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$16 Billion for Afghanistan: Why Less Money Might Be a Good Thing

We returned last week from a brief trip to Afghanistan, where we met with people on all sides of Kabul’s enormous aid industry – representatives of several donor agencies, contractors, NGOs and current and former Afghan government officials – about the underlying strategy of the U.S. aid effort in Afghanistan, and how it must change during the upcoming transition. As we departed Afghanistan, President Karzai flew to Tokyo asking for at least $4 billion per year for the next four years, and he appears to have gotten it. Is this good news? Is $16 billion too much or too little? And does the mutual accountability framework agreed to by the Afghan government and the international community mark a real turning point in the aid strategy for Afghanistan, or is this just more of the same? Here are a few reasons that the results of the Tokyo conference are mostly good news.

Fake Aid

This is a joint post with Justin Sandefur

Winning hearts and minds is a key part of the US Military’s counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, and a major rationale for USAID’s $15 billion investment in the country. This strategy rests on Secretary Clinton’s vision that defense, development and diplomacy are closely linked, mutually reinforcing goals -- a win-win-win foreign policy love triangle.

Some development experts, channeling their inner Dr. Phil, have been skeptical of this model. But much of the industry has been won over by the lure of Pentagon-sized budgets for real aid projects serving real development goals like rural development and girls’ education.