A unique collaborative process led by four leading global think tanks explores how the international community can support immediate collective action towards urgently needed progress in Afghanistan.
Over three months, multi-stakeholder workshops were hosted by Chatham House, the Institute for Development Studies, the Centre for Global Development, ODI, and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – Development Assistance Committee, with the aim of developing coherent, evidence-based recommendations to address development and vulnerability needs in Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan Strategic Learning Initiative (ASLI) brought together local Afghan and international experts between December 2021 and February 2022 to surface ideas, insights, and priorities on how the international community can act collectively to support the people of Afghanistan. Taking a forward-looking, action-oriented approach, the workshops explored:
- Afghanistan’s most likely future scenarios and ways forward for engagement,
- Impacts on human development and vulnerability in Afghanistan,
- Aid instruments and financial flows in Afghanistan,
- Effective collective action by international actors.
An important finding from the process is the need for longer-term engagement that goes beyond a purely humanitarian approach and focuses on long-term development. Participants in the dialogues highlighted the critical need to support the financial system’s recovery, adapt aid delivery to facilitate sustainable, resilient interventions, and the importance of engaging with local structures, particularly community development councils which are an invaluable part of Afghan civil society.
To enable constructive intervention, workshop participants also considered how to positively engage with the Taliban to understand their perspectives and expectations of the international community, whilst avoiding “normalising” the de facto government and its repression of human rights. Although this is a difficult balance to strike, the consensus is that progress cannot be achieved with the full exclusion of the Taliban, so some engagement is necessary.
Vulnerabilities caused by poverty, lack of financial liquidity, and severe disruptions to healthcare and education are difficult to accurately assess due to the limited availability of reliable data but the importance of tackling these challenges transparently across the entire aid system was highlighted. Building trust and support from local entities and structures is identified as a crucial tool to effectively overcome systemic issues in a country that has been aid-dependent for decades.
Mark Bowden, Chair of the Afghanistan Strategic Learning Initiative and Senior Research Associate at ODI, said “The learning synthesises the major development challenges of life in Afghanistan today, the ways they could change, the impacts on its people, and the major levers the international community must confront to make a difference. We have made evidence-based recommendations drawing on both policy expertise and the experience of people on the ground.”
The novel approach brought together the knowledge, experience and learning of experts with leading global think tanks to recommend next steps in the international community’s support for Afghanistan. The process was designed by the UK Humanitarian Innovation Hub, a FCDO-sponsored initiative to drive evidence-based and innovative ideas in humanitarian policy and practice. The think tank partners developed technical studies, ran intensive workshops, and facilitated discussions with a broad range of global experts.
Four reports are today being published, together with a synthesis which brings together key findings from across all the dialogues, and identifies six overarching recommendations:
- Progress cannot be achieved with full exclusion of the Taliban, but it is important to balance the need for engagement to achieve positive structural changes with the dangers of ostensibly seeming to support the repression of human rights by the Taliban.
- Addressing vulnerability requires a shift from emergency support to longer-term sustainable interventions that support resilience. Systemic vulnerability must be met with solutions that treat the causes and not just the symptoms of the issues.
- International assistance should be fully accountable to the Afghan people. Local structures such as community development councils must be protected and engagement with citizen-owned entities should be de-politicised.
- Stabilising financial systems is an immediate need, with longer-term aid allocation and international engagement objectives also critical.
- The international community and humanitarian actors must maintain dialogue with the Taliban to understand their differences of perspectives and expectations.
- Ultimately, consensus is required for an international approach that moves away from a humanitarian-only focus and towards developmental engagement informed by the current context.
Reflecting on the initiative, Ben Ramalingam, Executive Director of the UK Humanitarian Hub, who convened the Initiative’s work, said “‘At a time when our world is beset by so many crises, it has never been more important to ensure that international support for Afghanistan is effective, sustainable, and truly benefits its people. This unique learning approach has identified ways to make the biggest difference to some of the most vulnerable people in the world, by surfacing the collective views of experts and Afghans, and it provides a template for future collective action when crises strike.”