The issue is not just security

As the US prepares to withdraw, Afghanistan must brace for many transitions

The recently announced negotiations with the Taliban and President Hamid Karzai's reaction once again puts the future of Afghanistan in the spotlight. There is intense interest in security, and talks about security. Equally important are issues of how to improve people's livelihoods and basic services such as water, roads, electricity, justice and the rule of law. These issues will determine how the Afghan people react to the changing political and security landscape.

Despite the gloom and doom news from Afghanistan, there are many positives. Over two million children, including girls, regularly attend school. Connectivity has improved, with more than 14 million cellphone users. Budgetary systems are improving to ensure better accountability and delivery of public services. Yet huge challenges remain.

The effort to improve local government must be accelerated. In the decade between the two Bonn conferences, much was done to build national institutions in Kabul. When it came to building local government, however, donor impatience led to shortcuts. Each donor selected a province to set up its own provincial reconstruction team (PRT) and deliver assistance. The hard slog to build effective local government seemed time-consuming and difficult. Setting up a PRT with visible results was much easier. Now, as foreign troops withdraw, we're dealing with the same issue — the rebuilding of local government infrastructure without which delivery of services isn't possible.

The likelihood of a sharp drop in aid post-2014 occupies attention. But even current levels of promised assistance are not flowing through. A mutual accountability pact made in Tokyo pledged around $4 billion per year in assistance to Afghanistan, but less than 50 per cent of that has been delivered.

Part of the problem is the lack of expertise at the local level to efficiently use assistance, which will require a build-up of local government. A related issue is that the excess of experienced personnel in key ministries and departments has created a parallel civil service. The challenge is to dismantle this parallel structure to create a sustainable Afghan-led civil service, while retaining talented people.

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