SIGAR High-Risk List: Most Serious Threats to Afghanistan’s Reconstruction

John F. Sopko, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction recently highlighted the launch of his watchdog agency’s 2019 “High-Risk List”.

The list identifies eight risks to the reconstruction effort that might persist or arise in the wake of any peace agreement.

They are: Widespread insecurity, underdeveloped civil policing capability, endemic corruption, sluggish economic growth, illicit narcotics trade, threats to women’s rights, reintegration of ex-combatants, and restricted oversight.

Sopko’s remarks during a recent speech noted that policymakers must plan for what may come in the days, weeks, months, and years after any peace agreement is reached. He warned that without financial support from international donors, the government of Afghanistan cannot survive.

Over 300,000 Afghans that are currently serving in the security forces could face serious issues there is a loss of financial support leading to a stop in their remuneration.

SIGAR noted that a failure to “peacefully reintegrate as many as 60,000 heavily armed Taliban long-term would threaten any peace agreement”.

It was also expressed with concern that a return to systematic repression of Afghan women is capable of quickly diminishing the  Congressional and public support for continued assistance to Afghanistan and, in the process, threaten any government reliant on that support as the idea of the developments of all these years was to uplift the status of Afghan women. “The viability of a post-agreement Afghan state may well depend upon whether women’s rights are protected in both word and practice,” Sopko expressed.

Sopko said that there has been widespread insecurity in the country still, as the latest strength figure shows that the ANDSF’s ranks have decreased by 9,016 personnel since the January 2017 High-Risk List. Moreover, high ANDSF casualty and AWOL rates contribute to high attrition, which erode the force’s capability gains and create a continual need to recruit and train new security-force members.

“The most enduring threat to the Afghan reconstruction effort, and to U.S. taxpayer investment in that effort, has been an ongoing and resilient insurgency and the presence in Afghanistan of terrorist groups such as Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K). The Taliban insurgency is not monolithic, and the postwar intentions of the various terrorist and narco-criminal networks that also operate in Afghanistan present another set of variables to be considered”, noted the SIGAR findings.

Secondly, there is the case of underdeveloped civil policing capabilities as in the occurrence  of a peace agreement, there is no comprehensive strategy for a competent civil police force backed by the rule of law.

Thirdly, there has been a huge failure to effectively address systemic corruption  which renders U.S. reconstruction programs to be subverted or unsuccessful.

It was noted that even though the Afghan government prioritizes its anticorruption commitments when pressured by international observers, it is imperative for donors to maintain their focus on anticorruption, as the SIGAR believes that it  “is unlikely that the Afghan government will follow through on its commitments.”

On the economic health side, things look bleak as well. Sluggish economic growth has risen the broad concerns regarding the sustainability of Afghanistan’s recovery and its long-run economic prospects, irrespective of a peace agreement.

According to the US Department of Defense, full self-sufficiency by 2024 “does not appear realistic, even if security or economic conditions change dramatically.”

Unfortunately, SIGAR’s findings point that peace agreement is unlikely to immediately overcome the many enduring barriers to economic growth which include capped skilled labor, effects of perpetual conflict over multiple decades, deficits in physical and institutional infrastructure, heavy reliance on foreign donor support, and widespread corruption.

The fifth issue is the illicit narcotics trade in Afghanistan and the the lack of sustained institutional capacity at all levels of government that undermines the country’s development and ability to address the production and sale of illegal drugs.

Threats to women’s rights like the unreliability of a potential peace agreement making questionable promises for or the lack of rights guaranteed in the Afghan constitution. Will these be protected in an Afghanistan in which the Taliban plays a political role?

Some experts believe that a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces could lead to the deterioration of political and economic freedoms currently enjoyed by Afghan women. Official Taliban statements involved in the peace negotiations confirm such risks.

Furthermore, reintegration of ex-combatants of terror groups has seen an estimated 60,000 active Taliban fighters being inducted into society. Their transition into a sustainable livelihood is deemed to be “a complex and long-term process with social, economic, political, security, and humanitarian dimensions.” Moreover, a weak economy will likely offer few sustainable livelihood options for reintegrating Taliban fighters.

Lastly, it was seen that countries are expected to finance approximately 51% of Afghanistan’s FY 2019 national government spending of $5 billion. Yet, the Afghan central government’s capabilities are generally weak and it often lacks the capacity to manage and account for donor funds, leading to restricted oversight.

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