Preventing Waste and Fraud in Afghanistan and Pakistan Spending

Lessons from Iraq with Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and a Look at the Reconstruction Challenges in Afghanistan with Major General Arnold Fields, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

“More money has been appropriated for reconstruction in Iraq than for Germany and Japan combined between 1946 and 1952, with inflation adjusted,” said Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and advisor to Middle East Progress, at a CAP event on Monday entitled, “Preventing Waste and Fraud in Afghanistan and Pakistan Spending.”

Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and author of the book Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience, and Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction Major General Arnold Fields (Ret.) joined Katulis for the discussion.

“The first $21 billion, the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund, was… essentially an open check that paid for a lot of failure, and President Obama has said no blank checks for Afghanistan or Pakistan,” said Bowen. There is growing consensus that we must learn from the mistakes of the Iraq reconstruction and avoid repeating them. We’ve learned that aid money must be conditional and that engaging local contractors and ensuring thorough and effective oversight are essential to successful reconstruction efforts. “We have [already] gone for too many years without a proper level of oversight,” remarked Fields who, due to lack of funding, is not confident that his agency will be equipped to adequately perform the oversight desperately needed in Afghanistan.

“The largest strategic lesson from Iraq that is applicable to Pakistan and Afghanistan is the need to reform the United States’ approach to contingency relief and reconstruction operations,” argued Bowen. In particular, the lack of integration between the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department, and the Department of Defense has contributed to the flawed handling of reconstruction. According to Bowen a “unity of command and purpose” between these agencies will be fundamental to the effective use of international aid and the success of development efforts both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Iraq experience demonstrated that an effective rule of law is a necessary prerequisite to development and reconstruction endeavors. “A lesson that Iraq forced upon us is don’t carry out large reconstruction programs in an unpermissive environment,” said Bowen. The rule of law in Iraq was essentially nonexistent during much of the time U.S. troops were deployed there: Forty judges have been assassinated in the past six years and the country is in the throes of a two-year civil war. Without the fundamental safeguard of a functioning system of governance many of the reconstruction efforts have gone to waste.

In Afghanistan the weak rule of law remains a crucial roadblock for development ventures. While governance has improved through steps such as tripling the number of lawyers available on the ground, “we are far behind where we should be,” said Fields. One of the central barriers to strengthening the rule of law in Afghanistan is the issue of corruption.

Corruption has been an endemic problem throughout the Iraq reconstruction. “There is no meaningful fraud-fighting effort with in the Iraqi system,” said Bowen. In Afghanistan, where Fields says the corruption problem is a “mirror image of Iraq,” development efforts must tackle this issue head on. The initial commitment from Afghani leadership to this challenge is promising. According to Fields, President Hamid Karzai has asked the United States to step in and provide recourses to fight corruption his country. However, in a cash-based economy such as Afghanistan’s, it is difficult to combat corruption with effective oversight. Moving toward an electronic-based economy will facilitate needed transparency.

Rooting out corruption is especially important when it comes to ensuring that international aid is put to appropriate uses. Bolstering confidence in aid deployed to Afghanistan is crucial to building the multilateral effort needed to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Iraq reconstruction model is a valuable tool that the United States and the global community must learn from as they turn their focus toward building sustainable security in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iraq has taught us that aid money needs to be under constant scrutiny and reevaluated and redirected based on its effectiveness. Transparency and oversight must be the foundational principles upon which future development efforts are based. Finally, Iraq has demonstrated that a functioning system of governance at the local level is necessary before reconstruction can begin. To forget the lessons from Iraq will be to repeat the mistakes made there.

Featured speakers:
Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction

Major General Arnold Fields (Ret.), Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

Moderated by:
Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress and advisor, Middle East Progress


Center for American Progress, 1333 H St. NW, 10th Floor, Washington, DC , 20005

Additional information

A light lunch will be served at 11:30 a.m.