In the conundrum of war, peace and development, poverty has been severely neglected in Afghanistan as one of the causes of the conflict and its alleviation as a mean of durable peace and sustainable development. With billions of dollars of foreign aid and hundreds of national and international humanitarian and development organizations active in the country, Afghanistan’s poverty indices have not improved at all during the post-Taliban era.
One would assume that with democratization, liberalization of trade and rising gross domestic product, poverty may reduce, but in fact none of them directly translate into poverty alleviation unless a country have pro-poor policies and a coordinated approach towards poverty reduction. Proven research and reliable evidence show that it is equitable growth and employment opportunities for the poor that can help poverty alleviation but unfortunately none has been happening in Afghanistan.
Huge foreign aid has increased inflation and dependence on aid, unregulated liberalization of trade and market economy has widened the gap between poor and rich and the simulation of democracy has not paved the way for true participation of people in the decision making process. Afghanistan is only ahead of few sub-Saharan countries and Somalia in the global human development index, and its Millennium Development Goals Report 2008 shows that it is lagging well behind of its targets for poverty alleviation under the millennium development goals declaration. If the Government of Afghanistan has the political will to reduce poverty in Afghanistan, first and far most it should mandate a specific government agency to lead the formulation of pro-poor policies and take responsibilities for monitoring poverty in the Country.
So far these responsibilities have been scattered and camouflaged in ministries of economy, finance, commerce and social affairs. Investment or creating an enabling environment for investment in agriculture, natural resources and housing can easily have mid and long term impact on equitable growth and employment opportunities which will help poverty alleviation. More than 70 percent of Afghans are busy in agriculture sector, yet our markets are full of Iranian cucumber, Pakistani tomatoes, and Chinese pear. Worst of all, low quality Pakistani milk cream and Iranian cheese are part of the breakfast of a large number of Afghans.
It seems that there is no mega agro project under consideration that can develop arable land base and create livelihood opportunities for poor. Our storage capacity is almost zero, thus we export for instance our onion in a rate of 7 to 10 cent per Kg and import it back in a rate of 30 to 50 cents. The growth of small and medium enterprises to improve the value of agriculture products and increase the income of farmers is not visible. The Government should, and can, convince the international donors to support some feasible large projects in the agriculture sector which can be transparently contracted out and strictly monitored which will also prevent the current lost of international assistance in the small scale projects.
Contracting out the Ainak Copper Mine is good news, and this process has to be accelerated with more transparency through disclosure of all information to the public and complying with internationally accepted standards of protecting environment from degradation. Creating a favorable environment for private sector to invest in the housing schemes in today’s boom before it bust can be another area where employment opportunities can be created for poor in the short to midterm. If the Government and international community are serious in resolving the conflict, bringing durable peace and sustainable development, they have to demonstrate the political will for alleviating poverty, coordinating their intervention towards poverty reduction as a core and cross cutting issue, and creating employment opportunities for the poor and promoting sustainable growth in the Country.