Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name



Josef Korbel School of International Studies

First Advisor

Haider A. Khan, Ph.D.


Afghanistan, Case Study, Foreign aid effectiveness


The effectiveness of development assistance is one of the most contested debates in international development studies. While some of its most ardent supporters consider aid as the key to solving the plight of the developing world (e.g. Sachs 2006), its opponents consider it as part of the problem rather than the solution (e.g. Moyo 2009). By investigating the case of Afghanistan as one of the world's largest aid recipients from 2002 to 2014, I show that one reason for arriving at such diametrically opposed conclusions lies in the narrow definition of aid effectiveness as income growth rates. When this definition is broadened to incorporate various development outcomes, however, one arrives at a more nuanced understanding of the aid effectiveness question and the conditions under which aid may be made more effective.

I situate my thesis within the contingency school that establishes the effectiveness of aid conditional upon certain factors. Specifically, in this theory-confirming case study (Lijphart 1971), I test the hypothesis that the pre-aid level of local human capacity is a key determinant of aid effectiveness, defined here as the attainment of development outcomes in areas such as health, education, and infrastructure. This is in contrast to prevailing arguments on the supply-side factors such as volume of development assistance (Sachs 2006) or demand-side factors such as good policy environment (Burnside and Dollar 2000).

In order to develop and test this hypothesis, I exploit the within country, cross-sector variations in the attainment of development outcomes between 2002 and 2014, as defined by the country's poverty reduction strategy paper, called Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS). I find that achievements in some sectors - particularly health, education, and rural development - are far greater than those in other sectors, such as social protection and mining, although all sectors operate under essentially the same conditions. Using the method of process tracing, informed by significant desk review and fieldwork, I show that the variations in aid effectiveness across sectors are best explained by variations in local human capacity.

Focusing on health as the most successful sector as defined by ANDS, I trace this sector's success to local capacities developed through the decades of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. During these decades, today's policy makers and health practitioners received their medical training and professional experience while delivering basic health care services inside Afghanistan and for Afghan refugees in Pakistan through working for different non-government organizations (NGOs). These experiences enabled them to play leadership roles in the country's development process in the early 2000s. The relatively higher levels of local capacity in medicine are not surprising in the context of Afghanistan, where certain professions, such as doctors and engineers, are highly sought-after because of their social prestige value. Furthermore, skill development in these fields is reinforced through a higher education system that admits only the best minds in these fields.

Two policy implications of the local human capacity hypothesis are especially pertinent. First, an intelligent allocation of development assistance should be informed by an extensive assessment of existing local capacities in the recipient countries. Second, while channeling development assistance in capacity-rich sectors could yield significant results, capacity-poor sectors are better served by carefully crafted investments in developing human capacity in line with Sen's (1999) capability approach.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. User is responsible for all copyright compliance.


Received from ProQuest

Rights holder

Ahmad Dost Dost

File size

260 p.

File format





Political Science, Public Policy