Afghanistan Stabilization Program: A Summary of Research and Key Outcome Trends

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Stephen Hegarty

To provide evidence about which programs best foster stability in fragile and conflict-affected areas we systematically review the relationship between stabilization programming and a broad range of outcomes in Afghanistan. Following a pre-analysis plan, we reviewed 89 existing studies from government, policy think tanks, and academic journals from over 15 years and statistically analyzed data from a range of sources from 2009 to 2015. While we compile a relatively comprehensive set of data, our analysis is based on a subset of stabilization programming the lack of a central repository of reliable data on program spending limited the analysis—because data were kept in disparate locations and never consolidated our quantitative analysis. Overall, we find that some stabilization programming is correlated with small, short-term improvements in support for the Afghan government, perceived access to health care, and economic activity despite the fact that these programs typically targeted more violent areas. We note that the size of this effect was small relative to the overall trends in key security, economic, and attitudinal outcomes over the same period and does not necessarily indicate a direct causal impact of these programs. This positive correlation was primarily observed for relatively low dollar programs (which in some cases were conducted over large parts of a region or country). Qualitative evidence suggests this may be because these smaller programs are easier to administer and less susceptible to corruption. These effects were not sustained beyond one year, suggesting limited scope for long-term or sustainable changes.

The lessons our analysis suggest that modest programs with bounded expectations on the size and duration of impact must be included in considerations of future stabilization efforts. We also recommend that future programs collect higher quality data, coordinate their evaluation efforts among donors, plan ahead by building in reporting requirements, and make effective use of new technologies to be facilitated programming that is more adaptive to the conditions on the ground. As these best practices are incorporated, policymakers and implementers can enable better design and implementation of stabilization projects in conflict-affected areas in the future.

Additional Downloads:
Lessons Learned from Stabilization Initiatives in Afghanistan: A Systematic Review of Existing Research
Stabilization in Afghanistan: Trends in Violence, Attitudes, Well-being and Program Activity
Pre-Analysis Plan
Pre-Analysis Plan Addendum