set of trust funds, managed by the World Bank, that will allow rapid disbursements for regional development, mine clearance, refugee returns, education and media, and a regional drugs program.

Those countries that have provided help to the United States and its allies fight the war in Afghanistan expect and deserve some reward for their assistance. But the fundamentally undemocratic nature of these regimes makes international assistance quite tricky. The Central Asian states in particular suffer from similar mix of corruption, ethnic division, poverty and bubbling Islamist extremism. The international community will need to use a careful balance of carrots and sticks focussed on specific reforms to help move Central Asia beyond chronic instability, and the report identifies practical steps that can be taken in that regard.


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