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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan: Background and Policy Issues


Rhoda Margesson
Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy

The United Nations (UN) has had an active presence in Afghanistan since 1988, and it is highly regarded by many Afghans for playing a brokering role in ending the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. As a result of the Bonn Agreement of December 2001, coordinating international donor activity and assistance have been tasked to a United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). However, there are other coordinating institutions tied to the Afghan government, and UNAMA has struggled to exercise its full mandate. The international recovery and reconstruction effort in Afghanistan is immense and complicated and, in coordination with the Afghan government, involves U.N. agencies, bilateral donors, international organizations, and local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The coordinated aid programs of the United States and its European allies focus on a wide range of activities, from strengthening the central and local governments of Afghanistan and its security forces to promoting civilian reconstruction, reducing corruption, and assisting with elections.

Some of the major issues UNAMA is wrestling with include the following:
  • Most observers agree that continued, substantial, long-term development is key, as is the need for international support, but questions have been raised about corruption, aid effectiveness (funds required, priorities established, impact received), and the coordination necessary to achieve sufficient improvement throughout the country. 
  • The international community and the Afghan government have sought to establish coordinating institutions and a common set of goals in order to use donor funds effectively. The international donor community has also sought to encourage Afghan “ownership”-meaning leadership and control-of reconstruction and development efforts by the country itself. 
  • Although the Afghan government is taking on an increasingly central role in development planning and the management of aid funds, the international community remains extensively involved in Afghan stabilization, not only in diplomacy and development assistance, but also in combating insurgents and addressing broader security issues. 
In December 2009, the Obama Administration laid out its strategy for Afghanistan in response to a battlefield assessment, reemphasized an earlier commitment to civilian efforts in cooperation with the United Nations, and further highlighted Afghanistan as a top national security priority. In 2010, a number of events and meetings took place that taken together provide a snapshot of ways that the Afghan government and international community are engaged in Afghanistan. These include the London Conference (January), the Peace Jirga (June), the Kabul Conference (July), and the NATO Summit in Lisbon (November). In addition, on September 18, 2010 Afghanistan held its second parliamentary election, the results of which were certified by electoral commissions in November. In its Afghanistan strategy review in December, the Obama Administration cautiously stated that while progress is being made on security matters, it remains fragile and requires sustained involvement by the United States and its allies.

This report examines the role of UNAMA in Afghanistan and discusses the obstacles the organization faces in coordinating international efforts and explores related policy issues and considerations for the 112
th Congress.


Date of Report: December 27, 2010
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: R40747
Price: $29.95

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