Transition’s Strategy for Urban Development

Dr. Ashraf Ghani

The Kabul conference identified 22 national priority programs that provide the policy framework for Afghanistan’s development strategy. President Karzai’s New Year address confirmed that overarching framework, and stated that a selection of those programmatic priorities would also support the 2011-2014 transition from international to full Afghan responsibility for all aspects of governance, security, and development. The transitional strategy builds on those policy statements.

The first phase of the transition will be concentrated on five major urban centers, plus the provinces of Bamiyan and Panjshir. Those centers are Herat, Mazhar-al-Sharif, Lashkagar, Mehtarlam and Kabul. Transition concentrates on urban centers for reasons of both security and development. Security in the urban centers has improved considerably. As a result, significant numbers of Afghans can live and work in relatively safe environments.

Urban centers are also critical from the standpoint of development. Urban centers in rural countries are the drivers of economic growth, including growth for their rural hinterlands. They provide inputs for raising productivity, and they are where poor farmers can sell their products.

ISAF’s departure will have strong economic implications in the transition cities. At present, a significant share of urban growth is triggered and fed by money being spent in support of the ISAF presence. ISAF also employs a large number of men who will be suddenly pushed onto the labor market. Unless alternative sources can develop that can fill the gap left by ISAF’s departure, the resulting economic shock can pose a clear and likely danger to post-transition stability.

The purpose of this note is to propose a strategy for channeling development assistance to the transition cities in ways that will support stability and prevent a sudden drop-off in the well-being of urban populations. The strategy combines a general framework for developing the growth potential of Afghan cities, with recognition of the unique physical, social and economic context that differentiates the priorities for each of the transition urban centers.