The report of a government-appointed commission tasked with evaluating the Norwegian engagement in Afghanistan was presented this week. Entitled A Good Ally. Norway in Afghanistan 2001-2014, the 230 page report is a detailed examination of Norway’s civilian and military role in Afghanistan in this period. CMI researchers Astri Suhrke and Torunn Wimpelmann were members of the commission.

The reports lists three objectives for the Norwegian engagement in Afghanistan and concludes that only one has been fully successful, namely a strengthening of the relationship with the US. The commission’s mandate was to evaluate Norway’s efforts in the period from 2001-2014. How would you describe the situation in Afghanistan today?

-2015 was in many ways a very bad year for Afghanistan, and now, half way through 2016 things are not looking bright. The security situation is extremely serious. It is telling, and really quite tragic, that the US have just further reversed their announcement of withdrawal by 2014. Instead, it says it will expand their military operations in the country. There is also an economic crisis as a result of the aid and military economy having been reduced dramatically, says Torunn Wimpelmann.

Your particular field is gender politics. What are the main lessons learned from the international effort in relation to women’s rights?

-The international effort has focused a lot on formal frameworks and getting in place laws, policies and conventions. This is understandable because these kinds of interventions are easier to achieve than social change. However, it is clear that these formal changes have their limits. To put it a bit simply, it is relatively easy to push for a law on domestic violence, but when women have limited economic autonomy and are subject to social control they are dependent on the support of their families and so the law is difficult to implement.  Many women will not be able to benefit from such laws in practice. However, there is a new generation of feminist activists emerging in Afghanistan and I think we will see more grass root driven social change in in the future, at least in those areas which are somewhat stable. And of course, the change of government in 2014 have in some ways created a different climate in the capital- there is  more high level support for female visibility- which, symbolic as it may seem, matters.

The Norwegian government has reoriented aid to fragile countries like Afghanistan. What is the most important lesson from Afghanistan?

-It is extremely difficult to ensure that aid is put to good use in a situation like this. One cannot underestimate the importance of devoting enough human resources to administration and follow up of projects. I think it is better to have fewer projects well carried out than to decide on a high level of aid when its usefulness cannot be ascertained. In today’s Afghanistan we must not lose sight of the importance of projects carried out by local and small non-governmental organisations even though they may be more labour intensive to follow up, at least when measured by aid dollars spent.