With the right economic leadership, the economy could grow at a respectable 5 per cent in the coming years – given that Afghanistan's mineral reserves are worth as much as $3 trillion - says think-tank
As international donors prepare to meet in Tokyo, on July 8, to discuss Afghanistan's economic future - the focus should be on more than making new aid commitments. Donors should craft a longer-term agenda for good governance to tackle the country's immediate problems and prepare for the 2014 drawdown of foreign troops.
To ensure development and stability, the Afghan government and the international community should commit to the following measures: strike the right balance between support for the army and building strong civilian institutions; focus on sustainable growth and development in addition to security ; reduce aid dependency progressively and attract job-creating investments; combat corruption and empower civil society; resist creeping erosion of achievements in women's rights; engage in capacity-building for journalists, encourage new media.
The good news is that with the right economic leadership, the economy could grow at a respectable 5 per cent in the coming years. The bad news is that corruption and graft continue to plague the country, endangering prospects for building a stable and prosperous Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai is hoping the conference in Tokyo will agree to aid pledges worth $4bn a year. Having already poured billions of dollars into the country and given the current global economic slowdown, donors are understandably wary of making new commitments.
Donors should make sure Afghanistan has access to sustained financial support in the coming years, but they should also link such assistance more firmly to improved governance. The economic outlook is more upbeat than many believe. The coming decade offers "high hopes, expectations, and great opportunities", according to World Bank country director Bob Saum.
The country is believed to have mineral reserves worth as much as $3 trillion, which could theoretically generate billions of dollars in tax revenue. More can also be done to tap into the agricultural potential. Major strides have been made in schooling children and improving health for mothers and children, but three-quarters of citizens are illiterate and the average person earns only about $530 a year - according to the World Bank.
In addition, the situation for women remains precarious. European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Catherine Ashton, among others, has said she is "deeply troubled" by recent developments in the country - including the Afghan Justice Minister Habibullah Ghalib's suggestion that women's shelters were home to "immorality and prostitution".
Ashton added: "His comments set back efforts to fight violence against women in Afghanistan, including the need to provide victims with safe places to take shelter. Too many Afghan women have experienced violence, gender-based and sexual, often on a repeated basis. Women forced to resort to shelters are amongst the bravest Afghans we know."
The government has asked donors to channel more aid funds through the national budget rather than through contractors or aid groups. Donors are also being asked to better tailor aid to the government's priorities including health, education, agriculture and the mining sector. The donors' response should, however, hinge on efforts to combat waste, fraud and corruption. They should also demand that Afghan promises are followed up by real action. Shada Islam is head of policy at the Friends of Europe think-tank, in Brussels