Afghanistan: The Challenges of Post-Conflict Assistance

Feb 4, 2002

The international community should look to Rwanda for lessons in post-conflict assistance that apply to Afghanistan, argues Johnson. Also, profound knowledge of local conditions is a necessary precondition for a successful involvement. 

Your Excellencies, Friends of Carnegie Council, members of the Diplomatic Corps, ladies and gentlemen, I am honored to be here this morning.

The city of New York has always held a special place in my heart. Today, more than ever, after the terrible events on September 11 and the remarkable heroism the people of this city have demonstrated since that day.

September 11 was a turning point for many of us. Norway, together with many allies, has joined the United States in the fight against terrorism, including on the ground in Afghanistan. We are contributing de-mining experts and other personnel, air transport, and even taking part in actual military operations that are unprecedented for Norwegian armed forcesoutside of Europe.

This year alone, we will spend more than 40 million dollars on humanitarian relief efforts and development aid in Afghanistan. And we are among the countries that have provided the most funding for the Interim Administration, led by Hamid Karzai. We know that peace cannot take root in Afghanistan without functioning national institutions.

I will say much more about Afghanistan. But let me start in a different place and time, in central Africa and the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. As I am sure you recall, the international community dropped the ball time and again while one of the most terrible disasters of our time was unfolding. We estimate that almost a million people were killed.

The disaster in Rwanda taught us a great deal. It revealed serious defects in the international community s response. Because of that it marked a watershed in international humanitarian assistance. It taught us that the international donor community must be more aware of the conflict potential in societies where there is internal tension. It taught us the importance of acting on that knowledge and doing so more courageously. It taught us that humanitarian assistance must be followed up by political and confidence-building measures. It taught us that profound knowledge of local conditions and the dynamics of the conflict are necessary conditions for planning effective assistance. It taught us that coordination is everything, and that rivalry between relief agencies and other multilateral, bilateral and non-governmental assistance actors can be fatal.

It taught us that the international humanitarian system and aid organizations were poorly equipped to tackle the transition from emergency relief to more long-term sustainable development. And it taught us that if we are to achieve better results in our humanitarian relief efforts, we must delve more deeply into the causes of conflicts and disasters, and become better at coping with the dilemmas and limitations.

Since then we have seen more wars in central Africa, in the Balkans, in the Middle East. Have we learned from Rwanda? Is the international community better prepared to handle the transition from war to peace, from devastation to reconstruction, from short-term humanitarian assistance to long-term development cooperation?

Do we now know how to assist failed states in regaining political stability and democracy? In re-establishing a functioning administration? In rebuilding their physical and social infrastructure? In ensuring the human rights of their citizens? In developing their social and economic sectors? In integrating into the international community? One thing I am sure of: these questions will be answered in Afghanistan. We are in many ways faced with the ultimate test case.

There are no clear-cut demarcations in the transition from war to peace, from disaster to recovery. Obviously, we must ensure that there are no gaps between humanitarian relief and support for recovery, rebuilding and long-term development of political, economic and social institutions. For far too long we have talked about development and humanitarian emergencies as if they were two unrelated phenomena, separated in time. First emergency, then development. And correspondingly: first emergency relief, then development cooperation. In real life these are two different aspects of the same social process. By combating humanitarian emergencies we promote development. And by promoting development, we combat such emergencies.

We must meet these challenges with a more holistic strategy. Long-term efforts must go hand in hand with emergency relief. What is called for is a new approach in which all measures are regarded as building blocks, as parts of an integrated whole. There is no so-called continuum. We are talking about simultaneous action, about doing different things at the same time. We must be flexible in our efforts to provide assistance. We must aim primarily at dealing with the underlying causes of poverty and humanitarian need, rather than confining ourselves to alleviating the symptoms. This may mean, for instance, that we must seek political solutions or economic reforms while at the same time relieving dire need. In other words, we must act on several different fronts at once.

This is the basis for the strategy for Norwegian humanitarian assistance that we have formulated to guide our own efforts. Consequently, in this year s budget the Norwegian Government has established a specific "gap allocation", a budget line, supporting these efforts to promote development and peace building. It is specifically designed to prevent gap situations in humanitarian crises.

Prior to 1979, Afghanistan was among the poorest countries in the world. It was in dire straits even then, and now its economic and social situation has deteriorated even further. As in Cambodia the state collapsed. But unlike Cambodia, there were no comprehensive UN peacekeeping and peace-building efforts.

In Tokyo a few weeks ago, the international community pledged more generously than ever before to assist in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. About time, you might say. Norway has been supporting the Afghan people for many years. Now the situation is even more challenging. Reconstruction is a daunting task. More than two decades of conflict and three years of drought have led to widespread human suffering and massive displacement of people. Many parts of the country are vulnerable to famine, the infrastructure has been degraded and human resources have been depleted. State institutions are largely non-functional and the social fabric is weak.

The good news is that we have seen a promising political process taking place. The Afghan representatives showed great courage and leadership when they met in Bonn to establish an Afghan Interim Administration.

But while there is widespread political support, adequate financial support is unfortunately lacking. The situation is quite desperate, as Mr. Karzai, made clear in Tokyo. We cannot let underfunding of the administration derail the political process. The success of the peace process depends on the Afghan Interim Administration receiving the financial support it needs to do the job it has been charged with doing. There is still an immediate and considerable need for funds. In December the UNDP established a special interim fund for budget support. I hope other donors will join us in supporting this fund.

There is still a great need for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. At the same time, we must start the longer-term reconstruction efforts in order to underpin the political process and ensure sustainable development.

Many of today's wars are composite and complex conflicts, often involving uncontrolled rebel groups and elements of aggression from outside. Experience shows that there is little room for compromise and negotiated solutions. Often, war can become a lifestyle, where people cannot imagine a future without it. In around half of the situations in which it has been possible to negotiate a settlement, the conflict has flared up again within a few years. Examples are numerous, including Angola, the Balkans, the Great Lakes region of Africa, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, and Sudan. There are quite a few such conflicts in the Middle East alone.

Some of the conflicts are well known to us in Norway, since we have been involved as mediators or facilitators. We have seen the importance of the international community exerting political pressure on the parties involved, addressing the root causes of the conflict, supporting a fragile peace settlement to stabilize the situation. A long-term international involvement is crucial.

The political process in Afghanistan, too, is fragile. The next transitional authority, to be installed in mid-2002, will have much more legitimacy than the present one. The donors should remember that it, too, will need considerable support. The problems will not be over by the summer. Far from it, in fact. Political stability, human security and development efforts are the keys to progress. This is why we, the international community, must provide every possible support to both the interim and the transitional administrations.

Whether we like it or not, Afghanistan is a test case by which the leaders of the international community will be judged. Our goal must be to make Afghanistan safe, stable, democratic and, eventually, we hope, prosperous. With all the experience we have accumulated from the tragedies and disasters of the past, we ought to be able to do it right this time.

The reconstruction effort must be seen as part of the larger task of nation-building, helping to create the conditions for peace, stability and social inclusion. A functioning, self-sustaining state needs infrastructure, public administration, political institutions, a health system, and schools. Afghanistan has more than enough warlords, guns and misery, but lacks just about everything else.

Children should be at the center of our efforts. They are, quite literally, the future of Afghanistan. Extensive repair work is needed to make up for the misery Afghan children have been through. We must never forget that if we lose the children, we lose the future.

The standard of education in Afghanistan is among the lowest in the world, and the country has the largest gender gap. Only 3 per cent of all girls are enrolled in primary education. Two months from now a new school year will begin in Afghanistan, and we must make sure these figures improve. The sooner we invest in education, the sooner Afghanistan will benefit from the returns.

Agricultural production has suffered from drought and war. Agricultural development and food security must be ensured through, for example, rehabilitation of irrigation and water harvest systems. It must have high priority.

The health status is among the worst in the world, and measures must be taken immediately. Less than a quarter of the population has access to safe water.

Creating employment opportunities is another critical dimension of the reconstruction process and one that is essential for maintaining peace and stability in Afghanistan. Labor-intensive public works programs to rehabilitate infrastructure will be valuable in themselves and will create much-needed jobs.

The establishment of good governance, with a focus on institutions and systems, should be at the core of our efforts. Particular priority should be given to support for the establishment of technical departments geared towards delivery of services to citizens.

Last, but not least, there is the problem of landmines. Mines kill people. They prevent the return of refugees. Mines deny people access to land and prevent the rehabilitation of essential infrastructure. They must be removed. In itself, a momentous task.

The Afghans must be at the helm. Building the new Afghanistan is primarily the responsibility of the Afghan people. They must set the priorities, determine what kind of assistance is required and decide the pace of the reconstruction efforts.

Of course, the international community, too, has expectations. We expect political progress, peaceful resolution of internal conflicts and effective measures to combat corruption and promote democracy and human rights. The legitimacy of the new Afghan authorities will depend on their ability to establish a truly representative government through full inclusion. In Tokyo we were pleased to hear that Chairman Karzai promised full rights for women and vowed to create a transparent and accountable government. This bodes well.

The Afghans' own experience, knowledge and strength must be the foundation of every effort made. We must foster partnerships not only with new government actors at the local and national level, but also with local NGOs and community-based organizations, women s groups and academics. The local NGOs and the thousands of local staff members of other NGOs and UN agencies make up an important basis for Afghan civil society.

We cannot rebuild Afghanistan. We must provide the resources. But the most important building bloc, so to speak, is the Afghan people. The job has to be done by the Afghans themselves, building on their local knowledge, local capacity, on local people. This provides for a more sustainable and long-lasting development.

Strengthening national capacity takes time and requires a firm, long-term commitment to institution-building on the part of donors, rather than a rapid infusion of funds for high-visibility projects of the kind often favored by donors.

There is a danger that by moving too quickly, and putting visibility first, the donors will ignore Afghan ownership, which is the main precondition for a successful transition. We have to take into account the current absorptive capacity of the administration. We pledged our assistance in Tokyo, but the Afghan economy will not recover if the government is unable to adopt reforms.

One of the most important things we must do when planning for reconstruction is to avoid duplication of effort. Not only does this entail wasting precious resources. It also results in low efficiency and limited national ownership. The growing number of donors and NGOs wanting to extend their programs represents a great challenge for effective aid delivery and coordination.

There is now more funding for Afghanistan than ever before, at least in the form of pledges, if not as yet in practice. And the Afghan administration has probably never been weaker. During the Brussels meeting in December, the Afghan Minister of Finance called for a limit to the number of development partners and for coordination of efforts. I agree with him.

Coordination is the key if we are to succeed in giving effective support to the Afghan people. It is vital that there be a close link between humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and development efforts. There is a need for close dialogue between the international community and the Interim Administration, and for practical coordination mechanisms between those closest to the realities on the ground.

An implementation group has now been established, chaired by the Afghan Interim Administration and co-chaired by the UNDP, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and Norway, in its capacity as chair of the Afghanistan Support Group (ASG). This structure is intended to ensure closer cooperation between the different actors at country level.

But it cannot be repeated too often: Afghanistan has seen enough turf battles between warlords. It doesn't need turf battles between the providers of assistance as well. Donor coordination is vital. Lack of coordination between donors, and between donors and recipients, is just as deadly and destructive as the fighting between the warlords. And donor dominance, in the long term, is a recipe for disaster.

And I am afraid that the small signals we have seen so far have not been promising.

As the donor representative in the IG and through the ASG, Norway will address this issue loud and clear. We will do our utmost to facilitate coordination between all relevant actors. At the same time we will work together with the legitimate Afghan authorities to ensure Afghan ownership of humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and development efforts.

As soon as practically possible, a Consultative Group chaired by the Afghan authorities should be established. This mechanism must replace all other donor groups.

We now see the contours of closer cooperation between the UN and the development banks. Norway supports the establishment of a single Trust Fund administered by the World Bank, with UNDP, ADB and IsDB as board members. The establishment of such a Trust Fund will facilitate our coordination efforts.

Even more importantly, a single Trust Fund would simplify procedures for the Afghan authorities. We hope donors will choose to channel a large part of their assistance through such a fund, as we are planning to do. However, the signals so far have not been positive. A Fund that handles only 25 percent of the overall funding will not do much to facilitate coordination. Predominantly bilateral programs for the larger part of the assistance do not make the work much easier for the recipients.

I would also support a Comprehensive Development Framework (CDF). Such a framework would ensure that bilateral activities contribute to coherent development efforts.

The United Nations and its member states have gone through a learning process in the follow-up to the Brahimi report on peace operations. One of the most important conclusions of this report was the need to bring all relevant parties and aspects of a peace-building operation together from the very start.

Afghanistan is our first real opportunity to implement the Brahimi conclusions in the field. It is, as I have said, a test case. And we are pleased that the UN special representative in Afghanistan is Mr. Brahimi.

We are about to win the war in Afghanistan. Now we must make sure that we also win the peace. I believe we have all learned a lesson from East Timor, the Balkans, and the conflicts in Africa—that peace, security and development are interlinked.

A durable, stable peace can only be achieved on the basis of sustainable development that focuses on poverty eradication. When shifting our perspective from short-term needs to long-term development, security is a key factor. Peace can easily slip back into war. Fewer people will plant seeds when the harvest is uncertain.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is therefore a central part of the support being given by the world community.

The viability of the peace-building process depends ultimately on the establishment of a legitimate Afghan state that is responsive to the demands of the population, and able to resist threats from military groups within the country and pressure from external parties. We must support structures in Afghanistan that strike an appropriate balance between national, regional and local authorities. Military groups have fought a decade of civil war. They have a record of massive human rights violations, systematic crime and corruption. It is imperative that we contribute to reducing the militarization of politics and converting the economies of war to economies of peace.

The early establishment of a national security force will be essential in this, but it will also be important to harness the energy of local institutions and civil society leaders. There will have to be effective demobilization, including the provision of alternative means of livelihood for those who have lived by the gun.

The new national army and police must be professional, representative of the community, appropriately sized, effectively managed, and subordinate to the civilian authorities. A tall order, yes, but a necessary one.

One of the biggest challenges of the reconstruction process in Afghanistan will be to ensure that the Afghan authorities fulfil their human rights obligations. To achieve this objective, a UN human rights program for Afghanistan is being developed under the Bonn agreement.

According to the interim cabinet, Afghanistan will continue to be an Islamic state, and it is likely that the country s legal system will incorporate Islamic law (Shari a). We must ensure that national and local customs and local interpretations of Islamic law are not given priority over basic human rights. This is vital.

It is very important to build a strong and independent judicial power and a professional civilian police force that has an adequate knowledge of human rights. The Bonn agreement requires the Interim Authority, with the assistance of the United Nations, to establish an independent Human Rights Commission to monitor and investigate human rights violations. This will also make it possible to investigate past abuses.

The UN High Commissioner is already investigating the massacres that have been perpetrated. I discussed these efforts with Mary Robinson recently. Those responsible should be brought to justice, regardless of their rank or status. We are concerned that there are alleged perpetrators of serious human rights violations among the members of the interim cabinet.

The Afghan interim cabinet has allowed women to return to work and has put education for girls high on its agenda. Nevertheless, the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan is unacceptable. It is unrealistic to believe that this will change in the short term. I hope, however, that the end of the war and restoration of the rule of law will improve the overall situation of women, and will encourage moderate groups.

Ms. Samar, the interim minister of women s affairs, has said that it is hard to coax women out of their homes as long as there is no real security on the streets of Kabul. Efforts must be made to ensure that women feel safe and are able to take part in building the new Afghanistan.

Three months from now, on May 20th, a new, independent nation will be born in East Timor. On the reconstruction side, I think East Timor has much to teach us. The international community should be proud of the way in which it responded to the post-conflict situation in East Timor. The contrast today with late 1999, when the country was shattered and its people traumatized, is truly remarkable.

The reconstruction efforts in East Timor have been characterized by the effective coordination and pooling of individual donor resources through mechanisms such as joint planning missions and international trust funds. East Timor has benefited from these innovative partnerships, which have simplified planning and administration and ensured that limited resources are devoted to the highest priority needs.

The UN, in close cooperation with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and major donors, has been able to coordinate an effective reconstruction process.

Of course, much remains to be done in East Timor, and the international community will have to continue to coordinate its support effectively after independence. There is also a major difference between a population of 800 000 in East Timor and the 23 million in Afghanistan. The crisis in Afghanistan is also more complex. Nevertheless, we should learn from East Timor.

In Africa, many countries have endured decades of civil war and destruction. The Security Council has had limited success in its efforts to find lasting solutions to the many conflicts in Africa. This doesn t mean that we haven t made some headway.

There is a glimmer of hope in Sierra Leone. The war in Angola has lessened in intensity. The peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea is still holding, and the Inter-Congolese Dialogue has been initiated. A major challenge will be to develop more effective means of preventing and resolving conflicts on the basis of the experience we have gained.

Still, there seems to be no end to the suffering in the Great Lakes region. The horrifying consequences of the recent volcanic eruptions in Goma have intensified the humanitarian crises. Next week I will be traveling to the region with some of my European colleagues, the so-called Utstein-Group, for a first-hand impression of the challenges we are facing, and to support the fragile peace process through political dialogue.

We have been providing humanitarian assistance to Sudan for thirty years. That s a long time. Is it possible to reach a point where a long time becomes too long, when enough is enough? We haven t given up on Sudan. We ve been using the humanitarian and diplomatic instruments at our disposal strategically to put pressure on the parties and in a persistent search for solutions. And today I believe that our efforts are beginning to pay off.

Media attention and CNN's camera lenses often determine humanitarian assistance. The public demands swift action when the spotlight is on. By the same token, when the cameras withdraw, much of the suffering is forgotten. We have seen donor agencies leave along with the international press. But just as we must respond quickly when a crisis arises, so must we be prepared to stay when the media have left the scene.

Far too often we see donors who are preoccupied with their own flags, instead of pulling together to achieve common goals and ensure peace. We ve seen "disaster tourism" and lately also "terrorism tourism" (Pakistan) and plays for visibility in full display. This is unacceptable. Our primary concern must be the results, and just that. Results for the poor and those who suffer.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: "The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation. It cannot be a peace of large nations—or of small nations. It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative efforts of the whole world."

My sincere hope is that the international community has finally learned the lessons from Rwanda and all the other killing fields. This time we must get it right from the start.

We will not win the peace unless we act in concert, and no peace can be won without the ownership of the people. Afghanistan is not a hopeless case. It is the test case of our generation of international political leaders.

If we fail in Afghanistan, it will be our greatest failure.

Thank you for your attention.

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