Cablegate: Community Development Councils and the Future Of

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1. (SBU) The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and
Development's (MRRD) National Solidarity Program (NSP) is an
Afghan success story, fostering local development through
Community Development Councils (CDCs), including in some of
the most insecure parts of the country. The Ministry
proposed transitioning the CDCs from a civil society role to
become the constitutionally-mandated governing body at the
local level, but the government decided not to do so. The
CDCs will remain informal consultative groups as part of
civil society, while the Independent Directorate for Local
Governance (IDLG) led by Jelani Popal implements the
Constitution's provision for formal district and village
councils. CDCs will depend largely on donor support and are
vulnerable to other, expanding local initiatives under the
IDLG. Until elected councils are established some time after
2010, effective counter-insurgency in Afghanistan requires
both the community-based development delivered by the NSP, as
well as engagement of local leaders through representative
councils. The efforts of both the IDLG and NSP merit the
full support of donors to help the Afghan government succeed
in this critical and coherent local governance agenda.

The NSP Program and Community Development Councils
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (SBU) The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and
Development's (MRRD) National Solidarity Program (NSP) is an
Afghan development success story. Working through 24 NGO
facilitating partners, the program has established over
20,000 Community Development Councils (CDCs) in every
province and most districts. The first phase of the program
(NSP I) established the first 17,000 Councils, each of which
was elected informally from communities of at least 25
families and received a block grant of up to $200 per family
for small-scale, community planned and managed development
projects. The second phase (NSP II), currently underway, is
expanding the number of Councils to 24,000, covering 95
percent of Afghan villages by the end of 2009 (some Councils
span several villages). The Rural Development Ministry and
the World Bank are currently planning the third phase (NSP
III), which will focus on sustainability by providing second
round block grants to established Councils able to
demonstrate that they used their first-round funds
effectively, thereby helping them sink deeper and more
permanent institutional roots in their communities. (Through
the end of 2007, donors to the Afghanistan Reconstruction
Trust Fund (ARTF) have earmarked $349 million for the NSP,
including $50 million from the United States. USAID plans to
allocate $10 million to the NSP from its regular 2008 budget
and an additional $40 million from the 2008 budget

3. (SBU) Solid data on CDC performance have not been
collected, according to the World Bank, but substantial
anecdotal evidence suggests that they perform well, even in
some highly insecure areas. The Councils foster community
ownership, which tends toward higher quality projects that
are better tailored to local needs, less prone to corruption,
and less vulnerable to insurgents. According to NSP
executive director Wais Barmak, only one of the approximately
2,350 schools built by NSP has burned down. CDCs are also
popular; only six communities approached to form a Council
have declined.

4. (SBU) The Councils face several operational challenges.
Their community scope is a strength as well as a weakness,
fostering ownership but also limiting the scale of projects.
The NSP's district level analogue, the National Area-based
Development Program (NABDP), is working to cluster CDCs into
District Development Assemblies (DDAs) to help them leverage
funds toward larger-scale projects, but brokering these
cross-community collaborations has proven difficult and

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resource intensive. As the CDCs extend into new communities,
the World Bank and NSP continue to develop models for working
in highly insecure areas. As of September 2007, due to
insecurity the NSP had suspended its program in over 700
communities, including much of Helmand and parts of Kandahar.
(They recently established CDCs in Musa Qala district.)
However, the program has also shown that the Councils can be
effective in some of the most dangerous areas that are
inaccessible to NGOs and other programs, often because local
traditional leaders (including Taliban sympathizers) allow
the programs to continue.

Better at Development than Representation

5. (SBU) The government formalized the Councils' development
project facilitation role through a bylaw enacted by
presidential decree in November 2006. CDCs have functioned
as informal consultative groups, but the government has
considered expanding their role. The Afghan National
Development Strategy (ANDS) Secretariat has reached out to
the CDCs to play a limited development planning role, making
some efforts to include the CDCs' local development
priorities in the Provincial Development Plans (PDPs). The
Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development has also
proposed that the CDCs play a political representational role
analogous to elected provincial councils, which triggered
reactions from several quarters within the government.

6. (SBU) While Afghans appreciate the Councils' development
role, they do not regard them as representative bodies.
Research by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit
(AREU) in six provinces found that communities tend to have
little awareness of the Councils except as a means to access
NSP funds. When the funds run out the Councils no longer
meet. The Councils are not well known or understood outside
their membership, since only those serving on the Councils
have received training about their purpose. There is also
historic skepticism about community councils, as the last
government-sanctioned local councils set up under the
Mohammad Daud Khan regime (1973-78) evolved into propaganda
tools under the Communists, prompting local Afghans to rely
even more on their traditional leaders. Afghans continue to
rely on community leaders such as maliks, who address
problems within the communities, help the government collect
taxes, and connect citizens to government services. AREU
found that these traditional leaders rarely serve on the
Councils, which often span areas that do not correspond with
natural political units. These are the leaders that Local
Governance Director Popal is deliberately working to engage.

CDCs to Remain Civil Society, Not Government

7. (SBU) The funding requirements of NSP III and the creation
last August of the Independent Directorate for Local
Governance (IDLG) forced the government to confront the
question of the future of its NSP program and the CDCs it
created. IDLG director Popal inherited from the Ministry of
Interior policy oversight and administrative authority over
the provincial councils, and ultimately over the elected
district, municipal, and village councils required by the
Constitution. The IDLG's strategy documents call for a
legislative framework by 2010, and for elections to take
place soon thereafter. (Rumors that the government plans to
hold municipal, district, and village council elections in
2009/10, are probably not accurate.)

8. (SBU) Popal understands the Councils better than most
Afghans and is sympathetic to their goals. He served as a
Deputy Minister of Finance under Ashraf Ghani, who originally
invited the World Bank in 2002 to set up the NSP.
Immediately prior to his appointment as Local Governance
director, Popal had spent several years running a large NGO
in Southern Afghanistan that worked with the Rural

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Development Ministry as one of the facilitating partners for
the Councils. His deputy Barna Karimi shared on several
occasions that while they support the Councils' development
work, Popal's first-hand experience is that the Councils are
not representative of local power dynamics. Karimi stressed
that the IDLG can learn valuable lessons from the CDCs and
draw from their membership for district and village councils,
but that they are not composed of the local political leaders
that Afghans regard as legitimate and with whom the IDLG
needs to work to advance the government's counter-insurgency

9. (SBU) Keen to preserve and institutionalize the CDCs,
Rural Development Minister Mohammad Zia proposed to the
Cabinet last fall that the CDCs transition from civil society
entities to formal parts of the government. He proposed that
the government develop the CDC bylaws into legislation
designating the CDCs -- and their district level
counterparts, District Development Assemblies -- as the
formal village and district councils required by the
Constitution. Zia held a conference from November 11-15 of
about 500 CDC members from across Afghanistan ostensibly to
share best practices, but also as a show of public support.
Popal attended the conference, but withdrew his support as a
co-sponsor, and asked President Karzai to refer the issue to
the Cabinet Legislative Committee for a decision in late
November. With the sole exception of Zia, the rest of the
committee -- including its chair, Second Vice President
Khalili, and its other members Independent Election Chairman
Ludin, Finance Minister Ahady, and Justice Minister Danish --
decided against designating the Councils as government
entities, but rather to remain as informal consultative
bodies (i.e. part of civil society, not government).
Concerns with the integrity of the informal elections that
established the Councils, the financial sustainability of
future block grants, and a strict interpretation of the
Constitution reportedly figured into these ministers'
positions. (Popal's ability to prevail in this important
internal policy debate also speaks to his clout within the
Karzai administration.)

Future of NSP Open to Debate, Exposed to Opponents
--------------------------------------------- -----

10. (SBU) The CDCs will continue in their current role as
informal consultative bodies that work with the government on
rural development (like NGOs) under the authority of the
Ministry of Rural Development. Popal's IDLG plans to
implement the Constitution's local governance provisions in a
staged approach, first by establishing appointed district
councils to engage local leaders in the government's
counter-insurgency efforts, and later to replace the
appointed councils with elected district, village, and
municipal councils as required by the Constitution.

11. (SBU) The decision exposes the NSP to those in the
government who oppose further funding for the Councils and
makes them dependent upon continued donor support. Finance
Minister Ahady remains the staunchest opponent to further
funding for the CDCs. As Finance Minister, his instinct is
to tame the large, donor-driven program in the interest of
fiscal sustainability, other spending priorities, and a
unified Afghan National Development (ANDS) planning process.
Politically, the massive program, which funnels development
funds to projects chosen by 20,000 communities across the
country, offers little to Ahady and his Afghan Millat party's
power base among urban Pashtuns. (Popal is Ahady's deputy in
the party, but the two are reportedly rivals for party

12. (SBU) President Karzai and much of his Cabinet
reportedly support the NSP, as does most of the international
community. A World Bank representative suggested that donors
could help fend off Ahady's opposition by making clear that
NSP funding is not fungible; the unique program's success

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merits funds that would otherwise not be available for other
purposes. Failing that, the World Bank representative
suggested that Ahady could be given a larger political stake
in the program by setting up urban CDCs, but cautioned that
urban Councils could draw funds away from NSP III and
replicate the role of municipalities, which have clear
revenue raising authority and service delivery roles.
(Municipal revenue is raised and spent locally, making it the
only government revenue that does not flow through the
Finance Ministry, providing Ahady with another reason to
assert control.) Local Governance deputy Karimi is working
with USAID to develop a program to strengthen municipal
operations and oversight, and to expand services to urban
Afghans. Apart from NSP funds, USAID's Local Governance and
Community Development program continues to consult CDCs and
support their development priorities.

NSP and IDLG Set The Local Governance Agenda

13. (SBU) The dynamics between the Rural Rehabilitation and
Development Ministry's efforts to use the Community
Development Councils to continue delivering local development
while sinking more permanent institutional roots, and Popal's
efforts to fully implement the Constitution's local
governance provisions, will shape the local governance debate
in the Afghan government for the near future. Until
Constitutionally mandated district and village councils
supplant the CDCs (not likely until well past 2010), an
effective Afghan counter-insurgency requires both the
community-based development best delivered by the NSP as well
as stronger bonds between the central government and local
leaders through the appointed representative bodies being set
up by Popal. Success depends upon a strategic commitment by
the donors. NSP III should be funded. The IDLG also merits
financial and political support for its appointed councils,
as well as its efforts to increase service delivery through
municipalities and other strategic opportunities like its
role coordinating the government's follow-up to the military
success in Musa Qala. These efforts collectively constitute
a coherent local governance agenda and a critical component
of the Afghan government's counter-insurgency strategy.

14. (SBU) The National Solidarity Program poses an
interesting dilemma for the government. It is a successful
governmental program that is run largely by non-governmental
entities. It enfranchises local leaders but does not connect
directly to local government. It is a national development
program, but separate from the national development strategy.
And it works. We expect that it will continue to work, and
that the government will continue to wrestle with the
ambiguities of its structure.


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