WORLD -- December 13, 2011 at 3:51 PM ET
Afghanistan Beyond 2014: Developing a 'Transition' Strategy
An Afghan nomad boy with his dog at a mud hut in the outskirts of Mazar-e Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, on Dec. 4. Photo by Qais Usyan/AFP/Getty Images.
As NATO nations pull their troops out of Afghanistan by 2014, much of their money that now supports one of the poorest countries in the world will follow them out the door. But many in the West, governments and nongovernmental groups, are still intent on keeping Afghanistan safe and economically viable.
The question is how. And that topic is being discussed in donor conferences and think tank meeting rooms around the world.
"Afghanistan is among the 10 poorest countries in the world. More than half the population is considered vulnerable," said Ernesto May, the World Bank Group's director of poverty reduction and economic management for the South Asia region, at a meeting Tuesday at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
The World Bank recently issued a report on Afghanistan beyond 2014 that showed what could happen to the country, including putting public services at risk, when outside funding declines.
Some numbers: Almost all of Afghanistan's total public spending ($17 billion) is financed through outside sources, such as donor countries and organizations ($15.7 billion), said May.
And of that $15.7 billion, only $1.9 billion goes through Afghanistan's own budget process. The rest of it goes directly into the country from international channels.
The United States contributes $12.5 billion a year to train and equip Afghan security forces, said Stanley Byers, director of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Directorate at the National Security Council. "That is simply not sustainable."
The trick is how to reduce the international source of funding while helping build up Afghanistan's own resources to get the country running smoothly after decades of war.
Afghan female police officers march at a training facility in the outskirts of western Herat province on Dec. 8. Photo by Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images.
Afghanistan, which has a population of about 30 million, has a farming and livestock industry as well as mining potential. The country recently awarded the mining rights to its largest iron deposit, the Hajigak mine, to a group of companies from India.
The sale raised eyebrows -- but in a "good way" -- because it showed the potential for foreign investment in Afghanistan, said Byers.
One of the ways to encourage foreign investors is by developing mechanisms that give them a more immediate return on their investments, he said. Also, "There's a very vibrant private sector in the country. There are a lot of entrepreneurs and actors who want to take part, so we need to take advantage of that," he added.
Currently, the Afghan government doesn't have the institutional capacity to handle all the funding it will need to run the country, said Christine Mulligan, former country director in Afghanistan for Mercy Corps.
She suggested mentoring ministries to effectively manage funds and implement programs, and having international donors withhold funding until the Afghan government's capacity grows and it puts spending and performance targets in place.
Delegating more responsibility to the provincial level -- once their capacity grows as well -- will help ensure delivery of services, Mulligan said. In the meantime, she added, external actors might have to fill the gaps.
"The international community needs to make a long-term commitment to Afghanistan, but we have to be really, really realistic to what we can achieve," especially in a "dynamic and unpredictable" place like Afghanistan, she said.
Alex Thier of the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs said USAID is trying to direct its resources to making Afghanistan more self-sustainable. "We're not building new roads anymore, but we're working with Afghan ministries to create a roads authority."
There will be tough choices to make, said the World Bank's May. If Afghanistan will be asking the international community to maintain an orderly reduction in aid, they need to make their own efforts to enhance their own resources in the management of their budget, he said.
"This is a work in progress," he added.
Efforts to coordinate economic assistance to Afghanistan through its transition to full control will continue with the NATO summit in May in Chicago and the ministerial conference in Tokyo, Japan, in July.