Foreign Aid May Have Exacerbated Afghan Conflict, Experts Warn

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In the words of SIGAR Special Inspector John Sopko, the West “poured in too much money, too quickly and above all with too little control”, which allowed warlords and local bosses to become extremely rich.

The Taliban takeover that followed the ignominious US-led retreat; the ouster of the West-backed government has spurred a re-evaluation of overseas aid to Afghanistan, its extent and placement.

Several experts have argued that the lack of control over aid to Afghanistan may have actually exacerbated the situation in the war-torn country.

“I believe it is a correct assessment that aid funds without sufficient control may have aggravated the conflict. Even well-controlled aid can contribute to conflicts,” Heléne Lackenbauer, research leader and Afghanistan expert at the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

She cited the disintegration of the country’s traditional decision-making structure, with autonomous clans mediating and negotiating with each other, a process that began as early as the 1980s when the US supported religious mujahedin leaders with money and weapons to fight the former Soviet Union.

“It destroyed the structure of society and has continued and escalated, especially after 2001. It has intensified injustices and exacerbated the war. The old saying goes: ‘When it rains manna from heaven, the poor have no spoon’,” Heléne Lackenbauer said.

Iranian-Canadian researcher Saeed Parto, who has lived and worked in Afghanistan since 2006, argued that that corruption in the aid system has had an adverse effect on the developments in the country.

“It definitely has. That money has been given to authorities and organisations that say that the money goes to one thing, but in reality it has gone elsewhere. No matter where it ends up, it is clear that it is harmful. When funds are paid out, it is almost impossible to follow up, as the donor organisation’s employees cannot be physically present due to the security situation. This makes it difficult to work, even for organisations that don’t use the system,” he told Dagens Nyheter.

According to John Sopko, Special Inspector at SIGAR, the US agency that monitors aid and reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, the lack of control over the international community’s aid funds has contributed to exacerbating the long-running conflict in the country.

In the words of Sopko, the West “poured in too much money, too quickly and above all with too little control”. This, according to Sopko, allowed warlords and local bosses to become extremely rich.

AP Photo / Hoshang Hashimi

Sweden alone has given Afghanistan SEK 13 billion ($1.5 billion) in aid over the past 20 years. According to the Swedish Finance Ministry, the aid has financed vital humanitarian efforts, children’s schooling and maternity care, making an important difference. At the same time, it admitted that development cooperation in the country has been “challenging”, not least due to a lack of capacity in central government and a lack of coordination.

Between 2002 and 2009 alone, Afghanistan received $35 billion of international aid, much of which has been looted in the process and never reached the intended recipients. In 2020, the aid-dependent country was pledged another $12 billion over the next four years. However, the Taliban takeover cast a shadow of doubt over future of foreign aid. Among others, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde proclaimed that the Taliban will not receive “one red cent”.

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Igor Kuznetsov. Sputnik International