Against the backdrop of the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden, a new report from the Feinstein Center at Tufts University, authored by Stuart Gordon, examines the relationship between Aid and Security in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
The report is based on hundreds of in country interviews with Afghans and with individuals in the international community: from the civilian government, the military the UN, NGOs and contractors, community members, journalists, analysts etc.
The report concludes:
* the drivers of conflict in Helmand are a potent mixture of tribal vendettas, competition between narco-criminal groups, and violent reactions to predatory local police and bureaucrats. This mixture has developed over the past 30 years and was spurred on by the post-Taliban "carve-up" of power.
* the UK government and other donors adopted quick impact projects (QIPs) to help provide security and deliver services. But different UK government departments saw the QIPs as the means to different ends. The Foreign Office saw them as a way of politically engaging, the Ministry of Defence wanted them to help meet tactical military objectives (winning hearts and minds or the consent winning approach, CWA), while DFID saw them as a bridge to sustainable development. The interviews that Gordon conducted concluded that QIPs were not sustainable from a development point of view, with no evidence being found that they helped win hearts and minds.
* international development assistance generated a lot of negative perceptions: that it fuelled corruption, bypassed community structures, and did not generate enough employment.
As far as I can tell, the last DFID Afghanistan Evaluation was by Jon Bennett of ITAD in May 2009, covering 2002-2008. That report concluded that the DFID project success rate was in line with that in other fragile states and that DFID delivered what it promised within a long term commitment. But is also said DFID state building efforts focused too much on technical capacity in Kabul and not enough on political legitimacy outside of it, and that the emphasis on inclusion, gender and rights had not been strong.
The DFID Humanitarian and Emergency Response Review (HERR) barely mentions Afghanistan and is not terribly helpful in evaluating whether the strategic stance in Afghanistan is still fit for purpose.
Given the changes in the country and within the wider region, the on-going fluctuations in food and fuel prices to which the country is very vulnerable, the expansion of DFID activity in fragile states in general, and the time elapsed since the last DFID evaluation, there seems to be a good case for the planned fast tracking of Afghanistan by the new aid watchdog, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact in its newly released 3 year workplan.
But the workplan suggests the "investigation" (as opposed to a "VFM" review or a "evaluation" review) will look at programme controls and assurance (i.e. it is focussed on corruption) of DFID's programme in Afghanistan, rather than whether it is actually having an impact on development and security. I think ICAI should look at that spec again.