Regional Cooperation: Governance and Disaster Management in Afghanistan

Governance and public administration remain an ongoing topic of research for academics and a top issue of concern and interest for policymakers in most countries around the world. Governments in all countries, regardless of their level of development, strive to improve and maintain good governance through effective public administration. However, in countries like Afghanistan, which strive to recover from decades of war and devastation, the nature of efforts to ensure good governance, while building the institutions of public administration, is quite different.

In other words, unlike most peaceful countries with relatively established governments, the Afghan government not only has to govern but also to build the institutions of state in order to deliver increasingly good governance. And it has to do this in an extremely competitive environment where an array of parallel structures—including international NGOs, UN agencies, contractors, and these organizations’ local affiliates—constantly duplicate Afghan efforts and deprive the Afghan government of the few precious resources provided by the international community.

A quick look at the history of governance in Afghanistan reveals that as a least developed country even before the advent of conflicts, the Afghan state institutions had been already weak. With the exception of provincial centers, the Afghan government was completely absent in most districts and villages across Afghanistan. However, peace allowed people to govern themselves through traditional governance structures.

After the Soviet occupation and invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Afghan government was strengthened for ideological purposes, which, however, led to the weakening of governance outside Kabul where the Afghan people rose against the central government and its Soviet backers. After the fall of the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul, Afghanistan’s post-war reconstruction was neglected. Instead, regional interference triggered a decade of proxy conflicts that completely destroyed Afghanistan’s already weak state structures.

Thanks to international assistance, since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, most Afghan state institutions have been rebuilt and undergone numerous reforms. However, weak capacity coupled with a lack of resources to implement the new and reformed laws and policies that guide public administration remains a major challenge with a direct negative bearing on governance across Afghanistan.

Afghanistan’s efforts to manage disasters, a major issue of national concern in any country, are hindered by a lack of capacity and resources. Over the past 12 years, the Afghan government has established the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and developed a comprehensive national disaster management plan. This holistic approach to disaster management consists of mitigation and preparedness in a non-disaster situation; preparedness and warning dissemination before a likely disaster; immediate response and search & rescue during a disaster; and recovery and rehabilitation after a disaster.

Although the Afghan government has been able to strengthen its institutional capacities within the NDMA, based on the above plan, many bottlenecks remain. A lack of inter-agency coordination, due to many gaps and weaknesses in public administration, prevent NDMA to implement the interconnected objectives of Afghanistan’s national disaster plan. This is compounded by a lack of budget and appropriate equipment, including early warning systems and heavy ground and air capabilities such as helicopters and transport aircrafts.

These ongoing challenges, which are a manifestation of weak governance and public administration, prompted the Afghan government to include disaster management as a regional confidence building measure under the Istanbul Process, whose objective is to shore up and encourage regional cooperation for the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Countries from the region and beyond have agreed to participate in the Disaster Management CBM both to help Afghanistan with its technical needs and to cooperate with one another to address what is a regional and global challenge, in large part due to climate change and its many environmental consequences. Pakistan and Kazakhstan lead the CBM, and India is a leading member of the CBM, from whose experience and expertise in disaster management Afghanistan has already benefited. In the years to come, the Afghan government looks forward to working with all the participating countries to further strengthen its disaster management capacities and capabilities so that major natural disasters are prevented and responded to effectively when they occur.

Beyond the Istanbul Process, the Afghan government encourages the countries of South Asia and Central Asia to establish credible, well-resourced mechanisms of regional cooperation to address their common problems. Needless to say, such collective efforts before, during, and after natural disasters have always proven a success. To begin with, the countries of the region must hold a conference to assess natural disaster risks and to share with each other lessons learned in effective disaster management. Afghanistan is prepared to participate in and support any regional initiative that will help ensure preventive cooperation against natural disasters.

About the author:

photo for the bioMr. M. Ashraf Haidari is serving as the Deputy Chief of Mission (Minister Counselor) of the Embassy of Afghanistan in New Delhi, India. From June 2011 to July 2012, he served as the Deputy Assistant National Security Advisor of Afghanistan. From 2004 to 2011, Mr. Haidari served the Embassy of Afghanistan in the United States in various capacities including: Chargé d’Affaires, Deputy Chief of Mission, Political Counselor, and Acting Defense Attaché. He is also an author and TV & radio commentator on Afghanistan and regional affairs. Mr. Haidari is educated in the United States, Switzerland, and Afghanistan. He holds a Master of Arts in Security Studies from the Georgetown University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Relations from Wabash College.

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