Conflict and Development in Afghanistan since 2001: a critical analysis based on Duffield and Uvin
By Tim Foxley
Summary: A paper I have just written as part of my Masters Degree studies in Peace and Conflict here at Malmo University. It is an attempt to look at some of problems of the militarisation of development in Afghanistan. I would very much welcome any feedback. PDF version here
Conflict and Development in Afghanistan since 2001: a critical analysis based on Duffield and Uvin
“The legacies of disrupted development hang over Afghanistan like a dark cloud.”
Afghanistan has been undergoing continual conflict since the 1970s. A grim pattern of civil war, international military intervention, civil war and international military intervention looks likely to continue the sequence in the coming years. Over eleven years have passed since a US-led multinational Coalition attacked and removed the Taliban regime which was then controlling Afghanistan. This action, in response to the 9/11 attacks on the mainland United States of America by Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qa’eda (AQ) Islamic terrorist group, by the US was sanctioned by the United Nations.  At the time, the core of the AQ organisation (including Bin Laden himself) was based inside Afghanistan and believed to be hosted and supported by the Taliban. The Taliban’s attempt at conventional military resistance was brushed aside by a combination of US airpower, Special Forces and anti-Taliban warlords. Mazar-e Sharif, in the north of the country fell in November 2001, with Kabul and Kandahar, the Taliban’s “heartland”, falling shortly afterwards, in December 2001
At the Bonn Conference, in December 2001, a combination of Afghan religious, political and military figures approved the establishment of an interim Afghan government under Hamid Karzai and laid tentative plans for developing a constitution and a democratic electoral process.
The international community intensified a series of political, economic and development initiatives. Billions of dollars were committed at international donor conferences and in other, bi-lateral, agreements. These were intended to restore Afghanistan, seen for many years as a failed state, back into the community of nations. Initial progress was rapid and encouraging, with optimism perhaps peaking in the 2004/05 period with the broadly successful completion of Presidential and Parliamentary elections.
However, the incoherence of the international community effort, its underestimation and lack of comprehension of the problems in the country, together with the not coincidental re-emergence of the Taliban as an effective insurgency, growing in strength from year to year, began to hamper this progress. The Taliban were able to feed upon local frustration, suspicion and unhappiness with aspect of the international presence – the military component certainly, but also a broader resentment of other “Western” practises and values. The difficulties of rebuilding the political and infrastructural framework of Afghanistan – the problems of which were only slowly becoming apparent as the years went by – became significantly more complicated as it became clear that the reconstruction effort would increasingly be taking place during an unfinished war. The effectiveness or otherwise of the numerous international civilian and military development initiatives—across a range of large and small projects, both “top down” and bottom up”—remain the subject of intense controversy and criticism. In 2008, the highly experienced outbound EU envoy, Francesc Vendrell, complained about the “many mistakes” made by the international community in Afghanistan since 2001 and stated that the West had no strategy for victory.
Into this context, it is the intention of this short paper to review the issue of the intentions, motives and performance of the international development and aid community in the context of Afghanistan. The two key drivers of this case study are “Development, Security and Unending War”, by Mark Duffield and “Aiding Violence – the development enterprise in Rwanda”, by Peter Uvin. Duffield and Uvin offer analysis and critique on the evolution and current issues surrounding the application of development aid by (predominantly) Western nations operating in failed state areas of the (predominantly Third) world. Duffield looks at the macro-level; the post-colonial concepts behind, and the diverse applications of, development aid across large parts of the world. Uvin focuses on the role international aid and development efforts may have played in genocide atrocity played out in Rwanda during the early and mid-1990s. Both are outspoken in their criticisms behind the motives, concepts and implementation of aid and development.
Both challenge the reader to consider the questions “what is the role of development?”, “When is aid effective or ineffective?”, “when is aid counter-productive?” and the concept of the state sole monopoly of “sovereignty/contingent sovereignty”.
My sense is that the Duffield and Uvin conclusions are open to challenge and reappraisal in the extremely complex environment of Afghanistan, where perhaps one of the most significant difficulties for international development effort is that a major conflict is being fought at the same time as aid and development work is being undertaken. This presents an array of dilemmas and challenges for both military and civilian actors alike in Afghanistan. My research question, therefore, is:
“How can Duffield and Uvin’s studies of development and conflict assist our understanding of the “militarisation” of international development efforts in post-2001 Afghanistan?”
The intention is to refresh the critiques of Duffield and Uvin through the use of post-2001 Afghanistan as a case study. I shall employ the design of a Critical Instance Case Study as defined by Bruce Mann in 2006 in order to explore some of the assumptions made by Duffield and Uvin. I intend to use a broad selection of sources; there is a rich and diverse selection of commentary and critique from military, NGO, government, international, Afghan and analysts alike regarding development activities undertaken inside Afghanistan. I shall also draw on my own field notes and experiences, where appropriate.
I shall extract, apply and analyse some particular examples from post-2001 Afghanistan that highlight the tensions between development and conflict generally and the dilemmas generated by the military’s increasing involvement in the provisions of some forms of aid and development. I shall use these examples try to explore, at the strategic and the local levels, the impacts that militarisation might be having on development efforts in Afghanistan. I shall consider the implications from these examples in my final conclusions and make any relevant recommendations for further analysis. It is not my intention to consider the broader geo-strategic issue of Western motives and Duffield’s assertion that the role of international aid is to hold down and contain the Third World as this is too big a topic to incorporate within this paper.
Definition of Terms
There are various interpretations of the meanings for the three key concepts of “development”, “conflict” and “militarisation” upon which I shall be concentrating in this paper. In the context of this study, the definition of “development” is perhaps the more difficult and controversial. Turning to Duffield and Uvin is unsatisfactory. To buy into the Duffield definition you almost by default align yourself with his critique of it. Uvin does not appear to give a precise definition at all. For the purposes of impartial and reflective analysis, I intend to keep the definitions as neutral and simple as possible and shall use the following:
Conflict: “…the pursuit of incompatible goals by different groups.”
Development: “a specified state of growth or advancement”
Militarisation: “the phenomenon whereby the military’s role in policy formulation and execution takes precedence over, subsumes, or replaces the role of civilian agencies”
Afghanistan prior to 2001: development and the international community
It is not the intention of the paper to consider Afghanistan pre-2001, although it is necessary to sketch in the general environment and role played by aid, development and the international community. I have leant heavily on Goodhand’s overview of the evolution of the aid and developmental debates and challenges during the 1980s and 1990s which I shall make use of in order to set the scene. Afghanistan has been dependent upon international aid in many ways for decades, if not centuries, passing through British colonial ambitions (19th and early 20th century), through US agricultural projects (1950s and 60s) and Soviet military and governmental projects (1970s and 80s). In many ways the aid challenges of the last twenty years are echoed in today’s Afghanistan: the fragmented nature of effort, the corruption, favouritism and misdirection of aid, the incorporation of aid work into political and security agendas. 1990s saw the development of a full-blown civil war in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s retreat from Afghanistan in 1989 and the second half of that decade saw the rise of the Taliban. Unrecognised by the United Nations, they were an additional and significant obstacle to the business of bringing aid to the country as they were violently opposed to Western values and saw no need for the modern trappings of government of development of any sort. On surveying the problems and prospects of the aid community in Afghanistan in 2002, Goodhand concluded that it must make the leap from small-scale aid to large-scale development and enable “home-grown governance and Afghan entrepreneurship”. For all the flaws, this is what we have seen take place in Afghanistan over the last ten years.
Post-2001 Afghanistan: international military intervention
The rapid military and political collapse of the Taliban over November and December 2001, following the combined military intervention of international Coalition forces and local Afghan militias, was striking and surprising. The political environment for Afghanistan suddenly becoming fast-moving and dynamic. It generated an unprecedented “surge” in political, military, economic, developmental and aid activities inside Afghanistan. Optimism and expectations were high for Afghanistan’s political and economic progress. Thus, the time when some of the most important decisions in regard to Afghanistan were being taken (the scale and nature of military intervention, the design of a political settlement, the commitment of billions of dollars for development) was also perhaps the time when the international decision-makers knew least about the country that they were moving into.
Militarisation of development at the strategic level
The speed and success of the military intervention had perhaps three major immediate effects, the impacts of which were not so clear at the time. Firstly it created large power vacuums across which warlords and regional powerbrokers both inside Afghanistan and, more often than not (given the dominance of the Taliban up until then) in exile in neighbouring countries rushed to fill. Secondly, it reversed a centuries-long primacy of the Pushtun tribal groups from southern and eastern Afghanistan – now associated by default with the Taliban. Historically they had provided the rulers of Afghanistan. The balance of power had shifted in favour of the northern Afghan ethnic groups whose well-armed (and now, thanks to massive injections of cash from the CIA and US Special Forces, well-funded) militia forces. These groups swept into Kabul in 2001 and dominated the key Ministries of, firstly the provisional government, and then then official government of Afghanistan. Thirdly, it made it possible for the Taliban to be excluded from a peace talks—they were not involved in the Bonn talks which laid out the “roadmap” for the political and developmental reconstruction of Afghanistan.
The overwhelming success of this militarised “solution” for Afghanistan, by its apparent completeness, created other longer-term implications for development. The surge of optimism created a wave of expectation amongst the population that was matched only by the level of promises from the international community. The massive injection of civilian and military resources created an over-confidence amongst the population as recipients and the international civilian and military forces as deliverers, that “anything was achievable”. The success allowed “go large” options to be considered with regard to rebuilding Afghanistan. A key Duffield critique—that international development is deliberately low-level and sustainable in order to “contain”—does not appear to stand up to scrutiny in the case of Afghanistan. Development projects were no longer restricted to the low-level, the small-scale and the sustainable; the establishment of a constitution, an electoral process, a parliament and a brand new armed forces and police force was initiated.
The presence of a powerful and demonstrably successful international military force (ISAF—the International Security Assistance Force, formed in December 2001) in Afghanistan enabled the commencement of these ambitious political and economic development plans. I judge it doubtful whether international community decisions would have been adhered to for long (if at all) without a credible military force to back it up; the 1990s was riddled with examples of well-intentioned, but ultimately toothless, Western efforts in Afghanistan to broker ceasefires and provisional governments and coordinate aid and development work. But the military presence also provided a tension. The very act of being there, for many of the rural, poorly educated, fiercely xenophobic and strongly Islamic population, was a provocation. This was not across the board—the international military presence was—and, arguably, still is—supported by most of the population. But, as the first flush of success died away, the international community got into the detail and complexities of rebuilding an entire Third World country. As popular expectations were neither managed not met satisfactorily, for all the demonstrable effort and money committed, Afghan frustrations and resentment grew. This was something that the Taliban continue to be able to tap into as a source of recruitment, particularly in the south and east of the country.
Militarisation of development at the local level
Since 2001, the efforts of the military coalition in Afghanistan have embraced a range of military—and increasingly, civilian—activities. Initially much effort was put into humanitarian aid efforts (providing essential foods, blankets, oil, medical assistance). But this quickly migrated into more ambitious, but still localised, projects; building or repairing schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and wells. These activities were almost always justified in variations of the term “hearts and minds” or counter-insurgency (COIN)—gaining the support of the population in order that you do not have to fight them—which immediately pushed the perception of these forms of development work into the realm of a military tool for defeating the Taliban.
As the scale and length of the international commitment became apparent, larger development projects were also embraced by the military. The language of the “quick win” (short-term aid to gain favour amongst the local population) gave way to the “comprehensive approach”, a more integrated method of employing an extensive range of civilian, government and military assets in a coordinated approach to addressing the development problems across Afghanistan. The on-going efforts to equip and train a several hundred thousand strong Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)—essentially the army, air force, police and border guards—are well documented.
However, although much of the military development activity was intelligently-applied, well-structured and possessed an impressive wealth of physical and human resources, the efforts fell into the same sort of traps that the civilian aid and development efforts did over the years in Afghanistan. Direction was either lacking or changeable as leadership and command staffs rotated into and out of the country every 6 – 12 months. The relative lack of experience, knowledge and understanding of the country hampered performance. A “top-down” directional style of getting things done frequently became patronising, arrogant or culturally insensitive, perhaps most publically evidenced by numerous instances of Afghan soldiers turning their guns on their Western trainers.
To recap, “militarisation” is defined for the purposes of this paper as the phenomenon whereby the military’s role in policy formulation and execution takes precedence over, subsumes, or replaces the role of civilian agencies. Having taken this definition and overlaid it onto post-2001 Afghanistan, it is possible to identify some key military/development tensions that Duffield and Uvin would probably recognise from their wider studies of development, particularly where it comes to incoherency of practise.
There is an essential dilemma: security (or deterrence) of the sort only provided by the international military coalition is needed in order for much development to take place. However, many aid agencies and NGOs feel the existence of ISAF challenges their position of neutrality. Increasing combat has led to increasing civilian casualties, with civilian development aid workers more likely to become targeted as revenge. The multinational military force has given rise to incoherency—each contributing nation to ISAF has different rules, priorities and agendas. This compounds the difficulties of aid agencies in knowing what to expect in their areas of operations. As an additional effect, there are tensions even within ISAF as to the relative priority accorded to non-military, i.e., aid and development, versus military operations by nations. Germany has come under criticism on a number of occasions for spending too much effort on development and not enough in fighting the growing insurgency. The international military forces generally embrace the concept of “hearts and minds” and activities of a construction, development or aid nature are routine procedure. From the military’s perspective this is important and good practise as it reduces the desire of the population to shoot at them. The language of aid, development and other “civilian” activities permeates the culture and actions of 21st century Western military forces: CIMIC (Civil Military Co-operation), PRT, CERP, Hearts and Minds, Comprehensive Approach. But military effectiveness in undertaking development projects has been hampered by a lack of cultural, political and historic understanding, exacerbated by a rapid turnover of personnel and shifting strategies from year to year.
Provincial Reconstruction Teams
A good specific example of the dilemmas created by the local militarisation of development was the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) concept, which had its origins in Afghanistan in 2002/03 and quickly migrated to Iraq following the fall of the Saddam regime. They were designed as small civilian and military teams, perhaps 100 -150 people, (but almost always commanded by a soldier) and were set up across the country to provide assistance, advice, training and funding for a variety of aid and development projects initiated by the international community. At the peak of the PRT experiment in Afghanistan, there were 26 such outposts across the country, commanded by many different nations. Western governmental aid agencies (DIFD, CIDA, USAID) generally operated from them. Some of the PRTs performed well in difficult circumstances—they ensured that at least some development work was undertaken in even the most difficult parts of the country. But many criticisms were soon levelled at them:
- There was a great variety of capabilities and resources
- The command structure was military
- There was significant “micro-management” from national capitals
- There was often a significant lack of coordination with other aid agencies and even internally between civilian and military components.
- Much of the work initiated was ultimately not sustainable or well thought through due to pressure to be seen to be doing something by national capitals.
The capabilities of the international government and military forces frequently put other civilian (and Afghan) aid efforts to shame. US PRT commanders had access, through the CERP scheme (Commanders Emergency Response Program), unprecedented funding for development projects and were encouraged to be creative:
“In 2010, at the height of the U.S. troops surge, the Nangarhar PRT spent around $24 million on projects in the province through the Commander’s Emergency Response Program, a fund given to military commanders to invest in reconstruction projects. The work included $5.5 million for street repair in the provincial capital of Jalalabad, $300,000 for the pediatric wing of a hospital and several high schools that cost around $200,000 each. Civilian agencies also channeled money through the PRT.”
Time does not permit a detailed exploration of the strengths and weaknesses of the PRT concept, which in any event, are well-documented. Although the security provided by the international military force certainly enabled development work that would otherwise have been impossible, aid agencies were routinely sceptical of the PRT concept, dominated as it was by the military. Concerns over their operations—the blurring of military into civilian activities, the lack of coherency and the confusion created within the Afghan population—were highlighted by Save The Children, amongst others, as early as 2004.
In the end, some PRTs were exerting so much influence that they became criticised for undermining the Afghan government’s own efforts to assert its sovereignty over the country:
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accused foreign reconstruction teams of undermining efforts to build up the state’s institutions. He said the Provincial Reconstruction Teams were like a parallel system of government, and they would have to go. The teams build roads and schools and carry out other aid projects, funnelling billions of dollars into areas outside Kabul.
And this was the key failing in the PRT concept; they distorted local dynamics. Afghan national and local government officials would often go direct to the PRTs for funding and approval rather than concentrate on building Afghan structures. Thus the development of Afghanistan’s own governmental system was in many ways actually hampered by international military development work.
In many ways the ultimate results of the many and various civilian and military development efforts are unlikely to be known for some while—it remains to be seen whether the government, security and electoral processes will hold together when the international community essentially ends its military presence inside Afghanistan at the end of 2014. Some good working practises have undoubtedly evolved as a result of the unprecedented amount of civilian and military collaboration. But the costs—both in dollars and lives—may yet prove to be some form of “high water mark” in international nation-building development. The international community—Western governments in particular—may now consider the costs too high and retreat back into smaller-scale and piecemeal aid projects. The civilian aid community still appears sceptical about the dominant role and uncertain impact of the military in this field.
This short paper has not allowed for a detailed examination of the militarisation of development inside Afghanistan—many questions have not been considered or have been touched upon only briefly (PRT lessons identified, patterns of attacks against civilian aid workers, Afghan popular understanding of international development work, the role of private security companies…). These might all usefully form the subject of further study. Duffield and Uvin’s over-arching critiques of development; questionable or contradictory motives and flawed application appear to remain broadly valid, although the diversity of both civil and military aid and development efforts suggest caution should be applied in order to avoid treating international development as a monolithic block from which generalisations can be made. But, for all Duffield’s impatience with the “which must come first, security or development?” conundrum, this remains a very real issue in Afghanistan to which there is no obvious answer. What works in some parts of Afghanistan does not necessarily translate into a viable template for the rest of the country. Military and civilian co-existence—however forced and uncomfortable for some—looks likely to be a continuing theme for development efforts generally and Afghanistan’s future, specifically.