AFGHANISTAN The Tokyo Conference from Transition to Transformation

The Tokyo conference on Afghanistan, which happened last Sunday, represented a clinch moment in terms of donor commitments on aid to the country. Many Afghans fear that the current international military withdrawal will also result in international assistance to the country drying up.

By Howard Mollett, Senior Policy Advisor, CARE International UK

Several governments, including the Denmark, Australia and the UK, used the Tokyo conference to signal long-term commitment to development and state-building efforts. Others, including current major donors to Afghanistan, failed to provide clear commitments on levels of funding. Furthermore, the commitments made at Tokyo do not address the chronic humanitarian needs in Afghanistan, notably conflict-related population displacement.

As explained in CARE's new report on Afghanistan - "Women and Transition in Afghanistan" – donors are failing to adequately resource independent aid agencies with access to conflict-affected areas beyond the reach of government institutions.

Beyond commitments to aid quantity, Tokyo sought to establish a framework which can make aid to Afghanistan more effective and accountable. Some progress was made on this front, but many details remain unclear. The official conference declaration includes commitments on stronger monitoring of issues like corruption with reviews at regular intervals over the coming years. However, precise details for how the monitoring will take place on the ground remain unclear – specifics will only come in an ‘Aid Management Policy’ to be finalised later this year.

CARE believes that those monitoring and accountability efforts need to reach down to the sub-national level. Discussions on aid quality or issues like corruption cannot just be confined to Kabul or to conferences at the global level. Clear benchmarks need to be established on a sector-specific basis linked to the development of the national priority programmes. Furthermore, civil society and beneficiary communities on the ground need to have a voice in oversight processes.

Gains risk being lost

What’s more, the precious gains made by women and girls risk being lost if further steps are not taken to put them at the heart of aid design, implementation and monitoring on the ground. The Tokyo declaration suggests that implementation of national legislation on women’s rights will become an indicator in a new ‘Mutual Accountability Framework’ between the Afghan government and international community. This is potentially important as a way to track progress in protecting women’s rights and hold government to account on this. However, in order for women’s rights to be genuinely addressed by any given aid initiative, very specific policies must be put in place, specific funding must be made available to ensure implementation, and benchmarks for success should include direct references to women. That level of detail is not yet provided by the framework agreed at Tokyo.

The fact remains that historically, vague promises on women’s rights have never been sufficient to ensure those principles take hold in practice in Afghanistan, and indeed, in every country currently torn apart by conflict. Individuals and institutions must be held accountable to those principles. Tokyo did not provide this level of detail. The key now is to make sure that those responsible for drafting implementation plans on the Tokyo commitments – both on aid and the ‘mutual accountability framework’ – adopt an explicit pro-women’s rights approach in their work. CARE remains committed to advocating with and on behalf of Afghan women to make sure that happens.