Aid path undermining Karzai regime, expert warns
Globe and Mail (Canada)
June 6, 2008
OTTAWA — International donors, and increasingly Canada, are undermining the Afghan government’s efforts to build its legitimacy with citizens by funnelling assistance through the foreign “aid industry” instead of through the Karzai regime’s own programs, a former head of Canada’s aid program there says.
“The way to fight terrorism is to try to establish the legitimacy of the [Afghan] government and its visibility across the land,” Nipa Banerjee, who teaches international development at the University of Ottawa, said in an interview.
Prof. Banerjee, who led Canada’s aid program in Afghanistan between 2003 and 2006, said she is worried the Harper government is increasingly shifting aid from Afghan government programs to third-party groups.
She thinks one motivation for this is to build development community support for Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. “Our government thinks they are getting public support and [non-governmental organization support] for their mission if they fund NGO programs,” she said.
Prof. Banerjee wrote in the June issue of Policy Options magazine that the Afghan government’s national programs can provide “concrete evidence” to Afghans that the country is able to take care of its people.
“[Afghans] are disappointed with the deteriorating security situation and fearful of Taliban advances,” she wrote. “They long to see increased visibility and presence of their own government in governance.”
Yet she said much of development aid – including from the largest donors, the United States, Germany and Japan – is being delivered outside of Afghan government programs.
“Two-thirds of foreign assistance [is] deliberately bypassing the Afghan government, thereby undermining the government’s role in state and institution building and exacerbating the capacity crisis in government,” Prof. Banerjee wrote in Policy Options.
She said she wants next week’s Paris Conference in Support of Afghanistan to help refocus aid through the Afghan government – echoing the Karzai administration.
Prof. Banerjee estimated that about $70-million of Canada’s $170-million in annual aid for Afghanistan is being delivered through channels outside the Afghan government. She said that is a shift in recent years from aid largely funnelled through Kabul.
The Harper government is trying to shift focus away from casualties, the only broadly watched benchmark currently tracked by news media. It is preparing a series of criteria, from education levels to development work, to report progress in Afghanistan.
During a weekly briefing on the Afghan mission yesterday, a senior Canadian government official declined to respond directly to Prof. Banerjee’s charge that Ottawa is buying the support of development groups.
However, Khalil Shariff, chief executive officer of Aga Khan Foundation Canada, which conducts Afghan development work partly funded by Ottawa, disputed the notion that aid delivered by non-governmental groups is hampering Kabul’s efforts to build legitimacy.