Afghanistan after 14 years of Foreign Aid: sustained developments or continued challenges?

Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan once said, “Economics taught in most of the elite universities are practically useless in my context. My country [Afghanistan] is dominated by drug economy and a mafia; textbook economics does not work in my context.” The quote demonstrates Afghanistan’s atypical economy. In particular, aid has played a significant role in Afghanistan’s economy. Darius Nasimi argues that international aid has played an integral part of the re-generation of its economy and argues for this aid to be continued.

To what extent have achievements been made in relation to economic and political development during the past 14 years in Afghanistan? How has Western involvement in Afghanistan assisted in state reconstruction and the development process? What role have international donors such as the Department for International Development (DFID), US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Gesellschaft fur International Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) played? These are just some of the questions that will be answered throughout the course of this article.

Afghanistan is a country at the heart of Asia. With a past that spans over 5000 years and the cradle of civilization dominated by thought and ideas of intellectual scholars like Rumi and Avicenna. It has constantly been a hotspot for geopolitical dominance by neighbouring powers. The Greeks, Arabs, Mongols and the imperial powers of the last two centuries have always drawn particular emphasis or attention towards Afghanistan. However, the past 14 years of involvement by the international community not only marks a pivotal moment for the history of Afghanistan but has impacted the country’s citizens more significantly than ever before. Kabul is now the world’s fifth fastest growing city.

Prior to reviewing the changes and developments made by Western nations to existing aspects of Afghan society, it would be imperative to mention the overriding factor which has actually provided the foundation for social reforms and initiatives to take place. The establishment of the civil society as a third sector has been integral in assisting the most vulnerable in society and essentially fulfilling crucial government policies through the implementation of projects across the country reaching isolated and marginalized communities. After all, it is civil society consisting of NGO’s and charity organisations that reduce the strain off the government and prioritise the needs of the least advantaged members of society by using a bottom-up approach. Large international donors such as the DFID and USAID have played a fundamental role in this. For instance, DFID recently awarded a three year grant to the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association (ACAA), a UK registered charity to open up two Citizens Advice Centres (similar to the Citizens Advice Bureaus in the UK) in Kabul and the northern city of Pul-i-Khumri. The centres provide free, impartial and confidential legal advice to vulnerable communities. This example demonstrates the usefulness of the civil society in raising people’s awareness of their legal entitlements outside of more traditional tribal jurisprudence like “Pashtunwali” and consequently empowering them to become more active citizens of Afghanistan. Furthermore, hundreds of hospitals, schools and universities have also been built, showing the diversity of the work NGO’s are capable of doing. Therefore, it seems justifiable to conclude by saying that the civil society has a long-lasting impact on society by attempting to replicate the social services available to people in developed countries like the UK and helping to breed successful future generations.

DFID / Creative Commons License

DFID / Creative Commons License








Below is a concise evaluative list of achievements that have been made during the past 14 years by international reconstruction agencies and donors such as DFID and USAID.

  • Expanded access to education – produced over 300 million new textbooks, trained 152,000 teachers, built and refurbished more than 3000 schools
  • Built a National Healthcare System – Improved life expectancy of Afghans from 42 years to 64 years. More than 2000 health facilities built, serving two million people per month.
  • Improvements in Health of Women and Children – Training of over 24,000 community health workers and 4000 midwives.
  • Strengthened Female Political participation – In the 2014 elections, females represented more than 35 per cent of voters. Women now represent 11 per cent of sitting judges and 20 per cent of female judges are now in training.
  • Created Jobs and supported Economic growth – Afghanistan’s GDP has grown from $4 billion in 2002 to more than $20 billion in 2013. The annual national income has increased from $210 (£134) per capita in 2004 to $700 (£447) in 2013. The development of the ICT sector – a $1.81 billion per year industry employing more than 135,000 people.
  • Access to Electricity, Markets and to each other – 41 per cent of people are connected to electricity grids, including 2 million in Kabul. More than 3500 km of roads built in Afghanistan.
  • Supported Agri-business, farmers and their families – More than $93 million in loans provided to more than 48,000 farmers, facilitated over $500 million in direct sales of agricultural products.
  • Strengthened Regional connections – Facilitated the export of goods worth $60 million including Cashmere, fruit and saffron to foreign countries like the UK.
  • Expanded Independent Media – More than 13,000 media professionals have been trained, including 5,000 women. More than 75 private television stations and 200 private radio stations have been funded, e.g. USAID providing $2 million to MOBY Group.
  • Enhanced Afghan government capacity and revenue generation – More than 26,000 civil servants (26 per cent women), increased domestic revenue from $6.7 million in 2008 to $1.9 billion in 2013.

Considering the changes and developments that have occurred in numerous sectors of society, it would be appropriate to thank the international community for their past and ongoing efforts in creating a democratic and economically stable Afghanistan. The past 14 years has witnessed substantially positive achievements in many areas. The first ever democratic transition of power in 2014 from Karzai to Ashraf Ghani is a remarkable success for Afghanistan’s history and this is all due to the assistance of the international community who ensured transparency was prioritised. But, in light of the recent escalating security issues and a slight decline in economic growth, I believe it would be justified and reasonable to have continued political and financial assistance from the international community in order to further develop Afghanistan’s growing economy and help reduce security issues.



Darius Nasimi has just finished school in London, completing his GSCE’s and will start Sixth form in September. He has volunteered in two charity organizations which seek to improve the human rights situation inside Afghanistan as well as help to integrate Afghans into British Society. These are the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association and the European Campaign for Human rights for the people of Afghanistan. Darius has travelled to Afghanistan 7 times and has witnessed reforms and developments take place. His interests include international relations, the role of the civil society in assisting development and the history of Afghanistan.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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