Skip to main content

Afghanistan: Civilian Life Must Be Donor Priority

London Conference Should Focus on People, not Numbers

(London) - International donors gathering in London this week to discuss Afghanistan’s development should do more to address the serious problems with insecurity and lack of development facing ordinary Afghans, Human Rights Watch said today.

On January 31 and February 1, high-level delegations from more than 60 countries will attend a conference to establish a framework for Afghanistan’s development. This framework, known as the Afghanistan Compact, will replace the Bonn Agreement, which guided Afghanistan’s political process after U.S. forces ousted the Taliban four years ago.

Afghans consistently rank insecurity as their top concern. Resurgent Taliban forces have managed to contest the government’s control over much of the southern part of the country, curtailing the delivery of desperately needed development and reconstruction assistance. In other areas, warlords are further entrenched and have even been elected to and placed their supporters in parliament.

“The success of the Conference should be judged by how much donors commit to do for the security and development of the Afghan people, not their own political agendas,” said Sam Zarifi, research director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division. “The real measure of security and development in Afghanistan is not the number of foreign troops, but whether people feel safe enough to go to the market, to travel at night to seek medical care, or to send their children to school.”

Human Rights Watch called on donors and troop contributing countries to help counter the insecurity that has slowed the development of Afghanistan and prevented Afghans, and particularly Afghan women, from being able to obtain work, health care, and education. Specifically, Human Rights Watch recommended the donors gathered at the London Conference to:

  • ensure the concept of “security” takes into account how violence or the fear of violence impacts the lives of Afghans, for instance whether clinics and schools can operate, whether people can travel safely, and whether humanitarian agencies can carry out development and reconstruction projects;
  • ensure that the mandate of international security forces operating in Afghanistan, including forces operating under the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom, focuses on enabling and supporting reconstruction and development;
  • support the participation of Afghanistan’s women and girls in the country’s economic, political, and cultural life by improving support for women’s health care and education, and removing legal and institutional barriers to their engagement; and
  • ensure Afghans, particularly in the countryside, receive the assistance they require by improving the coordination of development plans between international donors, the Afghan government, and nongovernmental organizations.

“The London Conference should not be an occasion for celebratory backslapping, but for rolling up sleeves and making up for past weak performance,” said Zarifi. “The gains made by Afghans are not sustainable without greater international support and commitment.”

The Afghanistan Compact establishes three major areas of development for the future: security, governance, and economic development. The Compact establishes benchmarks for performance in each area, to be met by the Afghan government as well as international donors. A joint commission will oversee the adherence to these benchmarks.

The Compact also emphasizes efforts to fight Afghanistan’s burgeoning production and trafficking of heroin, which constitutes some 80 percent of the global supply. Narcotics production and trade provides more than half of Afghanistan’s total income and is a major source of violence and human rights abuses.

Two past international donors’ conferences, held in Tokyo in 2002 and Berlin in 2004, failed to provide the $28 billion the World Bank and the Afghan government estimated was needed to rebuild the country. Slightly more than half of this figure has been pledged by the international community, but less than $5 billion delivered, over the past four years. By comparison, reconstruction budgets in Kosovo, Bosnia, and East Timor were up to 50 times greater on a per capita basis.

International security assistance has also been anemic and uncoordinated. The United States has announced it will withdraw some 2,500 troops from Afghanistan, reducing its troops there to about 16,000. NATO, which is to provide security in Afghanistan, has not yet expanded its coverage over the southern and southeastern parts of the country. Britain and Canada have sent more troops to southern Afghanistan, while the Netherlands is debating whether to expand its contingent there.

More than 40,000 NATO troops provided security in Kosovo, which is a tenth of Afghanistan’s area and holds a tenth of Afghanistan’s estimated population of 26 million.

“Because of the international community’s failure to provide sufficient security and financial assistance, Afghans are struggling against a resurgent Taliban movement, entrenched warlords, and severe poverty,” Zarifi said. “Afghans have managed to progress despite these challenges, but they need real support, not just rhetoric.”

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country