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What the U.N. Reports About Governance in Afghanistan

The rising tide of violence in Afghanistan identified in the United Nations’ most recent quarterly country report got the lion’s share of the press attention this weekend. But check out what it says about governance in the country. Given that out-governing the insurgency is central to NATO strategy in Afghanistan, it seems strange to treat governance as an afterthought, even when remembering how weak and inconsistent Afghan governance has been so far. So:

Over the reporting period, the Government made significant advances in prioritizing the Afghanistan National Development Strategy and putting in place the public financial management and administrative capacity for its implementation ahead of the Kabul Conference. The establishment of three development clusters is focusing the Government efforts on a targeted set of reconstruction and development priorities aimed at supporting economic growth and job creation, particularly for people living outside of urban centres. Exceeding initial expectations at the London Conference, 18 ministries are now engaged in the agriculture and rural development cluster (led by the Minister of Agriculture), the human resources development cluster (led by the Minister of Education), and the infrastructure and economic development cluster (led by the Minister of Mines). A fourth cluster, governance, has also been established but has yet to elaborate a prioritized sector strategy and, as of 1 June, the cluster leadership has not yet been clarified. The cluster approach is demonstrating national leadership and ownership in the formulation of a coherent response to Afghanistan’s development needs. It also brings together ministries in a collaborative effort to define shared objectives, accompanied by priority activities and costed national programmes. UNAMA has played an active role in supporting the development of the clusters and priorities.

All of which sounds encouraging. But look what picture emerges when UNAMA, the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, drills down below the national level:

The ability of the Government to accurately plan, monitor and evaluate development at the subnational level faces capacity and resource limitations. UNAMA, in cooperation with United Nations agencies in the field, carried out a snapshot survey on the capacity of provincial sector working groups to deliver services and to coordinate development activities. The UNAMA survey identified four trends in subnational development. First, the capacity of subnational government to coordinate through the sector working groups is limited in many locations where mechanisms are operating below expectations. Second, coordination and implementation of sector strategies was strongest in health and education and relatively weak in private sector development. Third, in several provinces with significant security challenges, there were no sector working groups or similar

coordination structures. Finally, where capacity-building programmes had been carried out, whether by United Nations agencies or other partners, sector working groups demonstrated improved abilities to plan, coordinate and monitor sectoral activities.

And that’s with the governance sector working group not even fully articulated. Gen. Petraeus has recently been testifying to Congress about getting the “inputs” right, but when it comes to governance, not all the inputs have been clearly established, despite billions in U.S. aid to governance development and the recent “civilian uplift” of non-military advisers.

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