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Letter: Development Economics 101 Explains Afghan Failure

Updates to the letter

So much has been written about the purpose and result of the US intervention in Afghanistan (Big Read, August 21). However, the economics doesn’t get much attention.

I would like to highlight the role of development or reconstruction as reported in the Special Inspector General’s “Lessons Learned Program” for the reconstruction of Afghanistan released last month.

He states that “many institutions and infrastructure projects built by the United States were not sustainable” (Lesson 3); that “American personnel in Afghanistan were often unqualified and poorly trained” (lesson 4) and that “American agencies [were] struggling to measure results effectively while sometimes relying on fragile data to claim success ”(Lesson 7).

In development economics, lack of sustainability effectively means that the cost stream over the economic life of a project exceeds the benefits. This situation is common in parts of the developing world plagued by inefficiency and corruption. The roots of failure in Afghanistan, as documented by Sigar, are no mystery. Who is to blame and why is another story.

Professor Mehdi Al Bazzaz
Former World Bank Economist
Alexandria, Virginia, United States

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