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Nematullah Bizhan, "The Danger of Repeating the History of State-Building in Afghanistan"

On Monday, November 10th, Dr. Nematullah Bizhan gave a talk entitled "The Danger of Repeating the History of State-Building in Afghanistan."  This talk was sponsored by the Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center, Islamic Studies Program, Department of Political Science and ANU-IU Pan Asia.

Dr. Bizhan emphasized that a sustainable source of income is vital to the vitality of any state. However, because Afghanistan has generally been short of capital, as much of the agriculture is subsistence-based. In the past, this shortage was filled by foreign aid or spoils of war. With a drawdown of interest in the region, a lack of resources may cause a reversal in the gains of the past decade of expenditures in Afghanistan.

In the past ten years, foreign aid has proven to have mixed results. Although by metrics, Afghanistan is a much better country than it was, these improvements were made possible by aid, and were not supplemented by the creation of effective government institutions. Often, aid would bypass government mechanisms altogether. There is a lack of cooperation and coherence in donor demands, as well as a wariness of collaborating directly with the government, due to the prevalence of political patronage networks. A desire for continued aid has created a situation in which the government is answerable to aid organizations and providers, rather than to the people of Afghanistan.

Of expenditure on public projects, 85% was off-budget, which, along with donor incoherence, led to an increase in societal fragmentation as project managers dealt with various non-governmental agencies with differing goals for the bulk of their funding. In addition, many of the government ministries themselves hold overlapping or redundant areas of responsibility. Corruption and limited capacity in the Afghan government encouraged the US and other donor governments to directly manage their aid. However, this approach only exacerbated the problem, not providing any support for the broader government institutions.

In order to ensure that aid is spent in an effective manner that does not undermine government institutions, aid objectives should be reoriented towards state building. Without strong institutions, when donor attention is shifted elsewhere, any government accountability will likely evaporate.