International DevelopmentWritten evidence submitted by Naysan Adlparvar


A. Introduction

1. This paper responds to a number of the issues specified by the House of Commons International Development Committee for its inquiry on development progress and prospects in Afghanistan after 2014. The first section of this paper presents lessons learnt from the UK’s aid programme in Afghanistan. This is discussed in relation to UK aid channelled through DFID’s bilateral aid programme and through the tri-departmental Conflict Pool (CP). The second section of the paper discusses how DFID can best add value through its bilateral programme and ensure continued progress toward development goals after 2014.

B. About the Author

2. Mr. Adlparvar has worked in a number of capacities in Afghanistan since early 2006. In his first three years in-country he worked with local and international NGOs, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Canadian Military. Furthermore, he began his PhD—at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex—in 2008 and has completed over 10 months of fieldwork, in 2011, assessing patterns of social change in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan. More recently Mr. Adlparvar has worked as a researcher investigating the impacts of microfinance programmes in Kabul, and the British Aid model in Afghanistan (unpublished research). He holds a Masters in Applied Development Studies from the University of Reading, UK, and is expected to complete his PhD in mid-2013.

3. The views expressed in this document are solely those of Mr. Adlparvar, and do not represent the views of any organisation he is affiliated to.

C. Development Progress: Reviewing British Aid in Afghanistan

4. Due to the highly political nature of the UK’s engagement in Afghanistan, and the potential implications of the UK’s relationship with the United States of America and NATO, British aid in Afghanistan has become highly politicised. This has resulted in a subordinate position for the developmental role of DFID in Afghanistan compared to the political role of FCO and the military role MOD. Increasingly, since British troops arrived in Helmand in 2006, DFID has continually been under pressure to increase total volumes of aid, and to target more aid toward Helmand (now over 31% of bilateral and CP funding). The resulting increase in aid is channelled through both the bilateral programme and CP, primarily in a bid to support FCO and MOD-led stabilisation operations in the province. As stated in DFID’s most recent (2009) Afghanistan Country Programme Evaluation, “to some extent this [pressure on DFID] constrained the choices available to DFID and undermined the coherence of its overall strategy”.[1] More recent discussions with DFID staff members and independent analysts indicate that circumstances have not greatly changed since 2009.

Conflict Pool Funding and Coordination

5. This internal pressure upon DFID is also observed in the funding and coordination of the CP. DFID, after initially demonstrating resistance, now allocates 80% (or £54.8 million) of the £68.5 million in the 201213 CP. Sixty percent (or £41.1 million in 201213) of the CP is spent in Helmand. Moreover, the CP is mostly spent on stabilisation operations.

6. Stabilisation is defined, by the UK Government, as “the process of establishing peace and security in countries affected by conflict and instability. It is the promotion of peaceful political settlement to produce a legitimate indigenous government, which can better serve its people”.[2] The UK Government also states that, “stabilisation often requires external joint military and civilian support to perform some or all of the following tasks: prevent or reduce violence, protect people and key institutions, promote political processes and prepare for longer-term development”.[3] Operations of this kind generally aim to meet the strategic needs of FCO and MOD, as opposed to the development needs of the Afghan population. DFID advocates for the latter but is generally unsuccessful due to their subordinate position with regard to FCO and MOD.

The Value of the Conflict Pool: Stabilisation Operations

7. The impact of so-called “stabilisation operations” carried out using CP funds are also questionable. These operations, the majority of which are carried out in Helmand by FCO and MOD, are mostly quick impact projects undertaken in insecure areas to “win consent” from local populations. Detailed research carried out in Helmand, and published in 2011, observed that “aid” used in the form of stabilisation operations “may have as many negative, unintended effects as positive ones and, at the very least, is not a panacea”.[4] As such, the value of spending Official Development Assistance on stabilisation operations (through the CP) should be re-evaluated.

DFID’s Bilateral Aid Programme

8. DFID’s bilateral aid programme is currently valued at £178 million per year. It focuses on four strategic priorities: (i) Governance and Security (~£67 million in 201213), (ii) Wealth Creation (~£68 million in 201213), (iii) Education (~£33 million in 201213), and (iv) Humanitarian Assistance (~£10 million in 201213). DFID is currently on track to meet its Kabul Conference commitment to channel 50% of its development assistance through the Afghan government.

9. As can be seen from the budget allocations above, “state-building” (in the form of aid contributions for Governance and Security, and Wealth Creation) are prioritised by DFID. Almost no allocations are made to the areas of poverty reduction and human development, except the notable allocation to education (made via the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust fund [ARTF]) and the relatively small allocation to humanitarian assistance.

10. DFID’s most recent (2009) Country Programme Evaluation in Afghanistan assessed DFID’s “state-building” portfolio and education contributions. These contributions in combination comprise the majority of DFID’s bilateral aid programme. The evaluation concluded these contributions were overly focused at central levels of the state and delivered only limited improvements in service delivery and the perceived legitimacy of the state at local levels.[5] More recent discussions with DFID staff members and independent analysts indicate that circumstances have not greatly changed since 2009.

11. DFID’s overly centralised approach to building the state and the economy is inappropriate given the current realities of Afghanistan.

12. First, as a stable political settlement has not yet been achieved in Afghanistan, and violence is escalating across the country, the importance of demonstrating developmental results and improving perceptions of the state at local levels is paramount. This is unlikely to be achieved with the UK’s present bilateral aid programme, as DFID’s work is mostly focused at developing the functions of the central institutions of the state in Kabul.

13. Second, Afghanistan has extremely high levels of poverty. In 2008 (most recent figures) 36% of the population were under the poverty line.[6] The country also suffers from growing humanitarian challenges, including drought in eight of the last eleven years and major displacements due to conflict, drought and flash flooding.[7] DFID’s current approach to building the state and economy—which aims to meet the long term needs of the Afghan people—will likely do little to alleviate their more pressing and immediate needs linked to poverty and humanitarian crisis.

DFID’s Operational Capacity

14. With regard to operational capacity, DFID have experienced decreasing staff to fund ratios in recent years. This has two negative results. Firstly, DFID staff members have large caseloads and generally act as little more than grant managers. They are unable to meaningfully engage with the content of the projects they supervise. Secondly, this has exacerbated the shortage of suitably qualified staff able to oversee financial management and reporting requirements. This latter point is also highlighted in the UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact’s Afghanistan report.[8]

15. Not only is DFID—in essence—understaffed given the scale of funding they manage, but also the majority of DFID staff members in Afghanistan are young and relatively inexperienced. This in conjunction with the poor quality of information available, high staff turnover rates, and the high levels of security enforced by DFID (resulting in their staff members potentially being unable to visit project sites), results in staff with a limited awareness of Afghan realities, and an inability to monitor project implementation.

D. Prospects After 2014: The Most Effective Use of British Aid in Afghanistan

16. Predicting the impact of the withdrawal of international forces upon the Afghan economy, levels of insecurity, the ability to deliver development programming, and hard earned development gains in Afghanistan, is challenging at best. Key factors influencing outcomes include: the amount, continuity and modalities of aid committed to Afghanistan; sources of growth; the emerging investment climate; the outcome and acceptability of the pending presidential elections; the role played by regional powers including Pakistan; and whether a political settlement with the Taliban, and other armed groups, is achieved and accepted by the Afghan people.

17. However, what can be assumed—to a certain degree of accuracy—is the following: (i) a decline in aid allocations to Afghanistan in the mid-term; (ii) a downturn in the economy and a growing fiscal deficit; (iii) a further enlargement of state corruption; (iv) an increase in poppy cultivation in insecure areas; (v) an increase in unemployment, poverty and the continued deterioration of humanitarian conditions; (vi) a decline in the delivery of essential services; (vii) losses made with regard to human, women’s and minority rights; (viii) a decrease in security with the Taliban holding de facto control of large tracts of the country (presuming a power sharing deal is not reached); and (ix) a corresponding reduction in access for government and international humanitarian agencies to deliver aid.

18. This general downturn in circumstances requires the UK government to undertake a few key provisions. First, DFID should ensure high levels of aid are maintained beyond 2014 and that reductions in the levels of aid are phased. Secondly, DFID—in coordination with other donor countries—should aim to secure existing development gains, while also working to support and protect the most vulnerable groups in the post-2014 Afghan context.

19. Vulnerable groups in the post-2014 context will likely include: poor households, women-headed households, internally displaced persons, and some women and girls, children, persons with disabilities, and members of the elderly. However, renewed attention should be given to sectarian and ethnic minorities, who with an likely increase in Taliban control—whether legitimate or otherwise—would likely suffer increasing socio-political and economic exclusion and could potentially be subject to acts of targeted violence. Supporting vulnerable groups (particularly women, and ethnic and sectarian minorities) is extremely sensitive. As such, this would have to be broached sensitively, perhaps through targeting projects geographically or by employing CSOs to monitor potential human rights abuses.

20. Given the centralised “state-building” approach adopted by DFID in its current bilateral programme, and considering the potential post-2014 changes laid out in paragraph 17 above, DFID could best ensure progress toward development goals by adopting a “back-to-basics” aid approach. This would include channelling aid increasingly toward poverty reduction, basic health and education service provision, and humanitarian programming, at sub-national levels across Afghanistan. In addition to addressing the declining situation in Afghanistan this would also more clearly demonstrate development results and build state legitimacy at local levels.

21. Given the expected heightened levels of insecurity such a shift would also require the utilisation of civil society organisations (CSOs) to both deliver poverty reduction and humanitarian projects, and to monitor potential human rights abuses (including those against women and minorities). This potential use of CSOs, plus a required move from overly centralised to sub-national programming, alongside limited governmental absorption capacity, would require DFID to re-balance its aid distribution modalities. This concretely means a reduction in “on-budget” funding and a corresponding increase in “off-budget” funding for the majority of its poverty reduction and humanitarian programming. Furthermore, as corruption in Afghanistan is endemic,[9] tighter financial controls would be required for distribution of aid through both the government and CSOs.

22. A smaller proportion of aid—less than presently allocated—would still be made “on budget” to government systems. This includes aid allocations for health and education services. Moreover, this allocation of aid would need to be supplemented, on a small-scale, with long-term investments in the development of the government’s financial management and technical capacities to autonomously deliver such services.

23. Building on the lessons learned in the previous section of this paper DFID should be supported to reduce payments to Afghanistan’s CP and “stabilisation operations” should no longer be funded using the UK’s Official Development Assistance.

24. As planned, the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Helmand should be dismantled following the withdrawal of British troops. In addition, DFID should be encouraged to channel all of its bilateral aid to national programmes, and for poverty reduction, humanitarian and human rights monitoring projects carried out by CSOs.

25. DFID staff to funding ratios should also be decreased. Moreover, an increase in staff with financial management, financial reporting, and risk management skills are required. In addition, greater numbers of experienced DFID staff members (with expertise in technical areas of DFID’s bilateral programme) should be assigned to work in Afghanistan. This will not be any easy task given the challenging nature of the work. Furthermore, incentives should be offered to mitigate high staff turnover. Finally, where security regulations cannot be amended to improve staff mobility, innovative approaches to remotely monitoring project delivery should be devised and employed.


[1] Bennett, J Alexander, J Saltmarshe, D Phillipson, R and Marsden, P (2009). Country Programme Evaluation: Afghanistan. Evaluation Report EV696. May 2009. London: Department for International Development. Pg: xiii.

[2] Stabilisation Unit (2012). What is Stabilisation. Available online at: [Accessed on 1st July 2012].

[3] Stabilisation Unit (2012).

[4] Gordon, S [2011]. Winning Hearts and Minds? Examining the Relationship Between Aid and Security in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. Boston: Feinstein International Center, Tufts University. Pg: 54.

[5] Bennett, J et al (2009).

[6] CPHD (2011). Afghanistan Human Development Report 2011. The Forgotten Front: Water Security and The Crisis in Sanitation. Kabul: Centre for Policy and Human Development, University of Kabul.

[7] OCHA Afghanistan (2012). Consolidated Appeal Process. Available online at: [Accessed on 1 July 2012].

[8] Independent Commission for Aid Impact (2012). The Department for International Development: Programme Controls and Assurance in Afghanistan. Report 6. March 2012. London: Independent Commission for Aid Impact.

[9] Independent Commission for Aid Impact (2012).

July 2012

Prepared 24th October 2012