Afghanistan aid pledges hide rehashed promises and familiar corruption fears
International donors have lined up to pledge $16bn (£10bn) in aid for Afghanistan until 2015, but the bold figure masked recycled promises and concerns over corruption.
Anti-graft provisions for the world’s fourth-most corrupt country contain many demands but little to enforce them beyond a general threat to cut funds. Civil society groups said they were welcomed but their demands ignored.
And a slice of Sunday’s headline-grabbing donation figure produced by the conference in Tokyo was a repackaging of existing promises rather than new aid, with Britain’s contribution an example of the financial confusion.
The figure in the final conference statement covered spending only until 2015, and Britain already has a long-standing pledge to provide £178m in aid a year until then.
The UK also promised additional cash until 2017, but those two years of spending were not detailed in the Tokyo agreement, only a loosely worded commitment to “sustaining support … at or near levels of the past decade”.
Senior diplomats anxious about widespread corruption in Afghanistan hailed a Tokyo framework of mutual accountability, laid out together with the funding promises as a critical tool for ensuring taxpayers money was not wasted.
It states the cash will flow only if there is progress from the Afghan government in tackling corruption, protecting women’s rights and democracy, and other key issues. Vygaudas Ušackas, EU special representative for Afghanistan, said: “The time for delivering on [these] conditionalities is now. That will determine the degree of staying power beyond 2014.”
But Kabul has long grown used to hearing strongly worded western warnings that it must crack down on rampant corruption, and appears to suffer few consequences from ignoring them.
Up to $1bn of the $8bn donated to Afghanistan over the past eight years has been lost to corruption, according to Huguette Labelle, head of the anti-fraud group Transparency International.
And although there have been a string of graft cases in recent years, including a $900m banking scandal at a lender connected with the brothers of both President Hamid Karzai and his vice-president, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, there have been no high-profile convictions.
Civil society groups that have played a critical role in areas such as improving the status of women and bolstering the rule of law, warned that they had been marginalised by the final conference statement.
Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: “Many speakers have praised the increased presence of civil society at the Tokyo conference, and it is true that Afghan civil society groups have been a forceful, organised and impressive presence. Far less in evidence, however, is any indication that anyone is taking them seriously.”
Their key demands, including a greater stake in overseeing aid, and more emphasis on human rights, women’s rights and a justice process to deal with the country’s “history of atrocities” when setting conditions for aid, had not made it into the Tokyo declaration, Barr added.
The conference aims in part to forestall a repeat of the fate Afghanistan suffered in the early 1990s, when it was largely abandoned by the international community after the withdrawal of Soviet troops, and fell into a civil war.
But the provision of a concrete aid figure until 2015 also underlines the harsh political reality that it is hard for western governments to promise money over more than a few years. Leaders, and interest, may be quite different once the troops have gone.
And for Afghans struggling to survive in one of the world’s poorest countries, fearful of a future of economic turmoil, or even another civil war, the figures bandied around in Tokyo are unlikely to mean much.
Anja de Beer, an adviser at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development writing for the Afghanistan Analysts Network, warned: “Chances are that the sweeping statements promising continuous support and billions of aid again only confirm the suspicion that this is just another talk show.”
De Beer, who has more than a decade’s experience in Afghanistan, added: “If the ceremonial renewal of the vows is what it takes to ensure the long-term needed support for the Afghans, so be it. But the big conferences could probably take place less frequently, made more driven by a genuine development agenda and resulting in realistic decisions that can monitored relatively easily.”