2021 Evaluation of Aid Analysis

Punching Above its Weight or Running with the Crowd? Lessons from Sweden’s Development Cooperation with Afghanistan 2002–2020

Adam Pain

This working paper reviews the lessons that can be drawn from Sweden’s development cooperation with Afghanistan from 2002–2020, and the implications of these for Sweden’s future engagement with the country. The analysis is based on official documentation related to Sweden’s country strategies for Afghanistan, evaluation reports, interviews with key stakeholders and secondary literature.

Main findings

  • The overall results of international development assistance, including initiatives funded by Sweden, have been poor. Such assistance has worked best when focusing on the provision of basic infrastructure, schools and education. It has generally achieved less in terms of building capacities and changing behaviours.
  • International aid interventions in Afghanistan have been based on policy narratives that have pre-defined solutions to the assumed problems. These policy narratives show a limited understanding of how Afghanistan works or how interventions engage with social logics and practices. Sweden’s development cooperation is not immune from this critique.
  • Sweden should develop a better understanding of key contextual issues in Afghanistan and ensure that future aid programming addresses these. A revised country strategy for Afghanistan is a potential opportunity to recalibrate Sweden’s engagement.
  • Some elements of Swedish aid have given greater consideration to the Afghan context and worked iteratively — continuously adapting to the flow of the more complex dynamics of social change. One such example is the long-term support to the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan. This is an approach that Sida should be encouraged to develop more explicitly as part of its portfolio. It is also highly relevant to the new context.