Too much aid given to Afghanistan is measured by input…
By Tim Foxley
This story is worth reading in full as a good example of the more general points I was trying to make in the context of the Tokyo conference – too much aid given to Afghanistan is measured by input (“we have spent x billions dollars and built y kilometres of road”) rather than output (“we have built something that is of quality, is sustainable when we have gone and something that we demonstrated both before and after the project began that the Afghans wanted it, will use it and can maintain it on their own”). Another example in the article is highlighted – the failure to bring hydro-electric power to the Kajaki region of Helmand by repairing the turbines of the Kajaki dam. This was the subject of the biggest UK military operation since the Second World War – a major (and successful) military convoy to transport the turbine. To be fair, I think the military were able to deliver their part (at great risk) and everyone else seemed to fail.
A flagship multimillion-pound highway linking Afghanistan’s major cities is of no use to the majority of the population and at risk of crumbling during the winter, a secret report presented to British ministers has warned.
The 2,700km “Highway 1”, largely bankrolled by American and Saudi millions, was seen as a symbol of Afghanistan’s emergence as a modern democratic nation after decades of oppressive rule and conflict. But senior figures within the Foreign Office (FCO) have questioned the priority given to the project – and the standard of the finished road.
A confidential paper under discussion in the department, seen by The Independent on Sunday, claims the road is not completely “metalled” with a durable surface, and has a layer of tarmac too thin to last an Afghan winter, leaving lengthy stretches in danger of disintegration. The document also complained that the highway was “of no value at all” to the vast majority of Afghans, who need better local roads to help them travel to towns closer to home.
But maybe it is too easy to criticise? Highway One is known as the “Ring Road” – it is a roughly circular highway that goes around the mountain ranges of central Afghanistan and joins up all the major cities in the country – going clockwise: Mazar-e Sharif, Kabul, Kandahar and Herat. Roads come off it – two into Pakistan and also into Iran and Central Asia. Its a great idea if you want to develop the “New Silk Road” idea of Afghanistan as a major transport hub and link between Asia and Europe. The points made against the project now – poor quality, not used by locals, attacked by insurgents – could perhaps have been picked up at the time. No Afghan road (or rail, now) will work if if goes through areas dominated by a virulent insurgency. For the first few years after the Taliban’s removal, the security situation actually looked quite positive.
But I wonder, now that people seem to be queuing up to pick holes in it, where were they at the time – after all, the project has been ongoing for ten years? Perhaps a large element of hindsight makes it easier to deconstruct the plan – particularly helped if you are not representing the government or NGO in office at the time the decisions were made. It might be interesting to see what governments and aid agencies said about the project and its associated risks at the time…