Kabul street

Development & Governance

Afghanistan ranks 171 out of 188 countries in the UN's 2015 Human Development Index

Aid in Afghanistan spans the humanitarian-development continuum. Certain activities are essential to provide life-saving support and basic services to communities facing acute crises or issues.  Other issues are more protracted, or chronic, and require longer-term solutions.  Sometimes the acute issues, seen in a humanitarian crisis such as a deadly flood, are considered needs-based, whereas the longer-term development programmes addressing chronic issues, such as poverty, are often more rights-based, addressing the neglect or violation of human rights which keep a community in poverty.   

The development needs of Afghanistan are both broad and deep.  In the early 2000s, Afghanistan consistently scored low in human development indices such as life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality, literacy and gross national income per capita.  Whilst there have been improvements to all of these, the overall results are still modest and some have relied upon enormous and unsustainable investment.  


The 2016 Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework – the National Unity Government’s reform agenda for 2016-2020 – reflects on some of the accomplishments from the past 15 years, including progress in school enrolment, life expectancy, access to clean water and reduced maternal mortality. However, it also pinpoints continuing development challenges that need to be addressed. Poverty in Afghanistan is ‘multidimensional’, with rates having increased in recent years to the point that nearly 40% of the population now lives below the $1.25/day threshold. 


Development programmes in Afghanistan which attempt to improve these human development ratings, face numerous challenges.  Afghanistan is classified as a fragile state – unable to protect its citizens and provide basic services, leaving the population vulnerable and susceptible to shocks.  This state is primarily the result of decades of conflict.   Large parts of the country remain unstable, with insecurity hampering the ability of the state, national or international actors to deliver basic services.  In addition, the geography and topography of the country hinders development work, whilst also increasing the frequency of shorter-term crises such as landslides, flooding, drought and avalanches. When questions are raised about the low levels of progress in Afghanistan, often framed in the aid effectiveness debate, these factors must be considered.

However, there are also other factors affecting development progress, which BAAG and its members highlight to policy and decision makers. In the face of reduced funding by international donors, a greater proportion of funds are being consolidated and channelled through UN agencies, the World Bank or the Afghan government. These organisations, and the original donors themselves, often impose stringent monitoring, reporting and procurement requirements on civil society recipients which are particularly difficult to manage in Afghanistan.  The limited capacity and resources of both national and international civil society can be stretched by these.  Additionally, the delays caused in accessing vital funds through these consolidation mechanisms, for programme costs and project staff etc, can result in some NGOs having to temporarily halt their activities until funds are secured.  This jeopardises the trust of communities they support and ‘undoes’ some of the good work achieved.

Some development experts have argued that aid in Afghanistan has been used for political purposes, to the detriment of local communities.  Where donor countries have military forces, their development funds have tended to follow.  If, for example, Helmand was a country, it would have been the fifth largest recipient of US development aid globally. Less insecure provinces have seen less funding, despite equally large development or humanitarian needs.  Another issue in this ‘militarisation of aid’ debate is that international military forces in Afghanistan have delivered their own development programmes for local communities.  This blurs the lines between soldiers and international aid workers, greatly increasing the security risks to the latter. 

Alongside these aid effectiveness issues, there are governance factors at play in Afghanistan which decrease the impact of development and rights-based programming.  Corruption is often highlighted by the international press, yet donors and NGOs appear reluctant to discuss this pervasive issue. 

From the National Unity Government’s perspective, “what look like economic and social problems have at their root failures of governance and a lack of serious commitment to fixing problems. Actions to fight corruption, end patronage, and avoid collusive practices have been undertaken half-heartedly or undermined from within.” (Realising Self-Reliance). But whilst corruption, or even just the threat of it, limits both the activities and impact of development programmes, donors and development organisations have been slow to consider alternative approaches to mitigate the issue. Ahead of the 2016 Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, a group of Afghan and international NGOs provided their recommendations to tackle the various corruption challenges. 

Other governance issues include: the weakened rule of law and government control in provinces distanced from the capital or suffering prolonged insurgent activity; little recourse to effective justice when this is needed; and the power and patronage networks exercised by certain non-government individuals or families.  A culture of impunity permeates the above, adding to the frustrations of donors and rights-focused organisations.

These factors are gradually being tackled, by both the National Unity Government and the international donors.  Many are included in the Self-Reliance through Mutual Accountability Framework (SMAF) and the Afghanistan National Peace & Development Framework, currently the main agreements between the Afghan and international governments on development priorities.  However, the future and success of these frameworks and Afghan development now depends on effective implementation by the National Unity Government, supported and monitored by international donors and civil society.

What BAAG is doing

We continue to take an impartial and critical look at the role of local and international civil society in development programming and at how donor policies and approaches affect both. We work with our members and other stakeholders to explore aid effectiveness, and the affect of frameworks such as the New Deal on Engagement in Fragile States. We also review international donor commitments and, where required, highlight how their development financing and policy coherence may have negative implications.  Overall, we maintain our message for continued and long-term international support to the people and government of Afghanistan during, and beyond, this Transformation Decade.

What our members are doing

The majority of our members deliver development programmes in one or more thematic areas (health, education, agriculture, livelihoods etc). More specifically though, some provide community development programmes which aim to empower communities to engage more effectively with their local authorities and to determine and ‘own’ development programmes.  These include Tearfund, Christian Aid and Afghanaid (see our map for all member programmes).  Other members work on advocacy relating to governance issues and holding to account the National Unity Government (Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International UK, for example), or on corruption (such as Global Witness). Many also contribute to the debate on aid effectiveness and the roles of NGO and donors in this.

BAAG’s governance recommendations to the UK Government:

1. To ensure that governance meets the needs of Afghan citizens, push the Afghan Government for the immediate resumption of existing programmes that have gained broad support among donors and government agencies, including the fourth phase of the NSP.

2. Assist the Afghan Government to remove barriers to the effective spending of the budget including streamlining the procurement processes and expanding provincial budgeting.

3. Where the Afghan Government does not have the capacity or access to implement projects, support their implementation by local and International NGOs.

4. To effectively fight corruption, advocate for the Afghan Government’s adoption of a stronger legal and policy framework for fighting corruption, including measures such as vetting of senior public officials and requiring them to publish annual asset declarations; making procurement contracts valid only after their publication; and instituting Open Contracting across government. Government officials engaging in corruption, especially those at higher levels should be prosecuted; to demonstrate the government’s commitment to tackling this issue.

5. To improve governance at the local level, support the Afghan Government to promote local governance by clarifying the responsibilities and reporting lines of all layers of sub-national governance bodies and by increasing the role of local authorities in public policy decisions.

6. To improve the provision of justice, reform the Stage process (judicial service entry examination) to strengthen the appointments process; institute open trials; invest in better case management; enforce the judicial Code of Conduct; and push the Afghanistan Supreme Court to issue enforceable guidelines to all judges so they use existing laws better especially the law on the Elimination of Violence against Women. Also, support the Government’s efforts in ensuring a greater role for women and other marginalised groups in the justice sector.

7. To reduce the harmful effects of the extractive industries, urge the Afghan Government to fulfil their commitment to put in place a strong legal and regulatory framework for mining. This should include: amending the law so that extractive contracts are only valid once they have been published; requiring publication of beneficial ownership and of payment and production figures; implementation of Open Contracting for the extractive sector and across government; stronger protections for local communities and their involvement in monitoring; use of publicly-developed model contracts; a single, transparent account for natural resource revenues; stronger safeguards against abuses from security forces and armed groups involved in mining; and a special focus on mining areas within broader security strategy.

8. To expand the people’s role in governance,  establish the Oversight Committee enshrined in the Right to Information Law and pressure ministers to ensure their ministries provide accurate and reliable information to media and citizens. Ensure that citizens’ views, especially marginalised provincial ones, systematically inform national policies such as the ones which will be discussed in the Senior Official Meetings later this year. Ensure that work to reduce political exclusion and promote civic engagement by youth, women and other marginalised groups, is paired with meaningful governance reform.

$15.2bn of development funding to Afghanistan was pledged by international government donors in October 2016


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