South and Central Asia: Brussels Conference on Afghanistan: October 4-5, 2016
More than one hundred countries and international organizations gathered in Brussels on October 4-5 to renew their partnership with Afghanistan. Building on the commitments made at the 2012 Tokyo Conference and 2014 London Conference, the international community recommitted to providing substantial financial support to Afghanistan as it moves toward self-reliance during its Transformation Decade (2015-2024).
The Brussels Conference opened on October 4 with side events on women’s empowerment and regional economic cooperation. The first event brought together high-level representatives of the Afghan government, Afghan civil society, and international community, including the First Lady of Afghanistan, Rula Ghani, and USAID Administrator Gayle Smith. This event reinforced the importance of women’s rights to the country’s overall development, and discussed how to further improve the situation of Afghan women and girls. At the second event, representatives of the Afghan private sector, their regional partners, and donors discussed ways to mobilize support for regional infrastructure projects and promote regional trade and development.
The main event on October 5 featured remarks by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, European Council President Donald Tusk, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Representatives of Afghan civil society also addressed the conference, reminding everyone of the Afghan government and its partners’ ultimate accountability to the Afghan people.
Donors pledged a total of $15.2 billion over the next four years to support Afghanistan’s development priorities and its long-term goal of achieving self-reliance by 2025. For its part, the United States pledged to maintain civilian assistance to Afghanistan at or very near current levels through 2020.
Conference participants reaffirmed their support for Afghan-led state- and institution-building, and for a political process that will bring lasting peace and reconciliation to Afghanistan. These efforts, together with the international community’s continued financial support, constitute the three pillars of Afghanistan’s Transformation Decade.
Participants also noted the important strides Afghanistan has made toward becoming a functioning, accountable, and sustainable state. At the same time, they recognized that the country still faces substantial challenges and discussed how to safeguard and build upon their achievements to date.
Charting the path forward, the Afghan government unveiled a new development strategy, the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF), which was endorsed by the international community. Participants also endorsed a set of 24 new deliverables under the Self-Reliance through Mutual Accountability Framework (SMAF), which will measure progress in development and reform in the near term.
Afghanistan and its partners first adopted a Mutual Accountability Framework at the Tokyo Conference in 2012, and agreed on an updated version, the SMAF, at the 2015 Senior Officials Meeting in Kabul. The Brussels Conference offered the opportunity to take stock of the Afghan government’s progress toward achieving these reform benchmarks. As of September 2016, it had achieved 20 of the 30 SMAF indicators and made substantial progress on most of the remaining 10.
Some of the most important achievements came in the area of women’s empowerment. In the past year, the Afghan government:
- Began implementation of its National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security, which, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1325, aims to protect women and girls and ensure their equal participation in peace negotiations and reconstruction efforts.
- Approved an anti-harassment regulation to improve the working environment for women in the public sector.
- Established Elimination of Violence Against Women prosecution units in 33 provinces, seven of which are headed by women.
The Afghan government also made important strides in government transparency under the SMAF. Nearly 95 percent of senior government officials have declared their assets as required by Afghanistan’s Constitution, and the five revenue-generating ministries have submitted anti-corruption plans to President Ghani.
Apart from the SMAF, Afghanistan celebrated its accession to the World Trade Organization in July 2016. WTO membership has the potential to attract investment and provide local industries with access to new markets.
The Way Ahead
Recognizing that much work remains on Afghanistan’s road to self-reliance, the international community and Afghan government adopted two new charters to guide the agenda for development and reform.
The ANPDF lays out the Afghan government’s political and economic development strategy for the next five years (2017-2021) of the Transformation Decade. The strategy highlights eleven National Priority Programs, five of which were presented at Brussels:
- The Citizens’ Charter program aims to provide rural and urban communities with basic development services, including health, education, clean water, energy, irrigation, and farm-to-market roads.
- The Women’s Economic Empowerment NPP seeks to help large numbers of underprivileged women improve family welfare through programs in financial literacy and inclusion, market agriculture, legal reform, gender statistics, and small- and medium-enterprise access.
- The Urban Development Program focuses on improving urban governance, the urban economy, and urban infrastructure (including housing).
- The Comprehensive Agriculture Development NPP aims to raise household incomes and productivity in rural areas, replace foreign imports with domestic production, and increase exports. Component programs include national irrigation, wheat, and horticulture plans; livestock development; and women in agriculture.
- The National Infrastructure Plan looks to increase transit and connectivity, including in telecommunications, by improving energy, transportation, and digital infrastructure.
To measure near-term progress, conference participants endorsed a new set of 24 specific SMAF indicators for 2017-2018. The 15 new targets for the Afghan government focus on electoral reform, government transparency, women’s empowerment, and economic sustainability. Under the revamped SMAF, the Afghan government is expected to:
- Take concrete steps toward electoral reform in 2017, leading to free, fair, and participative elections.
- Draft and endorse an anti-corruption strategy for the whole of government in the first half of 2017, and start implementation in the second half of 2017.
- Establish special court divisions (Dewan Khas) on violence against women in 15 provinces by December 2017 and the remaining provinces by December 2018. Increase the percentage of women serving as judges and prosecutors in these special courts and violence against women prosecution units.
- Launch the Women’s Economic Empowerment Plan by the first half of 2017 and report on its implementation by 2018.
- Deliver Citizens’ Charter services in at least 2,000 villages by December 2017 and an additional 2,000 by December 2018.
- Develop a time-bound investment climate reform plan in partnership with the private sector, for discussion and approval at an open session of the High Economic Council by mid-2017.
The Afghan government and its international partners plan to review their mutual commitments to development and reform at a Senior Officials Meeting in 2017 and Ministerial Meeting in 2018.