Holding the Government Accountable

U.S. Embraces Conditional Aid for Afghanistan

In a recent speech entitled "No More Free Lunch: Afghan Aid with a Purpose," Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko delved into America’s use of conditional aid to incentivize change in Afghanistan—aid which is either provided or withheld as the recipient meets or fails certain pre-arranged conditions.

For the first decade of fighting, American aid flowed with no conditions, both out of urgency and a desire to not further strain relations with the Afghan government. Only in 2013, when a new officer took command of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), did that change. Recent conditions have required things such as weapons tracking, sexual abuse prevention, and anti-corruption efforts.

Sopko was careful to emphasize that when conditions were not met, aid should still not be withheld from those on the front line. Rather than withholding weapons, ammunition, or fuel, the U.S. can penalize senior Afghan officers—those responsible for not reaching the set targets—by defunding pet projects.

This is welcome news, although it is important to acknowledge that conditional aid has its limitations. As Sopko said, “simply having conditions for aid does not guarantee desired outcomes or behavioral changes.” He also quoted a 2005 World Bank Report which said, “More conditionality cannot compensate for weak government commitment or implementation capacity.” The SIGAR office has developed a set of guidelines to help policymakers design smart programs of conditional aid, which can be found in their quarterly report.