John Acree

on AFGHANISTAN, On the Path to Transformation

February 20, 2013


Creative Magazine (CM) recently spoke with Creative’s Director of the Political Transitions Practice Area, John Acree (JA), to discuss his recent article in the security studies journal, PRISM, and how his thoughts on stabilization in Afghanistan apply to Creative’s current and future efforts in that country.

CM: Congratulations on your recent article! The premise of the piece focused less on the difficulties of working in Afghanistan, but rather on the difficulties, or challenges as you put them, posed by our own government on implementing stabilization activities. Why do you feel this theme is important to discuss?

JA: I suppose it is because I rarely read or hear others discuss Afghanistan in those terms. I think when discussing Afghanistan from a programmatic view point, whether you are trying to evaluate impact or figuring out what you want to do or determining risk, you have to consider the entire, unabridged environment, not just the situation in the field. My article in PRISM was an attempt to put a more complete context behind the difficulties we, or rather USAID, faced in 2010 and 2011 in implementing stabilization programs and in supporting the International Security Assistance Force and the counterinsurgency campaign.

CM: What were some of those challenges?

JA: There were several that I detailed in the article, among which included abrupt policy shifts, loss of program control, and sudden resource reductions. My point was not to criticize the decisions creating the challenges, but to reveal them as serious impediments to progress. The complexities in Afghanistan were harsh enough, and when the reader considers the additional challenges imposed by our own bureaucratic structures, lines of authority, and level of political will, to list a few, I would hope he or she gains a better context to begin understanding USAID’s struggles at that time.

07b-Afghanistan-little-kids CM: Do those challenges still exist in Afghanistan?

JA: Good question, but I’m not sure I have an answer. Creative continues to serve USAID as an implementing partner under several contracts in Afghanistan, but I am not physically there to understand fully all the current challenges. I am familiar with some of the grant activities we are implementing for USAID in the East and South regions of Afghanistan, and our planning efforts take into consideration USAID Forward as well as help determine what work we can do for USAID under the new paradigm of transition to transformation.

CM: Can you expand on that? What do you mean by “a new paradigm of transition to transformation?”

JA: One of the challenges I discussed in the PRISM article concerned a shift in U.S. policy from a stabilization effort to a transition effort. A similar shift in assistance approaches for Afghanistan is occurring now: a shift from transition to transformation. This policy emanates from several, recent international conferences on Afghanistan convened to reaffirm the international community’s commitment to assist Afghanistan in areas such as economic growth, security, and governance, among others, and to help move Afghanistan into a “transformation” decade beginning in 2015. We see our role, in part, as one that will support Afghanistan’s communities to prepare for the upcoming transformation decade. It is still early in the process, but the Creative team is already working towards the new challenges of this changing environment and what lies ahead in the transformation decade.

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