No more empty promises: Afghans want to see real action now

“Afghans want jobs. They want to feel safe when they walk down the street. They want doctors in their hospitals and decent teachers in their schools.”
Ashley Jackson
Oxfam's Head of Advocacy in Afghanistan
Published: 19 July 2010

The Kabul Conference must be a turning point not another wasted opportunity, says international aid agency Oxfam on the eve of the event.

Tomorrow marks the ninth international conference on Afghanistan in nearly as many years. In a new paper, published today, Oxfam says previous high-profile conferences promised much but achieved little.

Oxfam today calls on the world leaders attending the Kabul Conference to tackle the underlying causes of the development and humanitarian crises unfolding in Afghanistan – and help ordinary people lift themselves out of poverty.

More than $40 billion has been spent on aid to Afghanistan over the past nine years, yet millions of Afghans still live in poverty. The security situation is worse than at any point since the fall of the Taliban, and donors are increasing focused on short cuts and military-led approaches. The United States, for example, has significantly decreased their funding for humanitarian activities, while US funding for "hearts and minds" activities has increased over 2500 percent.

Oxfam's Head of Advocacy in Afghanistan Ashley Jackson said: "Many Afghans are tired of conferences where ministers from all over the world talk about the future of their country with nothing changing on the ground.

"Afghans want jobs. They want to feel safe when they walk down the street. They want doctors in their hospitals and decent teachers in their schools. Now is the time for action – not more empty pledges and rhetoric. The needs of ordinary Afghans must be put first."

The paper, called "Promises, Promises", says Afghans are increasingly on the front lines of the conflict. According to the UN, assassinations of community leaders, government workers, and other civilians now average one per day.

While many Afghans are desperate for peace, current reintegration plans threaten to be the latest in a long line of quick fixes. The program, due to be endorsed at the Kabul Conference, barely mentions how genuine grievances will be addressed, and many fear these plans will grant impunity without addressing the crimes of the past.

The international community hopes for "a new social contract" between the Afghan Government and its people. But Oxfam fears that ordinary people could end up on the sidelines, rather than at the heart of this new contract.

"Holding yet another one-day conference is not the way to solve the long-term problems facing Afghanistan. It creates the illusion of action but it is actually what happens after the conference that matters most.

"We're deeply concerned that far too many troop contributing countries are looking for ways to get their troops out rather than looking at the root causes of the conflict and poverty," Jackson said.

Many Afghans say they want corruption to be tackled as an urgent priority, yet not a single high-level official has been investigated and successfully tried for corruption.

As one Afghan civil servant said: "Donors should monitor each penny so the government can't get away with corruption.

Read more

Watch the video: What Afghans want

Download "Promises, Promises: A briefing paper for the Kabul Conference on Afghanistan"

Take action: Join our voice petition to put Afghan People First

Our emergency work in Afghanistan

Notes to Editors

  1. Quotes from Afghans based on interviews conducted during May and June 2010:
    • An Afghan journalist said: "We've had nine conferences. We know what Karzai's speech will be. We know what the donors will do. And we know nothing will come of it. Where is the action on the ground? What do these promises amount to?"
    • An Afghan government employee said: "Look at the previous conferences and the problems they were supposed to address but did not: political structures and low civilian and military capacity. We need real solutions and the international community needs to be tough. They have to set realistic benchmarks and make sure that they are followed."
    • A UN official said: "It seems as though the international community has made a to-do list of all of the promises from the London conference, and are just ticking the boxes to make sure they have something to show for it. But they're not asking whether these objectives are the right ones, how well these so-called reforms are working or whether it's actually bringing about any desired outcomes."
  2. Oxfam has worked in Afghanistan for over twenty years. We work in 20 of the country's 34 provinces directly with communities as well as with local partners on programs, which include water and sanitation work, health promotion, income generation, peace-building, women's rights, and conflict-resolution.

Contact Information

For more information or to arrange interviews with Ashley Jackson, the author of the briefing note, please contact: