By Seiya Sukegawa
The collapse of democracy following the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, a U.S.- and U.K.-led military campaign in Afghanistan toppled the Taliban rule. Since then, U.S. troops have been deployed in Afghanistan to maintain security and to support Afghanistan’s newly established democratic government.
However, in April 2021, President Biden announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops based on a peace deal signed with the Taliban by the former Trump administration in February 2020, setting the anniversary of the terrorist attacks as the deadline for withdrawal. The U.S. decision to withdraw its troops left NATO forces no choice but to follow suit.
The withdrawal of U.S. and allied NATO troops opened the door for the Taliban’s offensive and the Taliban seized one Afghan city after another in rapid succession.
On August 15, the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul, declared they had taken control of the country, and the U.S.-backed democratic government collapsed.
Japan–Afghanistan’s third largest donor
For the past 20 years, Japan and the rest of the international community have supported the democratic system in Afghanistan, funding the “reconstruction” and “self-reliance” of Afghanistan through official development assistance (ODA).
Since 2001, when the Taliban was toppled, Japan has been Afghanistan’s third largest donor after the United States and Germany.
According to the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), DAC members provided Afghanistan with financial assistance amounting to US$ 61.7 billion over around 20 years between 2001 and 2019 (based on gross bilateral ODA). This makes Afghanistan the second largest recipient of bilateral ODA in the world after Iraq (US$ 75.4 billion).
The largest donor is the United States, which accounts for nearly half (48.4%) of overall aid to Afghanistan. Next comes Germany (10%, US$ 6.15 billion), and then Japan (9.4%, US$ 5.81 billion).
Japan’s assistance has consisted primarily in (1) support in enhancing Afghanistan’s capability to maintain security assistance, including strengthening the capability of the National Police because it is essential for Afghans to maintain security themselves; (2) support for Afghanistan’s sustainable and self-reliant; development, with assistance for the agricultural and rural development sectors to reduce poverty and improve the standard of living; and (3) assistance for human resource development in the government, education and public health sectors.
For example, with (1), as many as 1,500 female police officers are already working in Afghanistan thanks to the development of female police officers. Regarding (2), since rural areas are home to 80% of the total population, rural development is seen as the key to Afghanistan’s revitalization, and basic infrastructure such as roads and irrigation facilities has been developed in rural regions.
However, given that irrigated areas account for only 20% of the total area of arable land in Afghanistan, rural revitalization still had a long way to go, including promotion of the development and effective use of water resources, development of crops, or other means of earning a living, dissemination of cultivation technologies, and improvement of government agency capabilities in the agricultural and rural development sectors.
Difficulties surrounding the resumption of ODA
For Afghanistan, ODA is essential for the reconstruction. ODA was also a pillar of the Afghan economy, with ODA (net) as a percentage of gross national income (GNI) reaching 22.1% in 2019.
ODA can only be provided in the future if the new Taliban administration is recognized by the international community. Recognition by the international community is contingent on respect for the rights of women (right to work, right to education), the formation of an inclusive government that brings together the collapsed democratic government and the various ethnic groups and political forces within the country, and the biggest obstacle of all–“eradication of terrorism.”
Meanwhile, the Islamic State (IS), which is the sworn enemy of the Taliban, has stepped up its activities in Afghanistan. In fact, on August 26, there was a suicide attack outside Kabul International Airport during an evacuation operation. The attack killed around 180 people, including 13 U.S. service members.
Islamic extremists, potentially members of Al-Qaeda, may also come to Afghanistan from all around the world following the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Neighboring countries are extremely wary of an influx of Islamic extremists posing as refugees. The Taliban administration faces a mountain of problems.
Training Afghans for the reconstruction of their homeland
Some of the former Afghan government officials, ODA staff and other aid workers who have supported the reconstruction of Afghanistan for 20 years are afraid of being arrested by the Taliban and many skilled human resources have fled the country. But many of them could not evacuate abroad following the withdrawal of U.S. troops and had to stay in the country.
Advanced countries have to maintain efforts to rescue these valuable human resources unless they can confirm the safety of the people. On the other hand, the Taliban is believed to have many fighters but low administrative capacity and the basis for political and administrative operations is fragile. Such human resources are essential for Afghan reconstruction.
The resumption of ODA by Japan and other developed countries depends on how the Taliban administration actually comports itself and is uncertain for the time being. However, it is still possible to contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan in the meantime.
Bearing in mind the resumption of ODA in the future, Japan could provide the human resources who were developed by advanced nations and fled overseas or will be rescued in the future with essential reconstruction support training in their host countries for a given period and develop human resources who will play a key role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan in the future. These human resources are likely to do their utmost to rebuild their homeland when the time comes.
Even if there is no prospect of a resumption of ODA, these trained human resources could also work in a third country. The assistance Japan could give now is “human resource development for the reconstruction of the homeland.”
(Seiya Sukegawa is Professor at the Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Kokushikan University, Japan.)