Foreign Aid and Stratification in Afghanistan: Solving the Problem or Exacerbating Current Imbalances?
The following research proposal is built on a background and extensive literature review regarding the nature of aid dispersal in Afghanistan. Significant problems with foreign aid use have been noted in the country, and this research would aim to determine where aid is most needed, where it is actually going, and the reasons behind any noted discrepancy in these elements. A literature review shows that regional differences and corruption are major contributing factors in perceive aid inefficiencies, and a qualitative research methodology as described and recommended to further address these issues and develop practical recommendations for addressing and correcting the situation.
Despite ongoing efforts in recent history to establish a more democratic and stable state in Afghanistan, the nation largely remains in a state of chaos and disarray, especially in certain regions (Ahmad, 2002; Reynolds, 2006; Worden, 2010). A long history of international intervention in the nation and the region, as well as regime changes within Afghanistan itself, have contributed to instability and a lack of focus and unity in the government and the power hierarchies within the country, and the fact that these are often not the same thing contributes to modern instability (Ahmad, 2002; Jensen, 2011). The political, social, and economic instability the country has experienced has led to a great deal of foreign aid involvement in the recent decade, especially (Marsden, 2003; Mills & Kitch, 2006).
The geographic spread of the country and other factors have led to a development pattern that is highly fragmented, with populations in more far-flung and rural areas of the country living with a lack of basic infrastructure while certain city populations have urbanized and industrialized to a degree (Ford & Davis, 2001; Barfield, 2010; Jensen, 2011). Rural areas have greatly reduced access to healthcare and are incapable in their current state of making effective use of much aid, without substantial aid contributing to real infrastructure growth, thus despite the growth in foreign aid the country remains largely fragmented and chaotic (Ford & Davis, 2001; Ahmad, 2002; Jensen, 2011). Thus, even if aid were making it to the communities and populations that were most in need of this aid, without the appropriate direction and consolidation of these funds into large-scale projects that would make more lasting development possible, the best that these communities and populations can hope for is continued subsistence aid rather than real stability growth.
If the problem only ended there, it would be bad enough, but the issue in Afghanistan is not simply that the aid cannot be effectively used in the most exposed communities. The aid that is being given, according to many journalistic accounts, is not even making it to the areas where it is most needed, due to a variety of reasons (Marsden, 2003; Mills & Kitch, 2006; Mullen, 2010). This exacerbates the problem of effective use by preventing even the subsistence aid and what infrastructure growth might be available, and perpetuates problems of aid dependency and of threats to personal security (Marsden, 203; Mills & Kitch, 2006).
A series of long-running societal issues are contributing to the problem of state stability and security in Afghanistan, from a lack of education affecting most ages and classes in Afghanistan -- and thus leading to leadership vacuums or problems with leadership generally -- to general corruption and allegiances to forces other than the Afghan government and people (Barfield, 2010). This contributes to the funneling of aid to particular causes held in individual esteem by the decision-makers, and in some cases to outright corruption (Worden, 2010; Mullen, 2010; Jensen, 2011). It is against this background of highly uneven development, regional government and highly individualistic aid disbursements, and outright corruption and theft of aid funds that this research is proposed and described, aiming to determine the degree and the specific mechanisms by which aid is being diverted from the communities and populations most in need, with some concept of the potential answers found in this extensive background of chaos and conflict (Barfield, 2010).
The research questions have been partially identified above, but can be more explicitly stated as, what groups/communities/popuations in Afghanistan are currently in the most need of foreign and local aid? What groups/communities/populations/individuals are currently receiving the majority of local and foreign aid funds? What is the degree of disparity between where the aid should be going and where the aid is actually going currently? What are the mechanisms by which aid is currently being diverted away from those groups, etc., most in need?
One of the major consistent problems with the current system of aid dispersal in Afghanistan is the fact that the aid simply does not seem to be reaching the Afghani people, but is being siphoned off for other projects or simply to enrich specific leaders and groups (Mills & Kitch, 2006; Mullen, 2010). The research generally agrees that while substantial aid is coming into the country, and indeed there is some visible impact of this aid in areas such as education, a large portion of the aid is being entirely lost due to old tribal power structures and more modern governmental corruption that give certain individuals the power to enrich themselves immensely at the expense of the Afghan people and the Afghan state (Mills & Kitch, 2006; Barfield, 2010; Mullen, 2010; Jensen, 2011). The aid that does come in is largely devoted to areas that do not shore up the most basic needs or provide for the most fundamental weaknesses or exposed populations, such as putting aid towards higher education and instituting a better judicial system, but failing to address mass illiteracy and a lack of knowledge about the basic civil proceedings of new governmental systems, or building hospitals but failing to staff and equip them, such that people are forced to continue using private clinics (Ahmad, 2002; Marsden, 2003; Jensen, 2011).
The military has also been a major draw of foreign aid funds, and while this is warranted in part due to the security needs in the country and the lack of personal safety in many regions, this has also been the cause of a great deal of controversy and a potential source for increased levels of corruption by certain regionalized units or individual commanders within the Afghani armed forces (Mills Kitch, 2006; Mullen, 2010). The increased militarization of the country has also come with -- in response to, according to the justifications for continued military aid, and with some rationality -- and this along with other factors has made it difficult for democratization and true social involvement to occur on a broad scale in the areas where it is most needed, and among the populations and communities that are currently the most marginalized (Reynolds, 2006; Constable, 2007; Worden, 2010). In short, even though corruption is siphoning off a great deal of aid money, there is substantial aid coming through, but it appears to be going towards institutions and entities that do not really serve the lowest levels of the socioeconomic spectrum in Afghanistan, or rather that could serve these lowest levels but only with concurrent programs that increase the abilities of these populations to truly take advantage of what aid and growth is occurring. In some ways, it is a simple case if the rich getting richer and the rural getting poorer.
Contributing still further to the apparent inefficacies of aid disbursement and utilization in Afghanistan and the degree of instability that the country continues to experience is the fact that the country's population has been geographically and socially/culturally fragmented for decades if not centuries, and now refugees from certain areas that have fallen into Taliban control or are otherwise controlled by violent and dictatorial regimes are creating cultural conflict in addition to subsistence pressures in many areas (Ahmad, 2002; Barfield, 2010). The historical conflicts in the country and the pattern of foreign involvement -- from Soviet arms support and other aid during the Cold War to the decade of United States support after the fall of the Soviet Union and until the beginning of military actions -- has given the current aid context a complex cast, as there are already deeply entrenched modes of dealing with aid, expectations of aid use by both contributors and recipients, and a set of hierarchies long-established by aid programs that did not simply vanish in the recent upheaval, but rather were arguably increased in strength in certain areas due to disruptions in other power structure (Ford & Davis, 2001; Marsden, 2003). The number of different power structures, complex hierarchies, tribal allegiances and economic pockets in Afghanistan is itself a factor that contributes to effective aid disbursal and usage, by creating mistrust amongst the government representatives that are tasked with making the official decisions regarding aid -- mistrust that is itself exacerbated by historical events and trends as well as personal, regional and tribal allegiances (Reynolds, 2006; Worden, 2010). All of this makes it difficult to…