By Michelle Nichols
KABUL (Reuters) - The global community has failed to create a politically stable and economically viable Afghanistan despite pouring billions of dollars into the South Asian nation during a decade-long war against the Taliban, says the International Crisis Group.
The Brussels-based think tank said the United States and its allies still lacked a coherent policy to strengthen Afghanistan ahead of a planned withdrawal of foreign combat troops from the unpopular war by the end of 2014.
"Despite billions of dollars in aid, state institutions remain fragile and unable to provide good governance, deliver basic services to the majority of the population or guarantee human security," it said in a report released this week.
Violence is at its worst in Afghanistan since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001, with high levels of foreign troop deaths, and record civilian casualties during the first six months of 2011.
Afghanistan relies on foreign aid for around 90 percent of its spending, but many international donors are reluctant to channel aid through the country's ministries because of a lack of capacity and rampant corruption.
Public sector corruption is seen as worse than in any other country except Somalia, and equal to Myanmar, according to Transparency International. President Hamid Karzai has acknowledged graft exists in his government but says foreigners are also to blame.
"The impact of international assistance will remain limited unless donors, particularly the largest, the U.S., stop subordinating programing to counter-insurgency objectives, devise better mechanisms to monitor implementation, adequately address corruption and wastage of aid funds," said the International Crisis Group (ICG).
TIME RUNNING OUT
A gradual transition of security control to Afghan forces began last month and the ICG said that as the foreign military drawdown progresses toward its end-2014 deadline, donor funding and civilian personnel presence may also decline rapidly.
This decline would undermine "oversight and the sustainability of whatever reconstruction and development achievements there have been," the group said.
So far $57 billion in aid has been spent in Afghanistan, but largely failed to fulfil the pledge to rebuild the country, the report said, and sustainability was "virtually impossible" as only 20 percent had been channeled through the government.
About $29 billion of that had been spent on the Afghan police and army, which "have thus far proved unable to enforce the law, counter the insurgency or even secure the seven regions" recently handed over to them, the report found.
"There is no possibility that any amount of international assistance to the Afghan National Security Forces will stabilize the country in the next three years unless there are significant changes in international strategies, priorities and programs," it said.
"As more and more districts come under Taliban control, despite U.S. claims of substantial progress, and the insurgency spreads to areas regarded until recently as relatively secure, displacement and humanitarian needs are also rising," ICG said.
After 30 years of conflict, Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, where children make up half the 30 million people, a quarter of children die before the age of five and the average Afghan life expectancy is 44 years.
"Time is running out before the international community transfers control to Kabul by the end of 2014," the ICG said. "Afghanistan will undoubtedly need continued political, economic and technical assistance to ensure that it does not unravel."
The full report and recommendations can be seen at www.crisisgroup.org
(Editing by Paul Tait and Ron Popeski)