Western aid in Afghanistan is being used primarily to support the fight against Al-Qaeda and Taliban insurgency rather than focus on relieving poverty and suffering, according to a new report from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Since the overthrow of the Taliban regime and the election of a fledgling democratic government under President Hamid Karzai, Western aid has poured into the country and now stands at an estimated 2.3 billion US dollars a year. LSE Professor Jude Howell states, 'It is now widely observed that much of this aid is being used to tackle the increasingly violent insurgency in southern Afghanistan, rather than being targeted at areas where humanitarian needs are most acute.'
In their report, Manufacturing Civil Society and the Limits of Legitimacy: Aid, Security and Civil Society after 9/11 in Afghanistan, Professor Howell and Dr Jeremy Lind, of LSE's Centre for Civil Society, draw on fieldwork carried out in Afghanistan over the past four years including interviews with key informants in Afghan and international aid agencies and other NGOs, as well as Afghan and UK government officials.
The research, published in the latest edition of the European Journal of Development Research, says: 'Although aid policy has not been wholly subordinated to security objectives, the allocation of a disproportionate amount of aid to southern parts of Afghanistan where insurgency is rife suggests that poverty reduction is not the primary criterion being used to target aid. As throughout Afghanistan's recent history, foreign aid has been used to leverage external security interests, which, since 2001, have centred on fighting elements of Al-Qaeda as well as a resurgent Taliban.'
It adds: 'In constructing a neoliberal state in Afghanistan, western governments have channeled increasing volumes of aid through Afghan government controlled programmes that necessitate the involvement of non-governmental groups in implementation. The number of NGOs in Afghanistan has mushroomed since 2001, feeding off the opportunities made available by foreign aid.'
The research explains that this has 'created political and moral dilemmas for NGOs acting on humanitarian mandate as to how to act impartially, independently and neutrally and, moreover, be perceived by the general public as doing so…Many NGOs have been reluctant to critically evaluate their own principled stance and recognize the political contradictions of their own positions in a deeply politicized and shifting political contest.'
It calls on aid agencies and other NGOs to examine more closely how they are being manipulated by the War on Terror, concluding: 'Afghanistan shows well the need for NGOs to reflect more deeply on their own positions in the highly charged situations in which they intervene, and where neutrality may be nothing more than illusory.'
Professor Howell and Dr Lind's research and ideas are featured in their two new books, Civil Society Under Strain. Counter-Terrorism Policy, Civil Society and Aid Post-9/11, due to be published by Kumarian Press in January, and Counter-Terrorism, Aid and Civil Society. Before and After the War on Terror, published by Palgrave Macmillan.
To read the report and find out more about the authors' new books, click on
Notes to Editors.
1. Professor Howell is director of the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), a research unit within the Department of Social Policy. She is also director of the Economic and Social Research Council's Non-Governmental Public Action Programme.
2. Dr Lind is a Research Officer at CCS.
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30 November 2009