Aid Effectiveness in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Kabul conference-Getty ImagesEarlier today, more than 40 international leaders gathered in Kabul to discuss how Afghanistan can take control of its security and reduce corruption to set the country on a sustainable path over the next five years.  The conference signified renewed support from the international community — particularly support from Secretary Clinton who acknowledged the unpopularity of the war effort at home.  The official communiqué following the conference sets a 2014 date for a complete transition from foreign to Afghan security, though many details are left out of the document.

The Kabul Conference highlights several reform principles:  ownership, accountability, and effectiveness. Country ownership – though loosely defined – is the cornerstone of the Obama Administration’s new approach to foreign assistance.  In Afghanistan, this means reducing corruption in government, transferring capacity, and empowering civil society.  Oxfam International recently asked local Afghans what they want as they begin to take control of their own development, and here is what they had to say.

U.S. officials also recognize that empowering civil society will ensure that Afghans can hold their government accountable.  While in Afghanistan, Secretary Clinton addressed a crowd of Afghan women who expressed concern that they would be left out of peace negotiations.  Recognizing the important role women play in development, Clinton said, “If these groups are fully empowered to help build a just and lasting peace, they will help do so. If they are silenced and pushed to the margins of Afghan society, the prospects for peace and justice will be subverted.”

Effectiveness of aid dollars has become a hot topic here in Washington.  Billions of dollars are sent by the U.S. government to Afghanistan for reconstruction efforts, yet these dollars have not had the desired impact.  Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin posted a story yesterday on a new report by the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) that examines the inconsistent policies and procedures of the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).  This report confirms concerns on the Hill, including State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) who recently said she would not appropriate “one more dime” for aid to Afghanistan.

Also in the news this week is the latest on the $7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan.  While en route to the Kabul conference, Secretary Clinton briefed reporters on $500 million in new aid programs to Pakistan, specifically targeting high-profile water, energy, and health programs.  The most controversial element of Monday’s announcement was that a large portion of the aid will be channeled directly through Pakistan’s government and organizations, instead of USAID and foreign contractors.  Clinton said, “It is however our goal to slowly but surely demonstrate that the United States is concerned about Pakistan for the long term and that our partnership goes far beyond security against our common enemies.”

The common thread among all these stories:  effective aid.  Secretary Clinton’s remarks allude to principles of aid effectiveness, particularly in a region so central to national security.  Now is the time for Presidential leadership and action to move these reform principles through so they can begin to impact our efforts where they matter most.  Sign our open letter and learn about the other ways you can urge President Obama to take action today.

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