Aid, conflict and peacebuilding in Afghanistan: What lessons can be learned?

This paper examines the history of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, maps out some of the key actors and main characteristics of the aid system, and analyses the interaction between aid provision and the dynamics of violent conflict. In particular, it asks whether and how aid can support efforts to promote conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

Afghanistan represents a potent example of the challenges and dilemmas facing the international community in the so-called ‘new world disorder’. Neither an inter-state war nor a classic civil war, the Afghan conflict has moved through several phases and might now be characterised as part regional proxy war and part civil war. After more than twenty years of fighting leading to over one and a half million dead, mass displacement and the break down of the institutions of state and civil society,Afghanistan appears to be no closer to a resolution of the conflict.

The humanitarian aid programme over the last two decades has constituted a major part of the international response to the Afghan crisis. There has however, compared to many other protracted crises, been limited research and writing on humanitarianism in Afghanistan. This report represents an attempt to highlight some of the experiences and lessons from Afghanistan which have wider relevance and could usefully inform current debates and attempts to improve humanitarian practice in war zones.

The report is one in a series of four working papers which consist of three country studies (Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Liberia) and a synthesis report that provides a comparative analysis and overall recommendations for aid actors.