Why development is failing Afghanistan: An analysis of basic capabilities, self-­?perception and social participation

Trani, Jean-­?François, Cécile Rolland, and Parul Bakhshi (2010). "Why development is failing Afghanistan: An analysis of basic capabilities, self-­?perception and social participation" Paper presented at the 7th annual conference of the HDCA, 21-23 September 2010, Amman, Jordan.

In a statement called Grounding International Engagement in Afghan Realities, released on the occasion of the London and Kabul Conferences on Afghanistan in 2010, the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU) cautions that “the trust and support that most Afghans initially held for international intervention are fading. Many of the problems that the international community faces in Afghanistan arise from their own hastily-­?made decisions and short-­?term planning, driven by political expediency”. Moving beyond simplistic and sometimes generic views of very complex conflict situations, this paper attempts to present an analysis of the situation from the people’s realities. In Afghanistan, the regaining conflict, increasing insecurity and weakening democratic processes, compel us to deeply question some of the assumptions that development programmes are founded on. Analysing the findings from a national survey designed to identify the needs expressed by vulnerable groups at the grass root level, this paper explores the links between Afghans’ self-­?perception, social participation and well-­?being using Sen’s capability approach. Taking into consideration the reality of a conflict affected fragile state and the limitation that it poses to the country development process, we attempt to better understand the individual coping strategies and collective functioning that remain the cornerstones of life in the country but are not sufficiently taken into consideration within a context where “policy has often been driven by ideology or assumption rather than evidence” (AREU 2010). Using data from a national survey, we argue that very vulnerable groups maintain positive self-­?perception by referring to collective values and practices. We use basic capabilities, gender and ethnic origins to constitute an analysis lens to better understand self-­?perception and social participation mechanisms that are inherent to Afghan functioning today. In the first part or our paper, we aim to provide keys for our discussion. To do this we briefly review the literature related to the capability approach, and present the key concepts that are relevant to understand the perception of the situation by the people and highlight some characteristics of Afghan society that are particularly relevant to illustrate our findings. In the second part we explain the statistical tools that allowed us to structure the results and describe the findings. Finally, in the discussion we attempt to shed light on differences observed in our data and identify hypotheses that will need further investigation. Firstly, our conclusions suggest that the deprivation of basic capabilities does not systematically lead to negative self-­?perception. However, these remain crucial in order to ensure that social norms and expectations cease to constitute constraints and become a factor on which agency and empowerment can be enhanced. Secondly our results point to the danger of tackling gender and ethnic inequality concerns by designing policies that target individuals isolated from the group. Finally we argue for an urgent need to define spaces for conceiving programmes that look at collective concerns alongside the individual and allow a space to develop collective capabilities that are a pre-­?requisite to setting into action the wheels of effective and sustainable participation, this time at the political and national levels, at not just within local programmes. In line with the capabilities approach and in view of our findings, we argue that self-­?perception, social participation and access to basic capabilities are intertwined. However, the link is not simple and one-­?dimensional. Various socio economic characteristics combine to define a particular capability set. Moreover, in the traditional setting like the Afghan society, individual capabilities are socially based and are profoundly imbedded in cultural norms and religious beliefs (Sen, 1999). These beliefs become even more crucial in situations of conflict where other reference systems such as the state have been nonexistent. We strongly argue for the importance of taking into account community values and giving a collective dimension to policies and programming in a conflict affected fragile state such as Afghanistan. Not only is this paramount in order to ensure that measures taken are relevant, meaningful and coherent with beliefs that constitute the core of Afghan society, but also it is a way to ensure that social change is effective and sustainable. International efforts in the country have largely been based on the human rights framework. Our discussion in this paper strongly advocates for a need to reflect on how this framework is made operational in complex conflict and post-­?conflict contexts. This need to adapt frameworks to local realities Paper submitted for the HDCA Conference – Amman September 2010 2 is paramount at the national political level as well as at the time when the democratic process is challenged. “Decisions that are blind to (Afghan) realities, and driven by the short-­?term political convenience of international leaders, are likely to fail both in their stated objectives of development, and in providing a foundation to counter terrorist threats” (AREU 2010).
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